Pumpkin Pie and I

Pumpkin Pie
Pumpkin Pie: If, like the author, you simply like pumpkin pie, you’ll love this recipe — velvety smooth, packed with flavor, and redolent of just the right touch of spice. (Photo courtesy America’s Test Kitchen)

Every girl has one — that guy that she’s “just friends” with. You’ve known each other for I-don’t-know-how-many years, but you’ve never once been attracted, because you’ve always been, and always will be, “just friends.” All your best friends and family love him. You don’t not like him. You want to like him. But there’s something missing. That spark. That je ne sais quoi.

Pumpkin pie is like that guy. I don’t love pumpkin pie, but I so desperately want to. I love all things pumpkin. I love cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and nutmeg with pumpkin in breads, muffins, and pancakes.

I like pumpkin pie. When it’s around, I eat it without thinking twice. I mean, it’s still a pie. I’ll even eat leftover pumpkin pie sitting in the refrigerator; not even bothering to remove the pie from that middle shelf because I’ve contorted my body to prop open the refrigerator door while I sneak five or six bites straight from the pie dish with my fork.

Still, it drives me mildly insane trying to understand why other people go bonkers over pumpkin pie. Usually, the crust looks and tastes like soggy cardboard, and the filling, which can be wonderfully fragrant and flavorful, has the mealy, squishy consistency of baby food.

I want to love pumpkin pie. I want to look forward to the prospect of it with eager, heart-pounding anticipation as soon as the calendar flips from September to October. Pumpkin pie comes around only once a year, and I want a spring and summer absence to make my heart grow fonder. But it doesn’t. And then something happened. I ran into a recipe from Cook’s Illustrated for the perfect pumpkin pie. It promises a flaky, crisp crust. It promises a smooth, delicious, and firm filling. I baked it, unsure of how I’d end up feeling.

After a little more effort than the Libby’s-like recipes we’re used to, I slipped it gently into the oven. When it came out, I let it cool down. I pierced through that soft, quivering custard with an 8-inch chef’s knife and pulled out a perfect, enormous piece. It was heavy. I put the piece on a plate, and I took a bite.

After all these years, I finally fell in … like. A very, very strong like. The spark was finally lit. Pumpkin pie and I? There’s a little something going on between us now.

Pumpkin Pie

Recipes courtesy America’s Test Kitchen
(Makes 8 servings)

Make sure to buy unsweetened canned pumpkin; avoid pumpkin pie mix. If candied yams are unavailable, regular canned yams can be substituted. When the pie is properly baked, the center 2 inches of the pie should look firm but jiggle slightly. The pie finishes cooking with residual heat; to ensure that the filling sets let it cool at room temperature and not in the refrigerator. 

Pumpkin Pie



Foolproof Single-Crust Pie Dough

(Makes one 9‑inch pie crust)

Vodka is essential to the tender texture of this crust and imparts no flavor — do not substitute water. This dough is moister than most standard pie doughs and will require lots of flour to roll out (up to 1/4 cup). A food processor is essential for making this dough — it cannot be made by hand. 

Pie Dough



Per Serving
Calories: 545
Total Fat: 31 g
Saturated Fat: 16 g
Sodium: 597 mg
Carbohydrate: 60 g
Fiber: 4 g
Protein: 8.4 g
Diabetic Exchanges: 4 carbohydrate, 6 fat

Cook the Pumpkin

To maximize flavor, we at America’s Test Kitchen, publisher of Cook’s Illustrated, concentrate the pumpkin’s liquid rather than remove it, and we’ve found it best to do this on the stove — an added bonus for the spices that we add to the filling as well. Cooking the fresh ginger and spices along with the pumpkin puree intensifies their taste — the direct heat blooms their flavors. Cooking minimizes the mealy texture in this pie where pumpkin is the star.

Supplement with Yams

When we used solely pumpkin puree, we craved more flavor complexity. We experimented with roasted sweet potatoes, which added a surprisingly deep flavor without a wholly recognizable taste. To streamline this technique, we tried adding canned sweet potatoes — often labeled yams — instead. The yams add a complex flavor that complements the pumpkin.

Add Extra Yolks

Our goal with this pie was to eliminate the grainy texture that plagues most custard in favor of a creamy, sliceable, not-too-dense pie. We start with a balance of whole milk and cream, and firm up the mixture with eggs. We don’t simply add whole eggs, though — that just makes the pie too eggy. Because the whites are filled with much more water than the yolks, we exchange some whole eggs for yolks alone. Don’t forget to pass mixed filling through a fine-mesh strainer. This will ensure the ultimate smooth texture.

Add Hot Filling to Warm Crust

If you’re tempted to bake the pie crust way ahead of time, don’t. It’s imperative that the pie crust is warm when you add the hot filling. If it is not, the pie will become soggy. Using a hot filling in a warm crust allows the custard to firm up quickly in the oven, preventing it from soaking into the crust and turning it soggy. Keep that crust warm!

Turn the Oven High to Low

Most pumpkin pie recipes call for a high oven temperature to expedite cooking time. But as we’ve learned, baking any custard at high heat has its dangers. Once the temperature of custard rises above 185°F it curdles, turning the filling coarse and grainy. This is why we cannot bake the pie at 425°F, as most recipes suggest. Lowering the temperature to 350°F only produces a pie that is curdled and overcooked at the edges and still underdone in the center. But baking at a low 300°F would mean leaving the pie in the oven for 2 hours. What to do? We combine the two techniques, blasting the pie for 10 minutes on high heat and then baking it at 300°F for the rest of the baking time. This lessens the cooking time exponentially and leaves us with a creamy pie that’s fully and evenly cooked from edge to center.