Move Over, Pumpkin Pie!

Don't get me wrong. I love pumpkin pie and I am not anti-tradition. But when it comes to major meal holidays, it seems like dessert is a place where you can mix it up a bit without a lot of fuss from around the table. So focus on keeping things like turkey, ham, and Grandma's cornbread stuffing on the menu and enjoy a mouth-watering cookie bar infused with pumpkin caramel and sprinkled with fleur de sel:

This recipe makes more pumpkin caramel than you'll need for the recipe. Why? Because it only needs about a third of a cup and you are going to adore this sauce on everything from ice cream to waffles, so you might as well make a big batch. Takes the same time for a big batch as a tiny one, anyway. Also, the recipe calls for pumpkin puree, but don't let that stop you from choosing to use roasted butternut squash in its place. I use the two interchangeably and have never had any problem with the switcheroo.

The cookie dough for these bars is super sweet and easy to press into the pan and crumble over the top of the bars. That means the most involved part of this treat is the pumpkin caramel, which I believe I mentioned you are going to love. Also, consider serving the bars alongside mulled apple cider or hot coffee swirled with a little cinnamon. After all, this is the season of snuggling in and enjoying friends, family, and loved ones … and amazing food.

Oh, and did I mention you can make these a few days in advance of your gathering? Now that's something to be thankful for!

Salted Pumpkin Caramel White Chocolate Bars

For the caramel:
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup half & half
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
  • Pinch ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the cookie dough:
  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, softened
  • 2 T. canola oil
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 oz. cream cheese
  • 2 T. plain yogurt
  • 1 cup white chocolate chips
  • Fleur de sel, for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 325° F with a rack in the lower third. Spray an 8x8-inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.

To make the caramel: Combine the granulated sugar, half & half, and pumpkin puree in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and heat on medium, stirring constantly with a whisk. The mixture will begin to bubble. Continue whisking until the mixture thickens and easily coats the back of a metal spoon. While still whisking, add the salt, cinnamon, and vanilla extract. The mixture may froth, but continue whisking and remove from the heat. Cool the caramel while you make the cookie dough.

To make the cookie dough: In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, and salt together. In a second bowl, combine the butter, oil, and both sugars, mixing until combined. Add the egg, cream cheese, and yogurt and mix to completely incorporate. Add the dry ingredients to the wet, and gently mix the dry into the wet just until combined. Use a rubber spatula to fold in the white chocolate chips.

Transfer half of the cookie dough to the prepared pan, pressing it into an even layer in the bottom. Pour about 1/3 cup of the caramel over the cookie dough. Crumble the remaining cookie dough over the salted caramel. Press down gently with your fingertips to distribute. It's fine if the caramel layer isn't completely covered - it will spread to cover as it bakes. Generously sprinkle the top with fleur de sel. Bake for 40-50 minutes, or until the bars are golden brown and slightly firm to the touch. Cool completely before cutting into bars.

  • Yields: 16 servings
  • Preparation Time: 1 hour