Amazing ways to upgrade a store-bought pumpkin pie

Listen, with as much as there is to do to pull off a Thanksgiving meal for the whole family, nobody is going to judge you for buying a store-bought pumpkin pie. It's an easy way to lessen the stress that comes with rolling out the perfect pie crust, and then worrying whether or not the top will crack. Plus, store-bought pumpkin pie tastes just fine. Need proof? In 2015, Costco sold 1.75 million pumpkin pies in the three days leading up to Thanksgiving. 1.75 million people can't possibly be wrong about store-bought pie. 

But if ditching the proverbial Martha Stewart hat altogether makes you feel like a bad host, there are plenty of ways to jazz up a store-bought pie that are still a whole lot easier than making the pie itself. In a matter of minutes, you can turn a grocery store dessert into a showstopper (and if you ditch the telltale plastic container in favor of a fancy platter, you might even be able to pass it off as homemade). Here's how.

Brûlée it

Fancy restaurants would hate for you to know this, but creme brûlée desserts aren't actually that hard to make, or at least that crackly sugar crust isn't. Since you get to skip all the tempering of custards and the gentle baking of said custards, adding a brûléed topping to a store-bought pumpkin pie is a cinch. The only thing you need is an inexpensive culinary torch (though truth be told you can also get this job done under the broiler if need be).

Whichever method you choose, sprinkle an even layer of granulated sugar over the top of the pie. With the torch, simply turn on the flame and get to work. You'll want to caramelize the sugar in one small area at a time before moving on to the next. Once the sugar is browned and hardened all over, you're done. If you're using a broiler, place the pie under the heating element until caramelized. Just remember that using the broiler will likely result in less even caramelization due to hot spots.

Make it meringue

A sky-high meringue topping is a super impressive upgrade to a store-bought pumpkin pie that looks like it took a lot more time than it really did. And by using a bare bones formula and an electric mixer, you can make as much meringue as you need in minutes. 

Egg whites, sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract are all you need. For an 8-inch pie, use two egg whites and 4 tablespoons sugar; for a 9-inch pie, use three egg whites and 6 tablespoons sugar; and for a 10-inch pie, use four egg whites and 8 tablespoons sugar. Beat the egg whites in an electric mixer until frothy, then slowly add in the sugar until the mixture starts to stiffen. Add the vanilla extract and continue beating until stiff, shiny peaks form. Pile the meringue on top of your pie and bake at 350 degrees until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. 

Don't forget that any patterns, swirls, or peaks you create on the top of the meringue will show through once browned, so it's a fun way to add a little extra pizzazz to your pie.

Three words: Boozy whipped cream

Let's be honest: Boozy whipped cream could serve as dessert in its own right, pumpkin pie definitely not required. But since it's Thanksgiving, and it's practically illegal not to serve pumpkin pie, we'll settle for heaping spoonfuls atop our slices.

You can really make whipped cream with any alcohol you like, but since we're talking about pumpkin pie, you probably want to stick with things that complement the flavor — think amaretto, Frangelico, bourbon, or spiced rum. Once you decide on the booze, it's no different than making plain ol' homemade whipped cream. For every 8 ounces of heavy cream, you'll want to use 1 to 2 tablespoons of liquor, and 1 to 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, both to taste. Throw it all in the electric mixer and whip it up until peaks form. It's that easy. The hard part, obviously, will be spooning it onto the pie instead of straight into your mouth.

Drizzle it with sauce

Alright, you want easy? It really doesn't get any easier than this. You will not need an electric mixer, or an oven, or a mini blow torch. You will only need a jar. (Okay, fine. You might need a microwave, too.)

It can be a jar of whatever you want… caramel sauce, chocolate sauce, or everyone's favorite chocolate-hazelnut spread, Nutella. Drizzle the sauce of your choosing over the pie. (This is where the microwave will come in if it's too stiff to drizzle right out of the jar.) Make it a pretty pattern, or don't, and call it "rustic." No matter what, it's going to taste great. 

And why stop at one sauce? Caramel and chocolate sound like a fine combination to top your store-bought pumpkin pie. Add a dollop of whipped cream (keep with the easy theme and buy the spray can stuff) and you've got a fully loaded dessert that took seconds to prepare.

