Perfect Pumpkin Pie
After all these years, I finally have a fabulous pumpkin pie recipe to share with you. What took me so long? Well, for such a seemingly simple dessert, pumpkin pie can be tricky to make. Over the years, I’ve tested at least a dozen recipes and each one was plagued with either a filling that wouldn’t set properly, a massive crack down the center, or a lousy crust (i.e., soggy, doughy or shrunken). Whomever coined the term “easy as pie” had obviously never baked a pumpkin pie!
Part of the challenge with pumpkin pie is that there are a lot of variables. First, there’s the type of pan you use: ceramic, glass and metal all behave differently. Second, no homemade pie crust is ever the same — plus, crust by nature is finicky. And, finally, pumpkin pie filling is a custard, which makes it difficult to gauge doneness. Most recipes instruct you to remove the pie from the oven when the filling is still a little jiggly — take it out too early and it never sets up; cook it too long and it cracks down the center (or, take it out at just the right time and still have it crack down the center!).
In coming up with this recipe, my first step was to tackle the crust. I tried just about every kind — from butter to lard to shortening to combinations of all three — as well as a few tricks, like adding vodka to the dough. In the end, I went with a mostly butter dough with a little bit of shortening added for tenderness. This gave me a crust that tasted buttery, held its shape and was easy to work with. To solve the problem of shrinkage during baking, I added a tiny bit of baking powder to the dough (a genius trick borrowed from one of my favorite pastry chefs, Nick Malgieri), which helped the crust expand into the pan rather than slip down the sides. And, finally, to prevent the dough from becoming soggy from the wet filling, I blind baked the crust until it was completely cooked.
With the crust perfected, I got to work on getting rid of those unsightly cracks in the filling. Cracking is supposedly caused by over-baking, but I found that the cracks formed even when I under-baked my pies or cooked them perfectly. After much experimentation — and many sad-looking pumpkin pies — I discovered that adding a little flour to the filling and replacing some of the whole eggs with egg yolks stabilized the pie. Reducing the oven temperature helped too. Finally, no more cracking — even if I accidentally left the pie in the oven a few minutes too long.
At last, with my crust and filling conundrums solved, I had the foolproof pumpkin pie I’d been searching for. Here’s how to make it…
Begin with the crust. Combine the flour, salt, sugar and baking powder in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Pulse a few times to combine.
Add cold butter and shortening.
Pulse until the mixture is crumbly with lots of chickpea-size clumps of butter and shortening within. These chunks of fat will steam as the dough cooks, creating a tender and flaky crust.
Gradually add the ice cold water to the dough, pulsing until the dough is just moistened. It won’t come together into a mass; it will be very crumbly. That’s what you want.
Dump the crumbly dough out onto a work surface. It will seem all wrong but don’t worry, it will come together.
Gather it into a crumbly ball.
And shape it into a disc about 4-inches wide and wrap in plastic.
Refrigerate for at least 45 minutes — this allows the gluten to rest, which makes a tender dough less prone to shrinkage.
Dust a work surface with flour and roll the dough into a 14-inch circle, dusting with more flour as necessary so it doesn’t stick. It will have a marbled appearance — that’s good!
Drape the dough over the rolling pin and transfer it to the pie pan.
Fit it into the pie pan, easing it inwards rather than stretching it outwards.
Patch any tears, then trim the edges to about 1/2-inch beyond the lip of the dish.
Fold the dough under itself along the rim, building it up.
Next, press the edges down against the rim — this will help the crust stay put as it bakes. Otherwise, it’s prone to slip down the edges of the dish, especially if you use a glass or ceramic pie pan.
Crimp the edges with your fingers or press with the tines of a fork.
Place the crust in the freezer to chill while you preheat the oven. As I mentioned above, it’s important to “blind bake” your crust before filling it, otherwise the wet filling prevents the bottom of the crust from cooking, leaving you with a raw, doughy bottom crust.
To blind bake the crust, cover it with a sheet of parchment paper and fill it halfway with dried beans or pie weights. This will hold the crust in place and prevent shrinkage. Cook for 25 minutes until the crust is set. Remove the parchment and beans, then tent the edges with strips of aluminum foil to prevent them from browning too much.
Bake for another 20 minutes, until the crust is golden and completely cooked. This is long compared to most recipes but the crust won’t cook any more once you add the filling, so it’s important to make sure it’s flaky and crisp.
