Throughout childhood, we spent most of our Thanksgivings at my grandparents’ house in southern California. After driving down a little earlier in the week, we spent the holiday watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, followed by a walk (to keep us kids occupied and out from underfoot in the kitchen!), and finally, while all of the dishes finished baking and warming in the oven, we played a round of croquet in the backyard.
A British game my grandparents first introduced to us, croquet involves hitting large grapefruit-sized balls through an asterisk-shaped pattern of wickets using wooden mallets that look like oversized hammers. Although Grandpa almost always won by finishing the course first and turning into “poison” and killing off the rest of our balls, Dad sometimes managed to beat him—and we always had a fun time!
When the oven timers buzzed, we cleared off the lawn and wandered inside for our cozy 6-person feast. I politely nibbled on homemade wheat rolls and piles of mashed potatoes while the grown-ups ate the “icky” food (yes, I was a really picky eater then!), all while patiently waiting for my favorite part of the meal: pumpkin pie with a mountain of whipped cream!
When I spotted my parents’ croquet set this past weekend and a nostalgic craving hit this past weekend, I realized I had packed away my pie plate in our storage locker, so I baked these Pumpkin Pie Bars instead! Full of comforting fall flavors and with a Greek Yogurt Whipped Cream to boot, they’re—dare I say it?—even better (and much easier) than the traditional dessert!
Let’s start with the crust. Without a doubt, this easy no-roll crust is my all-time favorite in the history of pies and bars because it starts with cookies! Gingersnaps, to be exact. Crushed into fine crumbs and coupled with Gourmet Garden’s Ginger Paste, they create an irresistible sweet and spicy base.
Ingredient Tip: I used 80 of these cookies, about a quarter of the tub, and… My cookie-hating guy practically single-handedly polished off the rest. I always have to hide the bucket if I want any!
Note: To make these bars gluten-free, substitute your favorite crunchy gluten-free gingersnaps. I love these, and they’re fairly easy to find!
For the filling, I downsized my favorite pumpkin pie recipe to make it fit in the smaller pan. Instead of the typical evaporated milk, I used Greek yogurt to make these bars a little healthier. Greek yogurt adds extra protein and creaminess without the fat and calories; it’s one of my favorite secret ingredients in lighter baking! The bars are then thickened with eggs and cornstarch, and finally finished off with a hint of cinnamon, nutmeg, and more Gourmet Garden Ginger Paste.
Just like with cheesecake, we’ll bake these pumpkin pie bars low and slow. When they’re done, the filling should be just barely set and no longer jiggle in the center when shaken. They need to cool to room temperature before chilling for at least 3 hours, so make sure you plan ahead!
Now for the whipped cream… Oh my goodness gracious. It honestly deserves its own blog post! It’s rich, creamy, and just a fraction of the calories of the regular kind. A true miracle for the indulgent holiday season!
Note: If it’s your first time making whipped cream, check out my friend Dorothy’s super helpful tutorial for how to make the perfect whipped cream!
Just like regular whipped cream, our lighter version starts out with heavy cream. (It’s the first time I’ve ever bought or worked with it in my blog’s entire 4-year lifespan!) You’ll beat that until it thickens; then add powdered sugar, cinnamon, vanilla, and Greek yogurt. Because Greek yogurt is already thick (I use it to make “buttercream” frosting all the time!), it won’t water down your whipped cream like regular yogurt or make the whipped cream runny like milk.
With everything in the bowl, beat the mixture until it hits the stiff peak stage, or where it holds its shape when you pull up the beaters from the bowl. The Greek yogurt also acts as an insurance policy. With that in the bowl, it’s practically impossible to over-beat the heavy cream (and turn it into butter), so don’t be afraid to mix a little longer if you’re unsure. Then sneak a huge spoonful for yourself, and pipe or dollop the rest onto the bars.
Because pumpkin pie always deserves whipped cream!
My dad is just the sweetest. He declared it with this recipe, and he proclaimed it again for these Pumpkin Pie Bars: “These are going to be a huge hit—one of the most popular recipes on your blog!”
I really hope he’s right! But either way, he’s definitely my biggest fan. And helped make the entire pan of these bars disappear in a single weekend. ♥
*Note: This post was sponsored by Gourmet Garden. As always, all text, images, recipe, and opinions are my own.