The premise behind the You Want Pies With That? event is to make a pie based on the chosen theme. Then everyone who made a pie that month can vote for their favorite pie and the baker with the most votes gets choose the theme the following month. Jeanette and I had the honor of choosing a theme for October. We decided on "Masquerade Pie" - make a pie that has a secret.
We suggested that "You can conceal your pie's secret identity (with a robe of dark chocolate, maybe?) or disguise your pie as one thing when it's really something else (like a mock apple pie deceptively made with Ritz crackers instead of apples). You can use a mysterious, unusual or surprising ingredient in your pie or if you're more inclined to step out from behind the mask, you can reveal a secret recipe or technique."
I decided to make something that I hesitantly call pumpkin pie squares. The recipe is based on a recipe I got from a restaurant in the West Portal neighborhood of San Francisco. I've been making this recipe for over a decade now, but I never know what to call it. That restaurant called it a pumpkin pecan pie, but that name never seemed right to me. So I ended up calling it that "pumpkin thing". The restaurant makes the recipe in two 9-inch round pans, but I found it easier to make the recipe in one 9x13-inch cake pan or one 10-inch round springform pan. If I make it in the 9x13 pan I call it pumpkin pie squares, but if I make it in the springform, it's just that pumpkin thing.
The dirty little secret to the pumpkin thing is the use of boxed cake mix. The cake mix, which is sprinkled on top of the pumpkin batter in the pan, becomes the crust when you invert the baked pumpkin thing. I am almost embarrassed to say the words "cake mix" when people ask me what's in the crust. The pumpkin thing is one of my two most requested recipes. The other is the toffee almond bars which also uses boxed cake mix. What is it about cake mix that people love so much? I will never understand it.
The internet is filled with variations of this recipe and most of them are named pumpkin dump cake or similar. But no matter its name, it's no secret that people love the pumpkin thing.
Pumpkin Pie Squares
(aka Pumpkin Thing)
One 30-ounce can of pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie mix)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup light brown sugar
One 5-ounce can of evaporated milk (not sweetened condensed milk)
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoons ground ginger
1/8 teaspoons ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoons ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
One 18-ounce box of yellow cake mix (Pillsbury or Better Crocker brand)
1 cup chopped pecans
8 ounces (1 cup) unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
Line one 9 x 13 x 2-inch baking pan with parchment paper and coat with baking spray.
In a large mixing bowl combine pumpkin, both sugars and evaporated milk. Beat in eggs, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves and salt and then pour batter into the prepared pan.
Sprinkle half the cake mix over the batter. Sprinkle on the pecans and then the remaining cake mix. Drizzle with melted butter.
Bake at 350F for 60-70 minutes or until golden brown.
Cool in pan for 2 hours on a cooling rack. Loosen and gently invert onto a serving platter. Carefully remove the parchment paper. Leave it pumpkin side up.
Chill in refrigerator for at least 2 or 3 hours before slicing.