pumpkin pie crumble bars with vanilla bean-whiskey caramel

The signs of autumn have been present for several weeks, though here in the Midwest it has only recently begun to cool down. While the local stores lined up Halloween and Christmas decorations to coexist on shelves, we marched into October still wearing shorts and flip-flops. The mere thought of slipping on soft leggings and flannel shirts with boots has taunted me even as I've stepped reluctantly into each hot, humid day.

Storms swept through late last night, waking me early this morning when I heard heavy rain pelting the roof. Disoriented from a series of unusually vivid dreams, I sat up and peered into the darkness. I saw the faint silhouettes of both cats roaming stealthily around the house. I heard fat green walnuts hitting the driveway as the wind whipped the tree branches wildly around. I thought about a family gathering this afternoon and the birthday cake I had promised to make. I began to imagine three layers of moist chocolate cake filled with vanilla bean buttercream…
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