Holiday traditions are like members of the family: We treasure them, even when they become weathered with time.
For years, I’ve made a lovely pumpkin-vanilla pie during the holidays. The recipe is simple and it contains the perfect combination of humble and hearty ingredients. Layers of pumpkin filling and cream cheese nestle into a graham cracker crust. Vanilla and cinnamon enhance the flavor. Even better, it’s a refrigerator pie, so it doesn’t compete with the rest of the meal for oven space.
The finished dessert looks pretty unassuming, but its sweet-spicy taste and velvety texture have made it a favorite at my holiday table, season after season.
Or so I thought.
A few years back, friends started bringing their own desserts to my Chanukah and Christmas dinners. I’d notice at the end of the evening that the other plates had been emptied – and only my lonely pumpkin pie was left untouched.
“Doesn’t anybody want a little slice of this nice pie?” I’d say.
“Uh, maybe later,” would be the reply.
Finally, someone gently suggested perhaps the pumpkin pie was just too…
“What?” I asked. “Too basic, too old-fashioned, too unsophisticated for your tastes?”
Determined to show them the error of their ways, I decided to try a recipe makeover. This time, I boldly doubled the spices, then added a few more. I got out a crystal trifle bowl, layered the ingredients to show them off, and made swirl-y patterns with my spatula in the topping. Then I embellished the whole concoction with slivers of sparkly candied ginger.
My guests sampled the festive dessert quite happily and several remarked how good it was. Were they merely being polite? In any case, there wasn’t much left over. And so a new tradition was born: Anyone can bring a dessert to my holiday table – but everyone must taste all of them.
So far, no one has complained.
Pumpkin Pie Trifle
2 cups graham cracker crumbs, combined with 1 stick melted butter or margarine
4 oz. (1/2 of 8-oz. pkg.) cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons milk
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tub (8 oz.) frozen whipped topping, thawed and divided in half
1 cup milk
1 can (15 oz.) pumpkin
2 pkgs. (4-servings each) vanilla instant pudding
1 teaspoon bourbon extract
1-1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 cup candied ginger, sliced into small strips, or more to taste
Optional: 1/4 cup of slivered, toasted almonds or dried cranberries; shaved dark chocolate
Beat cream cheese, 2 tablespoons milk and the sugar in a bowl with wire whisk until well blended. Gently stir in half of the whipped topping. Set aside.
Pour 1 cup milk into a bowl. Add pumpkin, pudding, bourbon extract, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and nutmeg. Beat with wire whisk; mixture will be thick but should be smooth. Set aside.
To assemble: in a medium sized trifle bowl:
Press half the graham cracker mixture into the bottom of the bowl.
Spread the cream cheese mixture over this layer.
Crumble the remaining graham cracker mixture on top of the cream cheese.
Evenly spread the pumpkin mixture next.
Refrigerate 3-4 hours or until set.
Just before serving, spread thickly with the remaining whipped topping and use a spatula or knife to make swirled designs. Sprinkle with the candied ginger and serve immediately.