Feature Fridays: Holiday Recipes
Improving Classic Pumpkin Blondies
Happy Friday, my friends!
Now through the remainder of the year, my Feature Fridays rotating feature will be focusing on fabulous holiday recipes and how-to tutorials for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Some recipes will be new spins on classic recipes while others will be entirely new concepts. Lots of wicked good things are to come! I promise.
Are you like me? Do you conjure up recipe ideas and then read other recipes deciding that you want to put your own spin on it or to improve it? I think many people do this who love to cook and bake, let alone food bloggers. I do this constantly. I cannot help it!
During the popular baking series on PBS, Baking with Julia (1996), pastry chef Gale Gand expressed how she was always examining in her head how to change up recipes. Then, she added, that she would review at least a half dozen recipes in her research before deciding on the crucial elements as to ingredients and methods before putting her own spin on it. When I listened to her explain this to Julia during the program, I was saying to myself, “I do that, too!” In fact, when I continue with my On Baking series here on the blog, you’ll read about some funny and heartwarming stories of my earliest thoughts and experimentations with baking. I hope you will enjoy it.
Meanwhile, it was then, back in 1996, that I knew I had the makings of a good pastry chef with innate intuitiveness. If not a pastry chef by trade, at least the makings of a decent baker, recipe developer and cookbook author. Then, I read and read some more. The two cookbooks that influenced me most during this time were The Professional Pastry Chef (1995) by Bo Friberg and Baking with Julia (1996) by Dorie Greenspan. In fact, I mention how I rely immensely on the baking knowledge I gained from reading Chef Bo’s tome on my About page here on the blog.
In fact, I am still anxiously awaiting Chef Bo’s next book. As you can see on his site, he states, “This website will be relaunched in 2013 in conjunction with the release of Chef Bo’s new books.” When September rolled by, and now with October having rolled by, I am wondering what has happened to this project. Hopefully, the book(s) will still be released. Chef Bo, where are you?
Well, now you know why I occasionally bring up the year 1996. Again, this was the year I embarked upon writing my baking cookbook. As I have shared with you previously here on the blog, recipes from that very manuscript will be shared right here on the blog. There are many holiday recipes in it, all receiving rave reviews from family and friends, and I look forward to sharing them with you.
Most creative and talented food bloggers think this way, don’t you agree? We set out to bring about a new recipe after first visualizing the change and then testing the recipe until it comes from concept to reality…just the way we imagined. Well, that is exactly what happened with this recipe!
Let’s break it down.
When I had this idea in my head for a buttery, chewy, fudge-like Pumpkin Blondie, not unlike fudgy brownies in texture, I first conducted thorough research. Then, I compared recipes taking note of the ingredient ratios. It was important for me to focus on buttery. Why, you ask? Well, because, when you add a vegetable purée such as pumpkin, an entire cup of it, you want there to be enough butter to shine through and not yield too cake-like of a texture. This is what I think the problem is with recent recipes for Pumpkin Blondies. For a 9×13-inch baking pan, recipes call for far too much pumpkin purée (like an entire can!) as well as too much flour. This translates to cake-like. If you like cake-like that is swell! But, again, I was after buttery and chewy—not cakey.
Next, I concentrated on a recipe using only a single egg, not two. The reason is because the pumpkin will more than contribute to a cake-like texture at the outset. Just like how you can effectively substitute applesauce for an egg in some quick bread recipes, like muffins, the same food science and baking principle holds true here. Again, I was desirous of that fudgy brownie texture.
When I happened upon Martha Stewart’s recipe for Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Squares, I immediately recognized it as the ideal recipe to use the ingredients ratio for my “improved” or Best Ever Pumpkin Spice Blondies.
Now, when I use the words “improved” or “best ever” here on the blog related to my recipes, please do not take this as me being arrogant. It is purely confidence speaking. In fact, I always explain in detail as to just why my recipe is an improvement—at least for what I am setting out to achieve. Everyone is different and we all like different things. So, just bear with me and my baking exploits as to what I am trying to convey.
