Pumpkin pie recipe: Thanksgiving without a pumpkin dessert? Are you out of your gourd?

To most of us, Thanksgiving, at its core, is about spending time with family.

Yet you can't discount the food.

It wouldn't be a proper Thanksgiving without a spread so festive and delicious (and gut-busting) that you dream about it days, and maybe even weeks, beforehand. Roast turkey with all the trimmings, mashed potatoes and herb-perfumed bread stuffing drowning in a pool of giblet gravy, a dessert table groaning under the weight of pumpkin and other desserts ...

Indeed, many consider a pumpkin dessert the most important dish on the Thanksgiving table. Here are some possibilities.

GREAT PUMPKIN CAKE WITH CINNAMON GLAZE

(Tested by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

This is probably our easiest recipe.

For cake

4 cups cake flour (not self-rising)

4 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon ground ginger

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pan

2-1/2 cups granulated sugar

4 large eggs

1 cup buttermilk

15-ounce can pumpkin puree

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

For glaze

1 cup confectioners' sugar

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 to 4 tablespoons heavy cream or half-and-half

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Generously butter a 12- to 14-cup Bundt pan with flour; tap out excess.

For cake: In a medium bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. In a large bowl with electric mixer on high speed, beat butter and sugar until fluffy. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Reduce speed to low. Add dry ingredients and buttermilk, beating until just combined. Add pumpkin and vanilla; beat until combined. Pour batter into prepared pan.

Bake cake for 1 hour, until firm and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with a few moist crumbs. Transfer to a wire rack; let cool for 30 minutes. Carefully turn cake onto a rack to cool completely.

For glaze: In a medium bowl, whisk together sugar and cinnamon. Whisk in cream until of desired consistency. Drizzle over cooled cake.

Serves 16.

-- "Debbie Macomber's Christmas Cookbook" by Debbie Macomber (Harlequin, 2011)

PUMPKIN CHEESECAKE

(Tested by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Caramel-coated pecans and a spicy gingersnap crust make this very easy dessert irresistible. It's very rich, so cut into small wedges to serve.

-- Gretchen McKay

For crust

1/2 pound gingersnaps (about 20 small cookies)

1/2 cup pecan halves

1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

For filling

3/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon each allspice, ground ginger and ground cloves

1 pound cream cheese, at room temperature

3 large eggs

1 cup pumpkin puree

For topping

1/2 cup pecan halves

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter a 9-inch springform pan.

To make crust, combine gingersnaps and pecans in a food processor and process until crumbly. Add brown sugar and melted butter and pulse for a few seconds to blend. Transfer crumb mixture to prepared springform pan. Use fingers to pat mixture into the bottom and evenly all the way up the sides of pan. Refrigerate for 20 minutes.

To make filling, stir together brown sugar and spices in a small bowl. In a large bowl, beat cream cheese with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth and creamy. Using a rubber spatula, occasionally scrape down the sides of bowl. Gradually add brown-sugar mixture, beating until smooth. Beat in eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add pumpkin puree, beating until smooth. Using a spatula, scrape batter into the chilled crust and smooth the top.

Bake cheesecake until set or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Let cool completely on a wire rack. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

To make topping, Set aside 10 pecan halves and coarsely chop the rest. In a small frying pan over medium-high heat, melt butter. Add pecans, sprinkle with sugar and cook, stirring, until sugar melts and nuts are toasted and caramel-coated. Transfer to a plate and let cool completely. Store in an airtight container. Just before serving, sprinkle chopped pecans over cheesecake and arrange the halves evenly around the perimeter.

Serves 10 to 12.

-- "Williams-Sonoma Thanksgiving Entertaining" (Free Press)

MARTHA'S CLASSIC PUMPKIN PIE

(Tested by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Gretchen McKay told me I didn't have to adorn the crust with 40 hand-decorated pastry leaves as Martha Stewart does in her fantastic "New Pies & Tarts," and so I didn't (couldn't find my 1-inch leaf cookie cutter). The crust done that way is gorgeous if you have the time. Done simply, the pie still is delicious and not difficult. In a real pinch, though I wouldn't encourage it, you could use pre-made pie pastry.

Just don't tell Stewart.

-- Bob Batz Jr.

For pate brisee (crust)

2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, cold, cut into small pieces

1/4 cup ice water, plus more if needed

For filling

1 cup packed light brown sugar

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

1-1/2 cups unsweetened pumpkin puree, canned or fresh

1-1/2 cups evaporated milk

2 large whole eggs, lightly beaten

Whipped cream for serving

In the bowl of a food processor, combine flour, salt and sugar. Add butter and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal, 8 to 10 seconds. With machine running, add ice water in a slow, steady stream through feed tube. Pulse until dough holds together without being wet or sticky; be careful not to process more than 30 seconds. To test, squeeze a small amount together. If it is crumbly, add more ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time.

