There have been Thanksgivings where I’ve admittedly taken on too much. It’s the biggest food day of the year, and I’m always the designated chef. I know I’m not alone in approaching the holiday with high hopes and a healthy dose of ambition. However, with time comes experience, and I’ve now become an expert at checking as many tasks off my Thanksgiving to-do list ahead of time. My secret? Delegation. And the one thing I always hand off is these no-bake pumpkin pie bars.
Of course, we always serve a classic pumpkin pie alongside apple, pecan, and sometimes even a chocolate pie. But when you have a stray family member in need of a task, these pumpkin pie bars are perfect. (To my younger brother, Jay, who has no baking skills whatsoever, I’m looking at you.)
And… I’m actually not the biggest pumpkin pie fan. Controversial, I know, but it means I’m more than happy to put someone else in charge of bringing pumpkin to the party. But don’t worry, if you’re said person, these pumpkin pie bars couldn’t be easier. They can be made the night before or even early in the morning the day of. The best part though, is that because they are no-bake, so you don’t have to ration oven space and play a game of jigsaw to make everything fit. With that exciting news, let’s get
The Secrets Behind a No-Bake Dessert
If you’ve made my lemon cardamom bars, you know the magic of a no-bake dessert. By incorporating ingredients that can build structural integrity and letting things set, you can create a luscious pie-like filling without the oven. In this case, cream cheese and whipped cream get folded together and set in the fridge to create a sliceable dessert. To make slicing easier, after setting in the fridge overnight, I like to freeze my bars for about an hour before serving, to ensure clean lines.
If you’re like me and don’t love pumpkin pie, these have a spiced pumpkin flavor without the sometimes gelatinous texture of pumpkin pie. You get a light, zingy, and almost mousse-like texture with a crunchy brown butter graham cracker crust. These pumpkin pie bars retain all the traditional flavors in an even tastier form.
How To Make Pumpkin Butter
The one thing you do have to make ahead of time is the pumpkin butter. Because pumpkin puree, like other vegetables and fruits, contains a lot of water, we need to remove the extra liquid to keep these bars from falling apart. The key is doing it without adding other ingredients like a pudding mix or gelatin. You can absolutely use a store-bought pumpkin butter, but it’s also extremely easy to make ahead and store in the fridge. And, you can customize the spices to your liking. For me, this means an obscene amount of cinnamon and ginger.
To make pumpkin butter, all you need is a can of pumpkin, spices, a bit of sugar, and a splash of apple cider vinegar. Combine everything in a stove top pot and set on low heat. Keep a close eye on it as the pumpkin cooks, stirring often to avoid sticking on the bottom. When you’re done, you’ll be left with a lusciously thick spread that is just as delicious in these bars as it is spread over toast, waffles, and yogurt.
Tips for Making Flavor-Packed Pumpkin Pie Bars
Anytime I make a recipe with multiple layers, I focus on giving each component as much standalone flavor as possible. When everything is combined, the result is even better. Here’s what to keep in mind when making these pumpkin pie bars.
For the crust, brown butter is an easy way to create a nutty, caramel flavor. Also, add salt. There’s nothing better than a salted brown butter cookie, and the same applies to this crust. If you want to skip the butter, you can use coconut oil instead.
Use fresh spices for the pumpkin filling. The pumpkin butter helps concentrate all the flavors and using fresh ground cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg adds a nice warmth and depth to the filling. A pinch of salt will also help all the flavors sing.
For the whipped cream topping, just a dusting of powdered sugar, a splash of vanilla or vanilla bean paste—plus another pinch of salt and pumpkin pie spice—rounds out the flavors.
Believe me, you’ll be making this recipe all season long.
for the pumpkin butter:
- 1 15-ounce can of pumpkin puree
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
for the crust:
- 1 stick of butter
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
- 2 cups of graham cracker crumbs
for the filling:
- 4 ounces cream cheese, softened to room temperature
- 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
- pinch of salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 3/4 cup pumpkin butter (made above or store-bought)
- 4 ounces heavy whipping cream
- Make the pumpkin butter. In a stove top pot, add all of the ingredients and stir to combine. Turn heat to low and bring pumpkin to a simmer. Stir every few minutes, scraping the bottom to avoid sticking, and cook for about 25 minutes, until pumpkin has reduced by half and becomes thick. Keep an eye on the heat, adjusting as needed to avoid burning. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool. Store pumpkin butter in an airtight container in the fridge until ready to use.
- Make the crust. In a stove top pot, add the stick of butter and turn heat to medium. Melt the butter and stir occasionally until the butter browns, keeping a close eye on it and removing from the heat as soon as the butter has browned. Let cool completely.
- Add the graham cracker crumbs, salt, and spice to a mixing bowl, and pour over the browned butter. Stir to combine until crust feels like sand. Line an 8x8 pan with parchment and pour crumbs into pan. Using the back of a glass, press the crust down into a uniform layer. Store in the fridge until ready to fill.
- Prepare the filling. Add the cream cheese, sugar, spice, salt, and vanilla to the bowl of a stand mixer and with the paddle attachment, whip until smooth, scraping down the sides halfway through. Add the cream cheese to a separate large bowl.
- Add the heavy whipping cream to the stand mixer bowl and switch to a whisk attachment. Whip until whipped cream reaches stiff peaks. Set aside.
- Add the pumpkin butter to the cream cheese and fold together until smooth. Add the whipped cream to the bowl in two parts, folding to combine carefully without deflating the whipped cream.
- Pour the filling into the crust and flatten into an even layer. Store in fridge overnight to set.
- When ready to serve, I like to keep in the freezer for an hour prior to serving to ensure easy slicing. Slice and top with whipped cream as desired. Enjoy!
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