Monday, November 4, 2013

Pumpkin in the Air (Pumpkin Butterscotch Blondies)

The long-lingering warmth of summer seems to have inspired especially beautiful leaves this season and I've found myself slowly ambling down the backroads around the bakery to soak in the blazing canopies of foliage. Leafer madness is in the air. Also in the air in high concentrations: the sweet, earthy squashiness of pumpkin. I chose to capture the star flavor of the season by tinkering up pumpkin butterscotch ginger blondies: tender treats that highlight the true flavor of pumpkin, while still enthusiastically embracing a curated selection of its aromatic pairings.

Aromatically delicious
Some of my friends celebrated the return of pumpkin lattes like it was the New Year, and Aaron and I had certainly looked forward to pumpkin scones, but pumpkin has fast found combinations everywhere across the spectrum. I think when most people discuss their passion for pumpkin, they may actually most love its  stable of supporting characters, spices like cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves. Pumpkin itself is relatively mild, sweet, and unassertive, most would find it quite palatable without the heavy makeup many cooks apply, and it works both sweet and savory. Heaping helpings of sugar and spice always help, though, and I wanted something that traveled well. Brownies and their blonde descendants were invented specifically as a cake-like treat to be packed in box lunches at the Palmer House Hotel for the 1893 World's Fair. The relatively dense and sturdy blocks can be tucked into bags and lunch pails as easily as they can be arranged and plated.

Ready to travel
 The original chocolate brownie, still served at the Palmer House Hilton today, was topped with an apricot-walnut glaze, but evolution has continued extensively from there, including the sans chocolate, brown sugar variant: the blondie. Butterscotch is at its most basic just butter and brown sugar, so rich, caramel-fudge blondies are naturally reminiscent of butterscotch to begin with. This is enhanced with the inclusion of white chocolate and butterscotch chips,  extra sweet creaminess to melt upon the palate. I pared down the number of spices, seeking to find purity of flavor, and settled on ginger as the highlight. Ginger is an excellent harmonizer, it works equally well in the cool clarity of lemonades and ices as it does in warming blends of butter and cinnamon. Ginger does double-duty in this recipe; ground ginger lends background warmth and chewy bits of crystallized root offer textural variety and extra fire.

Special addition: crystallized ginger
As a dense, water-retaining gourd, pumpkin inevitably adds extra moisture to a recipe, so these blondies ooze delicious caramel pumpkin goodness beneath the slight crackle of their paper-thin crust. A quick and easy recipe, these are perfect seasonal sweets to serve for fancy afternoon tea, pack into school lunches, or bring in trays to the office (where they'll pair equally well with coffee). The power of pumpkin offers a sweet sendoff before a season dominated by cold-hardy greens and root vegetables, so be sure to enjoy it while you can.

Pumpkin butterscotch ginger blondies
Adapted from Brown Eyed Baker

Crystallized ginger usually comes in roughly coin-sized slices of the root or fairly hefty cubes, be sure to mince these down finely before mixing in to avoid massive ginger chunks that can prove too spicy for some to handle. To make it extra easy to cut perfect squares, chill in the refrigerator a few hours, then cut with a hot knife, dipping it into a glass of hot water and wiping with a towel between slices.

2½ cups whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 1/2 cups turbinado sugar
1 egg
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 (15-ounce) can pure pumpkin puree (about 2 cups)
1 cup butterscotch chips
1 cup white chocolate chips
1 cup crystallized ginger, minced

Preheat oven to 350 F. Butter a 9x13-inch baking dish and line with a strip of parchment paper, with some overhanging the sides, set aside.

Whisk together the flour, salt, cinnamon, and ground ginger in a medium bowl, set aside.

Blend the sugar and butter in a large bowl, then whisk in the egg and vanilla.

Turbinado sugar won't dissolve to 100% smooth, but the eggs and pumpkin pull things together nicely
Add the pumpkin and again whisk until smooth.

Fold the dry mix into the pumpkin until evenly combined.

Fold in the butterscotch chips, white chocolate chips, and minced crystallized ginger root.

Piling on the inclusions
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth into an even layer, then bake 35 to 40 minutes.

Set the pan on a wire rack to cool completely, then gently lift out with the parchment handles and cut into squares. Serve warm, with vanilla ice cream if you're feeling extravagant.

This recipe is also available in the Williamsport Sun-Gazette.


Unknown said...

I think Starbuck's sells pumpkin bread slices with crushed pumpkin seeds on top, but the spices are very mild. The ginger should be very piquant in the pumpkin blondies.

James Pereira said...

Ah, Starbucks... Their pumpkin scones were my favorite, but seem to have vanished now that their pastries come from La Boulange. The crystal ginger definitely gives these blondies an enlivening little bite, but they shouldn't be too hot to handle.

rglossner said...

Must. Make. These.

James Pereira said...

By all means do! It's definitely a new favorite for me, I don't think you'll be disappointed.