Divide dough into 2 equal balls. Flatten each ball into a disk and wrap in plastic. Transfer to the refrigerator and chill at least 1 hour. (The extra disk may be stored, frozen, up to 1 month.)

On a lightly floured surface, roll out 1 disk of dough to a 13-inch round, 1/8 inch thick. Fit into a 9-inch pie plate and form overlapping dough into a decorative edge. (I just did basic thumb-and-forefinger pinches around the perimeter.) Pierce bottom of shell all over with a fork. Refrigerate or freeze until firm, about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line pie shell with parchment; fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake 20 minutes. Carefully remove weights and parchment, and continue to bake until golden brown, 10 minutes more. Let cool on a wire rack. Keep oven on.

In a large bowl, whisk together sugar, cornstarch, salt, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, pumpkin and 2 eggs. Add evaporated milk, and whisk to combine. Pour filling into partially baked crust.

Place pie plate on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until edges are set but center is still slightly wobbly, 35 to 40 minutes. Transfer plate to a wire rack to cool completely. Serve with whipped cream, if desired.

Makes 1 9-inch pie.

-- "Martha Stewart's New Pies & Tarts: 150 Recipes for Old-Fashioned and Modern Favorites" (Clarkson Potter, 2011)

PUMPKIN TART

(Tested by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

This creamy cousin to the traditional pie -- our most complex recipe -- takes a bit of time, but the results are worth it. Lots of cream and only a little canned pumpkin means it's not as "pumpkiny" as its name suggests.

-- Gretchen McKay

For pastry shell

1 cup plus 6 tablespoons unbleached pastry flour or all-purpose flour

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, frozen and cubed

1 extra-large egg yolk

2 tablespoons heavy cream

For filling

1-1/2 cups heavy cream

1/2 teaspoon pumpkin-pie spice

1/8 teaspoon salt

5 large egg yolks

6 tablespoons sugar

1/2 cup canned pumpkin puree

Whipped cream for serving

For shell: In a food processor, combine flour and sugar and pulse a few times to mix well. Scatter the butter over the top and pulse until mixture is the consistency of a fine meal. In a small bowl, whisk together egg yolk and cream. Add to the processor and pulse a few times until the dough barely comes together.

Turn dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Dip heel of your hand in flour and, working with a single small section at a time, smear dough away from you to blend the ingredients together. When all of the dough is blended, flatten the dough into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap and chill until firm, at least 2 hours.

Place a 10-1/4-inch tart ring on a rimmed baking sheet. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out dough into a 12-inch circle. Loosely drape dough circle over tart ring, then ease pastry into place, pressing it firmly but gently against the sides and bottom and allowing the excess dough to extend over the rim. Roll the rolling pin over the top of the tart ring to cut off excess pastry. Refrigerate for 20 minutes to chill. Reserve pastry trimmings for patching. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Line bottom and sides of chilled tart shell with round coffee filters or parchment paper, and fill shell with pie weights or raw rice, filling to the edges. Bake until pastry is golden brown, about 25 minutes. Remove from oven and leave oven set at 350 degrees. Let shell cool for a few minutes on a rack, then remove weights and carefully peel off coffee filters or parchment. If bottom of tart is not uniformly browned, return it unlined to the oven for a few minutes, then let cool completely before filling. It there are any cracks, smear a small amount of raw dough (from trimmings) over the cracks to repair them.

For filling: In a saucepan, combine cream, pumpkin-pie spice and salt. Bring to a boil over high heat. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar until smooth.

When cream begins to boil, remove from heat.

Slowly whisk about half of the hot cream into the egg-yolk mixture, then whisk the egg-yolk/cream mixture back into the cream in the pan. Return pan to low heat and cook, stirring constantly, until custard coats the back of a spoon, 1 to 2 minutes.

Using a fine-mesh sieve, strain custard into a medium bowl. Stir in pumpkin and let filling cool while crust bakes. Skim off any foam that develops on surface of the custard as it cools.

To assemble and bake tart: Slowly pour the prepared pumpkin custard into the center of the pastry shell, and then carefully transfer the baking sheet to the oven. Bake until filling is set, 25 to 30 minutes. Let the tart cool completely on a rack.

Lift off the tart ring, then, using a wide metal spatula, carefully transfer the tart to a serving plate. Cut tart into wedges and top each serving with a dollop of whipped cream.

Serves 8.

-- "The Macy's Culinary Council Thanksgiving & Holiday Cookbook" by The Macy's Culinary Council (Book Kitchen, 2011)

(Email Gretchen McKay at gmckay@post-gazette.com.)

(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service)

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