Give it a toasted marshmallow top

Calling all toasty marshmallow-topped sweet potato casserole lovers… If you're such a huge fan of the holiday staple that you want to eat it all over again for dessert, this pumpkin pie upgrade is for you.

Grab a bag of mini marshmallows and get to work covering the entire top of the pie in a single layer (bonus points for arranging them nicely, so they each stand on end, side by side). Now turn the broiler on, put the pie about 5 inches from the heating element, and — this is the hard part — do not under any circumstance walk away from that oven. Instagram is littered with sweet potato casseroles that have been burned beyond recognition, and your pumpkin pie will no doubt share similar fate if left unattended for more than 30 seconds to 1 minute. Heed our advice, or risk joining the #Thanksgivingfail club.

Add a colored pie crust

If you really want to give your store-bought pumpkin pie some pizzazz, consider colored pie dough. Yes, you do have to make pie crust even though you're buying a pre-made pie, but the result is undeniably cool. 

This genius idea comes from Aww Sam, and the possibilities are endless. Just start with a basic pie dough recipe, split it into however many different colors you want, then dye the portions with food dye by kneading it lightly into each piece of dough. From there you can make a braided crust, as pictured, to lay over the top of the existing crust, or letters and festive cutouts to place on the pie filling. 

For the crust, you'll want to actually place it on the pie and bake it at 350 degrees until it's just starting to brown, about 5 to 7 minutes. Don't let it go too far or you'll lose the vibrant colors. For cutouts, just bake the pieces on a sheet tray lined with parchment paper, then place them on the pie. Fun, right?

Give it a crunchy praline topping

If the words "pecan praline" send you into a panic, this is the recipe for you. See, pecan praline doesn't always have to mean busting out the candy thermometer and risking life and limb over a pot of boiling sugar. If you really dumb it down, you can fake your way to a delightfully crunchy praline topping that will turn your store-bought pumpkin pie into a knockout mashup of two Thanksgiving dessert favorites.

All you need is 1/3 cup chopped pecans, 1/4 cup brown sugar, and 2 tablespoons melted butter. Combine the ingredients in a bowl, then spread the mixture evenly over the top of the pie. Place the pie under the broiler and heat until bubbly, about 2 to 3 minutes, watching carefully as the sugar will burn. And just like that, you've got pecan praline pumpkin pie, no caramel burns, and no absurdly sticky pot to wash.

Add some tang

Some like it sweet, some like it sour. If you fall into the sour camp, maybe sweetened whipped cream isn't your thing. Maybe sweetened boozy whipped cream isn't even your thing (though it should be). In that case, a sour cream or cream cheese topping that adds a little tang will be right up your alley.

For a super simple sour cream topping, combine 1 cup sour cream with 4 to 5 tablespoons of sugar (or to taste). Don't worry, you'll still get that tangy flavor even with a fair amount of sugar. To add some extra flair, stir in a 1/2 teaspoon vanilla or a sprinkle of cinnamon or nutmeg. Spread it over the top of the pie, and chill until serving. 

For an autumn-inspired cream cheese topping, mix together 4 ounces of cream cheese, 1-1/2 cups Cool Whip, and 3 tablespoons of maple syrup. Add baking spices if desired, or a splash of bourbon for a little kick. Spread it over the top of the pie, and chill until serving. 

Turn leftovers into a milkshake

Like most of us, you probably bought an extra pie thinking that one couldn't possibly be enough. And of course, now you have an entire pie left because after a ginormous Thanksgiving dinner, it turns out that nobody wanted second helpings of dessert. So, what do you do with all that pumpkin pie? Sure, you could just eat it as regular pie, but that's not nearly as fun as a literal pumpkin pie milkshake. 

Get that high speed blender out, because you're going to put it to the test. Yes, you're really putting a slice of pie in the blender, along with a couple scoops of vanilla ice cream, and enough milk to make it creamy. Blend until smooth, then top with whipped cream, and maybe a little crumbled pie on top, just so everyone knows what's in there. But be warned: You might never eat an actual slice of pie again after tasting this milkshake.