Ooey gooey goodness: Make a Halloween feast of these pumpkin caramel blondies

Pumpkin is my absolute favorite flavor in the entire world (right before garlic and chipotle), probably because it reminds me of fall and the wonderful holidays that take place in this season. And I can't believe I've gone this long without writing a pumpkin-based recipe for CL Food. I guess the delay was due to racking my brain for a new way to use the ingredient. I've made pumpkin pie, cheesecake, cookies, brownies, bread, pasta and soup in the past, and wanted to infuse pumpkin into something else that I love.

Then it came to me: blondies! If you're not familiar with blondies, they're the chocolate-free sister of brownies. Blondies are also a great base for featuring other flavors, like caramel, butterscotch, etc., without overpowering them with chocolate flavor. I found my staple blondies recipe in The Joy of Cooking (my go-to cookbook) and used it as a base for my "Redheads" — brownie and blondies' red-tinted, spicy sibling. I thought, "Why not do the same with pumpkin?"

So, I reworked the recipe, added some pumpkin puree, used maple syrup in place of the corn syrup and topped them with caramel sauce for an added layer of flavor. Voila, my pumpkin caramel blondies were born (or maybe they should be called "Punkies"?). If you're feeling like Martha Stewart, you can make your own caramel sauce for this, but the jarred kind in the ice cream aisle works just as well.

The addition of the pumpkin puree makes them even softer than the original recipe and the caramel adds an element of sticky, gooey goodness. You know how you use a toothpick to test if your baked goods are done? You shouldn't really bother doing that with these blondies, because the toothpick will never come out clean — unless you overbake them and they turn out as hard as rocks. These are meant to be super-soft, sweet and sticky (and I dare you not to lick your fingers clean).

For an added depth of flavor and to counteract some of the sweetness, I sprinkled some smoked sea salt over them right after taking them out of the oven. I know, most of you are probably thinking I'm crazy, but try it. I promise they'll take these blondies to another level. You can use regular sea or Kosher salt if you don't have smoked salt.

Pumpkin Caramel Blondies
Adapted from The Joy of Cooking: 75th Anniversary Edition
Makes 9 squares

Ingredients
1 cup all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, unsalted
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon maple syrup (not pancake syrup)
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie mix)
1/2 cup caramel sauce
Optional: A sprinkling of regular or smoked sea salt

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8x8 baking pan, or line with parchment or foil and spray with cooking spray. Sift flour and rest of dry ingredients (through spices) together.

2. In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium-low heat and simmer until it's just light brown and faintly nutty in aroma, about 7 min. Remove from heat.

3. Stir the sugars into the melted butter. Let cool for a few minutes.

4. Stir in eggs, yolk, maple syrup and vanilla into butter/sugar mixture until completely incorporated.

5. Stir dry ingredients into wet mixture in 3 parts, folding each addition in until almost completely incorporated. Stir pumpkin until just incorporated. (The batter is supposed be very gooey so don't add extra flour.)

6. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 10 minutes. Pour the caramel over the blondies and swirl it on top of and into the batter.

7. Bake for another 25-30 minutes or until the middle has risen and stays firm when shaken. If using the sea salt, sprinkle it over the pumpkin blondies immediately after removing them from the oven. Let it cool for a few minutes, cut and serve!