Gold everywhere today: Golden sun glistening off the mirrored sides of the skyscrapers that tower over Central Park. Yellow leaves crowning the trees that line the running paths. The brilliant hue of my turmeric latte, spicy with ginger and sweet with vanilla bean. It stains my fingers when I spill it slightly as I hurry to cross 79th Street at Columbus Avenue, so intent am I on avoiding the throngs of marathon finishers spilling out of Central Park into the city. I stop to finish the last few sips of my drink, then look up to find myself in front of the apple stand at the farmers’ market that pops up on Sundays behind the American Museum of Natural History.
I take it as a sign and buy four apples. I take my time, reading the handwritten descriptions of each type (“tart and sweet!” “very hard, very crisp!”) and choose four different kinds: Winsap, Mutsu, Macoun, and Jonagold.
Today is the NYC marathon and the energy is palpable. The streets teem with runners and spectators. Everyone seems to be carrying something: paper-wrapped bouquets of bodega flowers or posters emblazoned with messages which range from the adorable (“Ben You’re a 10!”) to the hilarious (“If It Were Easy I’d Do It!” and “Ryan Gosling is Waiting At The Finish!”). Cowbells ring out on the corners and there’s a happy, jubilant feeling to the day.
I made my way to Central Park this morning well before the top finishers approached (it’s nearly impossible to snag a spot to watch the finish if you don’t get there early) and was privileged enough to witness our friend Glenn Hartrick make history as the first athlete to finish the marathon in 3 different categories: as a runner in 2006, in a hand cycle in 2015, and in a push rim wheelchair this year. You can watch more of his story here, but suffice to say that he is one of the most inspirational humans I know (and has been so long before a bike accident left him paralyzed three years ago).
Once Glenn passed—and I nearly lost my voice from screaming and cheering so loudly!—I stuck around to watch the pros finish. As the first woman passed the 26 mile marker, my chest tightened and swelled, and I felt tears gather in corners of my eyes. I couldn’t help it: there’s something intensely emotional about watching someone accomplish such greatness. People were cheering all around me, but as I looked around, I saw people chatting to each other or looking at their phones or just going about their day. How are you not weeping?! I thought to myself. It reminded me of the reader comment at the end of this Cup of Jo post about being moved to tears at the symphony.
After witnessing all that exercise, it seems only appropriate to dive headfirst into a baking project. (Listen, you really work up an appetite spectating a race!) And with all that crisp fall air pinking my cheeks and filling my lungs, I felt that something really autumnal was in order.
Enter the pumpkin blondie. Pumpkin puree makes these bars very moist and chewy; it adds some pumpkin flavor but not an overwhelming amount. I use a judicious amount of classic pumpkin pie spices (you can use a ready-mixed spice blend or combine your own blend of cinnamon, ginger, allspice, cloves, and nutmeg). You can up the spices if you like, but I prefer keeping them on the subtler side so you can taste the brown butter and the white chocolate.
Makes one 9” x 13” pan
1 cup (226g) unsalted butter
1 cup (213g) dark brown sugar
1/2 cup (48g) granulated sugar
1 cup (227g) pumpkin puree
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 cups (240g) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1 1/2 cups white chocolate chips or chopped white chocolate
In a medium skillet, melt the butter over medium heat, swirling the pan occasionally. Brown the butter—first, it will foam. Let the foam subside, then continue to cook and swirl the pan until brown solids start to form on the bottom and separate out and the butter smells nutty. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly for about 5 to 10 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 9” x 13” pan with parchment and grease the parchment lightly.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together the cooled brown butter with the sugars. Beat for about 5 minutes until pale in color. Add the egg and vanilla and beat well, scraping down the bowl as you go. Add the pumpkin and mix until just combined.
Add the flour, salt, baking powder, and pumpkin pie spice. Mix until the batter comes together, then fold in the white chocolate.
Pour the batter into your prepared pan, smoothing the top. Bake for about 30 to 35 minutes. Don’t overbake! They should look set on the top, but it’s better to underbake these slightly.
Let cool, then slice and serve.