Serendipity: Pumpkin Cheese Pie with Toffee and Caramel Swirl

Thursday, October 23, 2008


Have you ever noticed that the most exciting inventions and breakthrough discoveries are sometimes stumbled upon purely by accident? From medical research, to science and technology right on down to recipes, some of our biggest boo boos can be and have been turned into “Eureka!” moments. For example, the discoveries of penicillin, quinine, the smallpox vaccine and even x-rays were all the happened upon by accident. Indispensable innovations like the microwave, the pacemaker, the computer mouse and even Post-Its were invented by chance.

So then, what about serendipity in the kitchen? Many of you may be familiar with the story of Ruth Wakefield, the inventor of the original chocolate chip cookie. In the 1930s, Ruth and her husband owned the Toll House Inn in Massachusetts. One evening in 1937, she was making butter cookies for her guests and thought she would make them all chocolate instead. She cut a bar of chocolate into tiny pieces and added them to the cookie dough, thinking that the chocolate would melt completely, giving her chocolate butter cookies. When the cookies came out of the oven, the chocolate hadn’t melted at all! Instead, the “chocolate chips” had kept their form. Thus, the Toll House chocolate chip cookie was born and went on to become the most popular and well-known cookie of all time!

I’ve certainly had my share of culinary flops that I was able to transform into some pretty terrific recipes. This decadent and devastatingly delicious Pumpkin Cheese Pie with Toffee and Caramel Swirl is a perfect example. Let me tell you how it came to be.


It all started with some very disappointing sugar cookies that I made last week. They were the refrigerator kind that come ready to bake (not Pillsbury). Mini SGCC sneaked them into my cart at the supermarket and I never even noticed them until I got home. Since I had them, I decided to pop them in the oven for a quick snack. They were awful! The cookies spread into flat, sugary pancakes that all ran into each other. They also had a very artificial vanilla taste. Not good at all. I hated to just throw them away, so I stuck them in a zip lock bag, figuring that I might be able to use them for something later.

A few days later, I made pumpkin muffins for my Tuesdays with Dorie assignment. I ended up with some leftover pumpkin puree, which I also saved for another use.

Still later, I was twirling some ideas around in my head for what to make for October’s edition of Sugar High Friday. The very appropriate theme for this month is “Spices”, and is being hosted by the very talented and creative Anita from Dessert First.


I decided to mix my leftover pumpkin with cream cheese, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger to make a pie. I already had the ingredients needed for the filling, so all I needed to do was figure out what to use for my crust. That was when I had my “Eureka!” moment. The sugar cookies! It was brilliant!

I tossed those cookies into the food processor with a touch more cinnamon and pulverized them into crumbs. Then, I mixed in some melted butter and voila! Pie crust!

To take the pie up a notch, I mixed some toffee bits that were hanging around into the filling and swirled globs of dulce de leche all through it. To make it a little prettier, I also spread a layer of dulce de leche on top of the pie and piped little dulce de leche blobs all around the perimeter.


Let me tell you, this pie was To. Die. For! Really, it was amazing! The filling was oh, so rich and creamy, with gorgeous, thick caramel ribbons running through it. The toffee bits added a just a little bit of crunch. And the crust? Well, the crust worked out beautifully. It tasted great, yet it didn’t interfere with the other flavors in the pie. You could certainly use any kind of cookie crumbs you like. If I hadn’t had the sugar cookies, I probably would have tried this with ginger snaps.

As I contemplated my accidental triumph, I was reminded of the old adage, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” Well, when life give you crappy sugar cookies, make pie crust!


Pumpkin Cheese Pie with Toffee and Caramel Swirl (aka Serendipity Pie) (Printable Recipe)

For the crust:

2 cups sugar cookie crumbs (pulverize 6-8 large sugar cookies in the food processor)

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

In a medium bowl, mix cookie crumbs, cinnamon and melted butter until well blended. Press mixture into an 8 or 9 inch pie plate.

Bake at 350 degrees F for 10 minutes. Cool.

For the filling:

2 8-ounce packages of cream cheese, softened

2/3 cup sugar ( Use more or less according to your taste)

1 cup pumpkin puree

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 cup toffee bits

2 cups dulce de leche or caramel sauce of your choice, divided. (You may have to soften the dulce de leche to make it “swirlable”. I microwaved mine on 50% power for about 10-15 seconds.)

Beat cream cheese and sugar together on medium speed until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add pumpkin, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg and beat until completely combined.

Mix in the toffee bits and swirl in 1 cup of the dulce de leche or caramel sauce.

Pour the filling into the pie plate and smooth it out. Refrigerate until firm, about 4 hours.

Spread the second cup of dulce de leche or caramel sauce evenly over the top of the pie.

If desired, use another 1/2 cup of dulce de leche to pipe rosettes or other design on top of the pie.

Chill until the topping is firm.


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Hello and welcome to SGCC! I’m Susan, a professional writer, food columnist, recipe developer, wife, mother, daughter and sister, who used to be a lawyer in a previous life. My love of food comes from a long line of wonderful and creative Italian home cooks who didn’t always have a lot, but knew how to make a lot out of what they had. I hope that you enjoy yourself while you’re here, and visit often! read more >>

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