The one big thing, if you will, that improved this recipe greatly as to flavor profile and texture is pumpkin butter. Pumpkin butter is the secret ingredient here as it is much more concentrated in flavor over pumpkin purée—either homemade or canned. Plus, there is less moisture in pumpkin butter as it is cooked down and is thicker than purée. Once again, I wanted the butter to shine through so pumpkin butter it was going to be. Anyone who knows me well, knows that I stockpile the stuff. I enjoy using Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Butter in this recipe.
Let’s break down the recipe further.
Now, about the butter… Since I wanted my version of Best Ever Pumpkin Spice Blondies to be especially buttery and chewy (again, just like fudgy brownies), I melted the butter instead of just bringing the butter to room temperature like the other recipe. Saturation is an important step when creating “chewy” both with bars and cookies. The New York Times Chocolate Chip Cookie, adapted from Chef Jacques Torres, bears this out.
About the sugar… Right away, I knew that light brown sugar, in addition to granulated sugar, was in order. I do the same for most of my pumpkin recipes—even pumpkin pie. It just provides another pleasing layer of flavor and color.
About the leavening… I kept it simple here with the “less is more” philosophy. Most decadent brownies call for no leavening agents. So, I cut down on the amount of baking soda by half. Again, I was wanting to minimize the cakey-ness for this recipe. This resulted in the chewy and moist texture, again fudge brownie-like, that I was looking for.
About the vanilla… Yes, vanilla. Martha’s recipe calls for 2 teaspoons of vanilla and I felt as though we needed an additional teaspoon, rounding it up to 1 full tablespoon, for this recipe due to the concentrated flavor of the pumpkin butter and the spices. This move proved to be spot on.
About the spices… The spices were kept to a minimum. In fact, I did not add ginger because ginger has a significant presence in Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Butter upon tasting it by the spoon. Also, I did not add citrus like orange zest or anything to our Best Ever Pumpkin Spice Blondies (a natural inclination here to complement the dried cranberries) because Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Butter has the perfect amount of lemon juice added to perk things up. I adore Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Butter because it is all-natural. Below is the ingredients list for those who are mindful of such things.
Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Butter
Ingredients: Pumpkin, sugar, honey, lemon juice concentrate, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg.
You cannot get more wholesome and all-natural than that, can you?
Finally, for the mix-in’s… I knew immediately that I would stir white chocolate baking chips into this batter as well as toasted pecans and dried cranberries rough chopped. Therefore, I went with Trader Joe’s White Chocolate Baking Chips because it seemed to be “the thing to do.” Let me tell you, it was kismet!
I’m telling you… I am just ecstatic to share this recipe today with y’all! I worked on it last month and it turned out just the way I wanted it with the buttery, the chewy, the gooey, the moist and flavorful. You are going to love these oh-so satisfying Pumpkin Spice Blondies. In fact, upon first bite, when all these classic holiday flavors converge and do the jig on your tongue, you will be proclaiming, “The holidays have arrived!”
The Big Lug gave these Best Ever Pumpkin Spice Blondies a major thumbs up. In fact, this is the note I woke up to the next morning after leaving him three (3) slices wrapped up for breakfast, a lunch treat and mid-day snack for work, “I am so proud of you! Latest creation is delicious! Love, …” There you go! It’s not just me talkin’ here. You have The Big Lug’s endorsement.
What makes our Best Ever Pumpkin Spice Blondies wicked good? The perfect ratio of melted butter, a rich and spicy pumpkin butter, one egg, flour and spices to yield an especially buttery, gooey and chewy texture rivaling fudgy brownies. With the addition of white chocolate baking chips, toasted pecans and dried cranberries, these Pumpkin Spice Blondies are irresistible and will ring in your holidays upon first bite!
