Seriously Simple: Pumpkin pie bars a smart solution for serving a Thanksgiving crowd

Seriously Simple: Pumpkin Pie Bars A Smart Solution For Serving A Thanksgiving Crowd
Dana Gallagher/TNS

You can make this dessert a few days ahead of Thanksgiving and store it in the refrigerator covered.

“Sheet Pan Sweets” landed on my desk recently, and I thought it was a great book addition for Seriously Simple cooks.

Sheet pans have changed the way many of us cook. They’re soo easy and help minimize clean-up. In Molly Gilbert’s book she divides the categories into sheet cakes, layered and rolled cakes, bars, cookies, pies and breakfast breads. A half sheet pan that measures 18-by-13-inches and has a 1-inch rim is used for all of the recipes. She gives the reader all the additional equipment information you will need to keep on hand for whipping up these sweet treats.

My eye caught the recipe for Pumpkin Pie Bars, which makes 24 servings. That’s such a wise solution when you are serving a crowd. With all to do to put Thanksgiving on the table, it’s nice to have a fallback recipe that will solve the problem of making a slew of desserts.

Here, you make the graham cracker nut crust and spread it on the bottom and sides of a sheet pan. The rich autumnal-spiced pumpkin custard is poured on top, and it is baked until just done. Best of all, you can make this a few days ahead of Thanksgiving and store it in the refrigerator covered. The bars should be cut just before serving, with a sharp knife, if possible. The whipped cream brings all the flavors together. For me, it’s not optional! Have a sweet Thanksgiving.

Pumpkin Pie Bars

Makes 24 bars

For the graham cracker crust:

  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • 3 cups graham cracker crumbs (from about 24 whole crackers)
  • 1 heaping cup whole pecans or skinned hazelnuts
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

For the pumpkin filling:

  • 2 (15-ounce) cans pure pumpkin puree, preferably Libby’s
  • 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 heaping teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream

For the whipped cream (optional):

  • 1 to 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons granulated sugar

Make the graham cracker crust:

1. Preheat the oven to 400 F with a rack in the center position. Grease a sheet pan with nonstick spray.

2. In a food processor, grind together the graham cracker crumbs and nuts until coarsely ground and well combined. Add the brown sugar, granulated sugar, melted butter, and salt and pulse to combine until the mixture resembles wet sand.

3. Pour the graham mixture evenly into the prepared pan and use your hands or a flat-bottomed measuring cup to press the crumbs firmly against the bottom and up the sides of the pan, making sure there are no holes or extra-thin spots anywhere.

Make the pumpkin filling:

1. In a large bowl, whisk together the pumpkin puree, granulated sugar, salt, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and nutmeg until smooth. Whisk in the eggs until smooth, then add the milk and cream and whisk until homogeneous.

2. Pour the pumpkin custard over the prepared crust and very carefully transfer the pan to the oven.

Finish the dessert:

1. Bake the bars for 15 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 350 F and bake for 10 to 15 minutes more, until the custard is mostly set — the center should just barely jiggle. Allow the pumpkin bars to cool in the pan for 20 minutes before transferring to the refrigerator, uncovered, to cool completely, at least 30 minutes and up to overnight.

2. Meanwhile, make the whipped cream, if desired: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment or in a large bowl with a handheld mixer, whip the cream and granulated sugar on medium-high speed until soft peaks form, about 3 minutes.

3. Slice the pumpkin bars into squares or triangles and serve topped with a generous dollop of whipped cream. The bars will keep, tightly covered, in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Recipe and Art printed with permission from “Sheet Pan Sweets” by Molly Gilbert (‎Union Square & Co., October 2022).

(Diane Rossen Worthington is an authority on new American cooking. She is the author of 18 cookbooks, including “Seriously Simple Parties,” and a James Beard Award-winning radio show host. You can contact her at www.seriouslysimple.com.)