Thanksgiving dinner isn’t complete without a perfect pumpkin pie for dessert. This classic fall treat may seem simple, but bakers know that perfecting the flaky crust, smooth filling, and well-baked interior can be tricky. Follow these tips to impress your guests with a flawless pumpkin pie this Thanksgiving.
While we associate pumpkin pie with American cuisine, recipes for pumpkin pie appeared as early as the 17th century. Originally they were called “pompion”, the French word for “pumpkin”, which suggests that the French created the first pumpkin pie recipes.
If you want to cut fat and sugar from your pumpkin pie, try my favourite guilt free recipe. Non-fat evaporated milk is the key to lowering the fat, but it does not comprise flavour. In 1899, EA Stuart, founder of Carnation, came up with a new process for canned, sterilized, evaporated milk. Long-term storage of evaporated and condensed milk came in handy in times of war and for the impoverished.
Perfecting your Pumpkin Pie Tips
For the best results, bake your pumpkin pie in a sturdy, deep pie dish instead of a disposable foil pan, which can burn more easily, be tricky to handle, and lead to spilled pie if accidentally dropped. Glass pie plates are ideal, as they allow you to monitor the bottom of the crust to check for doneness throughout the baking process.
Start with a Foolproof Crust
A tasty crust is essential for pumpkin pie. For best results, use a recipe made with chilled butter and ice water. Cut the butter into the dry ingredients using a food processor or pastry cutter until it resembles coarse crumbs. Slowly add ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time, and process just until the dough holds together. Overworking the dough makes crusts tough. Shape into a disk, wrap in plastic, and chill for at least 30 minutes before rolling out. My favourite recipe was my granny’s
Blind-bake your pie crust before adding the filling. Prick the dough all over with a fork, line with parchment paper or foil, and fill with pie weights or dried beans. Baking blind prevents shrinkage and helps the crust keep its shape. Bake at 400°F for 15-20 minutes until lightly browned on the edges. Cool completely before filling.
Pick the Perfect Pumpkin Puree
- Pumpkin pie gets its signature colour and flavour from pumpkin puree. For best results, make your own puree using sugar pumpkins, rather than the larger jack-o-lantern varieties, which tend to be stringy and watery. Cut pumpkin into chunks and roast at 350°F until very tender. Puree in a food processor or blender with spices if desired.
- Canned pumpkin puree makes a convenient shortcut. Look for 100% pure pumpkin without added sugars or seasonings. Measure precisely and smooth out any lumps for the creamiest texture.
Balancing Spices and Sweeteners
- The key to pumpkin pie is getting the spices and sweeteners just right. Typical spices include cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves. Start with 1 teaspoon each, taste the filling mixture, and adjust to your liking. Too much spice can overpower the pumpkin flavour.
- Sweetened condensed milk helps make a rich, creamy filling. Lighten the consistency and sweetness by cutting it with regular evaporated milk. For lighter pies, substitute half the condensed milk with evaporated milk.
- Add egg yolks to help set the filling once baked. 2-3 yolks is usually about right. Beat them into the filling mixture one at a time until smooth and silky.
Chill before Baking
- Chilling the custard ingredients for a few hours or overnight allows the spices to blend. So you can prepare your crust and fill ahead of time and then pull it quickly together on the day of your event.
Try a Waterbath
- Cracks in pumpkin pies can be prevented by avoiding overbaking, properly draining canned pumpkin puree, gently mixing the filling, and ensuring a flat, even crust so the filling can set up smoothly without contracting as it cools. You can also bake the pie in a water bath by placing the pie in a large roasting pan, and placing it in the oven. Pour boiling water into the pan until half-way up the sides of the pie plate.
Cook Until Just Set
- Getting that perfect, smooth texture in your pumpkin pie filling relies on proper baking. Bake at 425°F for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 350°F and continue baking for 40-50 more minutes. The center should be just set but still quite jiggly. Resist peeking too often, which causes filling leakage.
- A knife inserted 1 inch from the crust should come out clean when done. The residual heat will continue cooking the pie after removal from the oven. Allow to cool completely before slicing for clean cuts and ideal texture.
Top with Fresh Whipped Cream
Let your spectacular pumpkin pie shine with a dollop of freshly whipped cream on top. Sweeten heavy whipping cream with sugar and a splash of vanilla. Whip to stiff peaks. Pipe or scoop on cooled pie slices. Garnish with ground cinnamon or crushed gingersnaps for extra flair.
When Disaster Strikes
Pumpkin (and other custard) pies can crack as the edges finish cooking before the centre has set and when the pie cools, it contracts and forms cracks. Two options:
- If you already have cracks, you can easily fix that by heating an offset spatula and smoothing out the crack on a chilled pie, or by covering with decorative pieces of pie crust, spoon on that topping to disguise the blemishes, or cut the pie before serving.