How to Make the Best Pumpkin Spice Dessert

Much to my family’s happiness, I made a fall dessert this past weekend, just because. I bought into the “pumpkin spice” hype and needed a “fix,” so to speak! So, I scoured the internet to find something that would not be hard to make and that could easily be created gluten-free should I want to make it in the future for those in my life with such dietary needs.

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I found a site called Melissa’s Southern Style Kitchen at which the perfect recipe for what I was craving could be found. Hers, however, called for an ingredient I could not find in my local grocery stores: two boxes pumpkin spice instant pudding mix. I solved that problem by scouring the internet for homemade pumpkin pudding that could use vanilla instant pudding mix instead, something that I already had on hand. I found a great recipe at Nestle’s Very Best Baking site for that! So, off I went to put it all together.

The best part is that the only ingredient I’d have to change in the future to make this a gluten-free dessert would be the graham-cracker crumbs. My friend told me there are gluten-free graham crackers out there, so that would be the perfect substitute in the future.

I also believe that depending on the season, the pumpkin pudding part could easily be changed to match the time of year (maybe lemon for summertime, maybe chocolate for Valentine’s Day, etc.). The chopped treat could also be different than a toffee bar. What goes nicely with lemon? Maybe chopped shortbread cookies?

But, it’s autumn now, so a pumpkin dessert is calling my name!

Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients:

For the pudding:

  • 1 can (15 oz.) pumpkin puree

  • 1 can (12 oz.) evaporated milk

  • 1 envelope vanilla instant pudding mix (the recipe called for a 5.1 oz. envelope but I used a 3.4 oz. envelope and it worked out for me. It might solidify even better, though, with more powder to mix in.)

  • 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice (I used 1/2 t of nutmeg and 1/2 t cinnamon instead)

For the bottom (crust layer) of the dessert:

  • 2 cups graham cracker crumbs (you could use gluten-free ones here)

  • 3/4 c chopped pecans (reserve some extra for the final step!)

  • 1 stick butter (1/2 c), melted

  • 2 T granulated sugar

  • 1 t ground cinnamon

For the rest of the dessert’s layers:

  • 1 (8 oz.) package cream cheese, softened

  • 1 cup powdered sugar

  • 1 (16 oz.) tub of whipped topping, divided

  • 2 toffee candy bars (I used Heath bars), chopped

  • pumpkin pudding (prepared above)

Assembly:

Make the pudding first so that it can chill in the fridge for 20 minutes while you assemble and bake the crust layer. For the pudding, I simply dumped all four of the ingredients in a bowl and whisked them together. (see pics below)

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While the pudding gets happy in the fridge, zap your graham crackers in a food processor, chop your pecans, melt your butter, and place those, along with the granulated sugar and cinnamon, into a bowl as you see in the pic below.

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Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and spray the bottom of a 9 X 13 baking dish with cooking spray. Press into the dish the crumb mixture, using the bottom of a glass to stamp it down. Bake for between 20 and 25 minutes until golden brown. Allow to cool completely before assembling the layers on top.

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For the first layer, mix together in a bowl the softened cream cheese, the powdered sugar, and 1/3 of the tub of whipped topping. I used a whisk again because I hate dragging out the electric mixer! Spread that mixture on top of the cooled crust layer, as shown below.

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Top that layer with about 1/3 of the chopped toffee bars.

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Remove your pudding from the fridge. It should be ready by now. Spoon all of the pudding on top of the cream cheese mixture, spreading it out evenly for complete coverage.

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For the next layer, empty the remainder of the giant tub of whipped topping on top of the pumpkin pudding layer. Spread it evenly to cover completely.

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Finally, top the whipped cream with the remainder of your toffee bits as well as some extra chopped pecans if you have some!

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Keep refrigerated. You are supposed to be able to cut these into squares, but my family treated it as a dessert that you can scoop! Enjoy!

Mary Toepfer