Like everyone else in North America this time of year, I’m currently having a bit of a love affair with pumpkin (shhhh, don’t tell Kale).
It all started with Almost Instant Pumpkin Porridge the other day, and reveals itself today with these vegan and gluten-free Pumpkin Caramel Swirl Brownies. Next up are some amazing homemade glu–oops, almost let it slip, there! You’ll just have to wait and see.
Although we virtually never ate pumpkin when I was a kid, my sisters and I were certainly enthusiastic about Halloween. True, we didn’t have a carved pumpkin on our front porch; in fact, we didn’t even use those plastic pumpkin pails (you know, the ones with black handles, designed to collect loot while trick or treating)–we thought they were way too small for our purposes. But we did enjoy pumpkin-shaped mellowcreme candies, plus all the other goodies that were only allowed in our house on October 31st.
In fact, for my sisters and me, the entire activity of trick-or-treating was approached with a seriousness and precision of military proportions.
The evening went something like this:
Time: 1800 hours
Suss out targets and decide which ones require immediate hits. Note the key markers identifying each target: carved pumpkin with flickering candles inside indicates “good” treats available; paper pumpkins affixed to window panes indicates cheapo loot, such as bruised apples, peanuts in the shells, or pennies; AVOID. Strategy: hone in on the carved pumpkin houses while steering clear of the losers.
Time: 1900 hours
With the first run already completed, dump booty in haphazard piles on the living room floor (ensuring the protective gate has been pulled across the entryway, to avoid canine infiltration), then head out for a second round of assault. By this time, success is more likely, as the targets may be growing tired. If a target is spied blowing out the pumpkin candles and preparing to close up shop, rush to the door and solicit more treats. This may precipitate a full surrender of all Halloween candy remaining in the house–TREAT VICTORY!
Time: 20:00 hours
Under cover of darkness, rush back to base camp to unload the spoils of warlocks (and witches). Dump everything on the floor and prepare for the victory party. . .
. . . .And so it went. Once we got home, we began the sorting operation: similar items were lined up in parallel rows across the floor (chocolate bars like KitKat, Caramilk, Aero, Oh Henry, Smarties in one line; candies like SweeTarts, caramels, jaw breakers in another; less popular items such as potato chips, Halloween kisses in a third). Next, the negotiations began. We traded candies the way teenaged boys trade stories of dating conquests, feigning disinterest or refusing to look impressed so that we could ultimately get more out of our rival.
“What? You want four caramels for a measly bag of chips?” the CFO might say. “Forget it!” Or I’d counter, “I’ll give you a Caramilk and two kisses for the Oh Henry, but that’s it, NO MORE.” We’d haggle and argue until everyone had a pile of goodies that was relatively equal.
And finally, the pièce de résistance: eating. Halloween was the one night of the year that gorging ourselves was not only permitted, but somehow tacitly sanctioned. Our parents left us alone to attack the treats without so much as a word. When our bellies were finally so full that they began to resemble pumpkins themselves, we packed what was left of the candy in grocery bags to be consumed over the following few days.
Until recent years, I always thought of pumpkin as something merely decorative, the thing that you carve and then discard the next day. It wasn’t until I began to play in my own kitchen as an adult that I discovered sugar pumpkins (also called pie pumpkins) and that you could make your own pumpkin purée at home (just like canned–except more work!). I guess I’ve still not caught up with the general pumpkin-mania, as it only occurred to me recently that I have no recipe for pumpkin pie on this blog! (Yes, I must rectify that oversight asap).
In the meantime, these brownies are a stellar way to use up any extra pumpkin you may have on hand either from your Canadian Thanksgiving feast or simply because you visited the grocery store and came back with more pumpkin than you needed. They are truly fudgy and dense, with welcome ribbons of gooey, soft, pumpkiny caramel filling hither and yon. The filling is somewhat like a cross between fudge and caramel; a pumpkin ganache, if you will.
These days, I look back on my childhood Halloweens with nostalgia (and a bit of a stomach ache). As I mentioned last year, the HH and I have all but given up on participating, what with the kids being driven away from our house in droves. Besides, the HH refuses to carve another “real” pumpkin, which leaves just the option of a paper pumpkin taped to the window. . . and we all know how many kids that will attract.
Pumpkin Caramel Swirl Brownies (Vegan, Gluten-Free, Refined Sugar-Free)
The combination of pumpkin caramel and a fudgy chocolate brownie here is sublime. These confections would be equally great for an after-school bite or the final course of a dinner party.
For the Pumpkin Caramel:
1/2 cup (120 ml) unsweetened pumpkin purée (either homemade or canned)
2 Tbsp (30 ml) unsweetened plain or vanilla almond, soy or hemp milk
1/4 cup (60 ml) natural smooth almond butter (unsweetened)
1/4 cup (60 ml) coconut sugar
pinch fine sea salt
For the Brownie:
8 ounces (225 g) pumpkin purée (either homemade or canned), about 1 cup/240 ml
2 Tbsp (30 ml) coconut nectar
1/2 cup (40 g) coconut sugar
1/4 cup (60 ml) extra virgin coconut oil, preferably organic, softened
1/4 cup (60 ml) natural smooth almond butter (unsweetened)
1 Tbsp (15 ml) pure vanilla extract
1 Tbsp (30 ml) finely ground flax seeds
2 Tbsp (30 ml) whole psyllium husks
1/4-1/3 cup (60-80 ml) unsweetened plain or vanilla almond, soy, or hemp milk, if needed
1 cup (135 g) Ricki’s All Purpose Gluten-Free Flour mix
2/3 cup (60 g) unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 tsp (1 ml) baking powder
1/4 tsp (1 ml) baking soda
1/8 tsp (.5 ml) fine sea salt
Preheat oven to 350F (180 C). Line an 8-1/2 inch (21.5 cm) square pan with parchment, or spray with nonstick spray.
Make the caramel: In a small bowl, whisk together all ingredients and set aside.
Make the brownie: In a food processor, blend together the pumpkin, coconut nectar, coconut sugar, coconut oil, almond butter, vanilla, stevia, flax, psyllium and 1/4 cup (60 ml) milk until smooth and glossy. Add the remaining ingredients and pulse to combine, then process just until blended. If the mixture is too thick to spread (it will be quite thick), add the extra milk and process again just to combine. (Alternately, in a medium bowl, whisk together the pumpkin, coconut nectar, coconut sugar, coconut oil, almond butter, vanilla, stevia, flax, psyllium and 1/4 cup/60 ml milk until smooth. Sift the dry ingredients over the wet in the bowl and stir just to combine. If the batter is too thick to spread, add the extra milk and stir again).
Spread about half the brownie batter in the pan (you can just estimate the amount). Next, dollop the pumpkin caramel in spoonfuls randomly over the batter, leaving a few empty spots here and there. Dollop the remaining brownie batter into the pan, filling the empty spots and covering some of the pumpkin caramel if necessary. Use a thin spatula or a butter knife to gently swirl and fold some of the batter in the pan (the way you’d fold egg whites into a batter), so that some of the pumpkin is folded under the brownie batter. Gently smooth the top if there are any gaps.
Bake 30-40 minutes, rotating the pan about halfway through baking, until a tester inserted into the brownie portion comes out clean but moist. Allow to cool before cutting into squares. Makes 16 larger or 24 smaller brownies. May be frozen.
Suitable for: ACD Stage 3 and beyond, sugar-free, gluten-free, dairy-free, egg free, soy-free, vegan.
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