Whip up a batch this weekend to share with friends and family. You won’t regret it and your house will smell divine to the point of drawing in the neighbors!
Below is a Pinterest-friendly sized image to pin at Pinterest!
What makes our Best Ever Pumpkin Spice Blondies wicked good? The perfect ratio of melted butter, a rich and spicy pumpkin butter, flour and spices to yield an especially buttery, gooey and chewy texture rivaling fudgy brownies. With the addition of white chocolate baking chips, toasted pecans and dried cranberries, these Pumpkin Spice Blondies will ring in your holidays upon first bite!
- 2 cups (250 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour, such as Gold Medal®
- 1 teaspoon (4.8 grams) kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon (about 3 grams) baking soda
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon ground allspice
- ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- Dash of ground cloves
- 1 cup (2 sticks/226 grams) unsalted butter, melted & cooled
- ¾ cup (144 grams) organic granulated cane sugar
- ½ cup (100 grams) packed organic light brown cane sugar
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml) pure vanilla extract, such as Nielsen-Massey®
- 1 large egg (mine weighed 51 grams w/o egg shell), at room temp, slightly beaten
- 1 jar (10 ounces/284 grams) Trader Joe’s® all-natural pumpkin butter
- 1¼ cups (7.5 ounces/213 grams) white chocolate baking chips, such as Trader Joe’s®
- 1 cup (3.75 ounces/106 grams) toasted pecans, coarsely chopped See Notes below for “How to Toast Nuts”
- ¾ cup (about 95 grams) dried cranberries, coarsely chopped, such as Ocean Spray® Craisins®
Arrange oven rack in lower third of oven and preheat oven to 350ºF. Lightly grease a 9x13-inch metal baking pan with shortening. (I like to use my Williams-Sonoma Goldtouch® Nonstick Rectangular Cake Pan.) Line pan with baking parchment so there is an overhang. Do this by measuring parchment 4 inches in length additionally at each side of pan. This will allow 2 inches of coverage on each end once folded and tucked in. This will create “handles” which will help removing bars from pan and to easily transfer to cutting board to cut into even bars.
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking soda and spices; set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together melted butter, sugars and vanilla until well blended and smooth (until sugar crystals have started to dissolve). Stir in the beaten egg and beat until fully incorporated. Add pumpkin butter; stir until well blended. Add flour mixture all at once and mix just until small streaks of flour remain. Using a rubber spatula, fold in white chocolate chips, nuts and dried cranberries. Scrape and pour batter into prepared pan and smooth the top evenly.
Bake in preheated oven until the edges are browned and crisp, top is glossy with a soft crackled texture and a toothpick inserted into center comes out with small crumbs clinging to it, about 35 minutes. Do not bake over 35 minutes or blondies will become too dry and crumbly once cooled.
Allow blondies to cool significantly on wire rack, at least 1 hour, before removing from pan. This amount of cooling time will make the blondies more solid and easy to handle. Remove from pan using folded parchment paper at sides of pan as “handles”. Transfer to large cutting board. Carefully cut into even squares using a ruler as a guide with a sharp chef’s knife peeling away parchment as you go.
Keep blondies stored in an airtight container at room temperature or freeze.
Tips:How to Toast Nuts: Preheat oven to 350ºF. Place nuts in a single layer on an ungreased baking sheet. (You may line the baking sheet with parchment paper.) Bake until nuts become fragrant and lightly browned, about 7 to 8 minutes. Stir halfway through baking time and watch closely to prevent nuts from burning. Cool nuts completely before chopping and adding to recipe. To speed the cooling process for the toasted nuts, immediately transfer to plate and place in freezer for 5 to 8 minutes. For Gluten Free Option: Substitute 2 cups (256 grams) Cup4Cup (C4C) Gluten-Free Flour, available at Williams-Sonoma. Recipe Source: WickedGoodKitchen.com
Recipe Adapted From (ingredients ratio only, not method): Martha Stewart
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