Thanksgiving just wouldn’t be the same without pumpkin pie.
Mind you, that doesn’t mean it has to be the very same recipe your mother took off the back of the pumpkin can decades ago. Sometimes it’s good to mix things up a bit and dessert is the one place on the menu where even hidebound traditionalists usually are willing to experiment a bit.
This year I’m making pumpkin pie bars to cap off the big feast. They combine all the best parts of a nutty shortbread cookie, pumpkin cheesecake and pecan pie in one great package and the crust never gets soggy. Because they’re baked in a 9-inch by 13-inch pan, a single batch will serve a crowd with some left over for the next day.
The inspiration comes from a recipe in the “Greyston Bakery Cookbook,” by Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan (Rodale, 2007), but the bars have evolved over time. There’s more spice and less sugar now. The praline topping is riff on the Thanksgiving Twofer pie in Dorie Greenspan’s charming new iPad app, “Baking with Dorie.”
This dessert may not be served in wedges, but your mouth won’t know the difference. This is one of the best pumpkin pies I’ve ever eaten.
PECAN PIE BARS
Makes about 24 bars
1/2 cup pecans
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground ginger
3/4 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups (15-ounce can) plain pumpkin puree
1/4 cup cream
1/4 cup corn syrup
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup pecans
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch by 13-inch baking pan and line with parchment paper, leaving a couple inches overhanging the two long sides to serve as handles for removing the bars after baking. On a cookie sheet, lightly toast the pecans for the crust and topping, about 5 minutes. Remove pecans and let cool.
Make the crust: In a medium bowl, whisk flour, salt, soda and ginger together and set aside. In a food processor fitted with a metal blade, whirl 1/2 cup of the pecans until finely chopped. Pour nuts into a small dish and set aside. In the same work bowl, cream butter and both sugars until light and fluffy. Add flour mixture and pulse just until the flour is incorporated. Add nuts and pulse until well-blended.
Press dough evenly into the bottom of the prepared baking pan. Bake for 10 minutes and let pan cool while you mix the filling.
Make the filling: In the work bowl of the processor, whirl together the cream cheese, sugar and spices until well blended. Add eggs and pulse a couple of times. Add pumpkin puree and cream and whirl until white streaks disappear. Carefully pour the filling over the partially baked crust.
Make topping: Coarsely chop pecans and scatter evenly over the top of the pumpkin filling. In a small bowl, whisk together corn syrup, brown sugar, egg, vanilla, cinnamon and salt. Drizzle this mixture evenly over the pecans. Gently push any pecans lying on the surface down into the filling.
Bake for 30-40 minutes, until the filling is set and a small, thin knife inserted in the center comes out clean.
Cut into squares and serve warm or at room temperature. Wrapped well in plastic wrap, the bars will hold for several days in the refrigerator.