While the crust finishes cooking, make the filling by combining all of the ingredients in a large bowl.
Whisk until smooth.
Add the filling to the cooked crust.
Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until just set — it should look dry around the edges and set in the center, but if you nudge the pan, the center should jiggle slightly.
The pie will look a little puffed when it comes out of the oven, but it will settle as it cools. Let cool to room temperature before slicing. Enjoy!
Perfect Pumpkin Pie
For the Crust
- 1-1/2 cups (6-1/2 ounces) all-purpose flour, spooned into measuring cup and leveled with a knife
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon baking powder
- 6-1/2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, sliced into 1/4-inch pieces
- 2-1/2 tablespoons cold vegetable shortening, in 4 pieces
- 4 tablespoons ice cold water
For the Filling
- 1 (15 ounce) can pumpkin (about 2 cups)
- 1 large egg
- 3 large eggs yolks
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup light brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1-1/4 cups evaporated milk
For the Crust
- Combine the flour, sugar, salt and baking powder in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Pulse a few times to combine. Add the pieces of butter and shortening and pulse until you have coarse crumbs with lots of pea and chickpea-size clumps of butter and shortening within. Add half of the water and pulse a few times to incorporate. Add the remaining water and pulse until the mixture is just evenly moistened and very crumbly. It will not come together into a mass -- that's okay. Dump the crumbly dough out onto a work surface and gather it into a ball. Pat the dough into a 5-inch disc -- don't worry if the edges crack -- and wrap it in plastic. Refrigerate for at least 45 minutes to rest.
- Take the dough out of the refrigerator (if it was in the fridge for a long time, let it sit on the countertop for 10-15 minutes so that it's malleable enough to roll). Dust your work surface lightly with flour and place the dough on top; sprinkle a little flour over the dough. Use your hands to quickly work the dough into a smooth disc -- don't over-work it or warm it up too much, just smooth the edges as best as you can so it's easier to roll. Roll the dough, adding more flour as necessary under and on top of the dough so it doesn't stick, into a 13-inch circle. Carefully drape the dough over the rolling pin and transfer it to a 9-inch deep dish pie pan (it should be at least 1-1/2 inches deep). Gently fit the dough into the pan, easing it inwards rather than stretching it outwards. Don't worry if it tears, just patch it right back up. Trim the edges to 1/2-inch beyond the lip of the pie pan. Turn the edges under to create a rim on the crust (you can use the scraps to patch in any thin areas); then press the rim against the lip of the pan, forming it into an even edge as you go. Using your fingers, crimp the rim. Place the crust in the freezer for at least 15 minutes while you heat the oven.
- Preheat the oven to 375°F. Remove the pie crust from the freezer and place on a baking sheet (this makes it easy to move in and out of the oven). Cover the crust with a piece of parchment paper and fill it about halfway full with dried beans or pie weights. Bake for 20 minutes. Take the crust out of the oven; remove the parchment paper and beans/pie weights and tent the edges with a few strips of foil folded in half lengthwise. This will protect the edges from getting too dark. Bake for another 20 minutes, until the dough is dry and golden. Don't worry if the bottom puffs up; just press it down gently with a flat spatula, such as a pancake turner, taking care not to puncture it. Remove the foil but don't throw it away; you may need it again.
- Reduce the oven temperature to 325°F.
- Make the filling by whisking together all of the ingredients in a large bowl. Pour the filling into the pre-baked crust. Bake for 50-60 minutes, until the filling is just set -- it should look dry around the edges and the center should jiggle just slightly if you nudge the pan. Keep a close eye on the pie as it bakes; if ever the crust looks like it's browning too quickly, tent the edges again with the foil strips. Cool the pie on a rack (leave it on the baking sheet) to room temperature, a few hours. Slice or refrigerate until ready to serve.
- Make ahead tips: Pumpkin pie can be made one day ahead of time and refrigerated. The dough can be made ahead and wrapped in plastic and refrigerated for up to 2 days, or frozen for up to 1 month. If you freeze it, thaw it overnight in the refrigerator.
- Note: If you use a store bought crust, follow the instructions on the package for blind baking.
- Per serving (10 servings)
- Calories: 335
- Fat: 15g
- Saturated fat: 8g
- Carbohydrates: 45g
- Sugar: 27g
- Fiber: 2g
- Protein: 6g
- Sodium: 287mg
- Cholesterol: 103mg
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