Even with all the spiced lattés, pumpkin beers, nutmeg-dusted baked goods, and squash-filled treats in the world, there will always be one day of the year when we crave the real deal. Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie just wouldn't feel right. Here is our version of the classic pie, plus a few tricks to help you make it the best one you've ever had.
A soggy crust is the curse of many a good pie, particularly custard-based ones like our dear pumpkin. To help avoid this, partially bake the crust before adding the filling, i.e. "blind bake" the crust.
If you've never done this before, don't worry: it's easy. Just roll out the crust and fit it into the pan, then line it with a piece of parchment paper and fill the bottom with pie weights, dried beans, or even pennies. The weights help keep the bottom from puffing up and the sides from slouching. Bake for about 15 minutes, remove the weights, bake for another few minutes to dry out the bottom, and you're ready to go.
Puree the Puree
This is a trick I picked up from Cook's Illustrated a while back: run the pumpkin puree in a food processor or blender for a minute before proceeding on with the recipe. Even though canned pumpkin puree is already, yes, pureed, fibrous stringy bits often remain. Pureeing the puree helps insure a silky smooth texture.
When I say "cook" here, I really just mean to let the pumpkin puree bubble on the stovetop for about 5 minutes. I find that this brief kiss of warmth helps cook out the raw pumpkin flavor and give the finished pie much more depth. It also melts the sugar into the puree and infuses it with the spices for an all around richer, more complex flavor.
Warm Filling Loves a Warm Crust
To make sure that the filling and the crust fuse into a single delicious creation, add the warm filling to the warm crust. Don't get too fussy about this — in terms of overall Pumpkin Pie Skillz, this is a less than crucial one, and in the rush of Thanksgiving prep, I know that the blind-baked crust and the warmed filling might not be ready in perfect synchrony. I mention it only because it's a detail that pumpkin pie lovers will appreciate.
1 9-inch unbaked Pie Crust
1 15-ounce can pumpkin puree (about 2 cups)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves or all-spice
3/4 cup whole milk
3/4 cup heavy cream
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Heat the oven to 425°F with a rack in the lower-middle position. Roll out the pie crust and transfer it to a 9-inch pie pan. Crimp the edges. Chill for 30 minutes while the oven heats.
Line the pie crust with parchment or aluminum foil and fill with pie weights (or dried beans). Bake until the edges just start to brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Remove the weights and lining, and bake for another 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and keep near the stove.
While the crust is baking, prepare the filling. Combine the pumpkin puree, granulated sugar, brown sugar, salt, and spices in the bowl of a food processor or blender. Blend continuously until the brown sugar is completely mixed in and the puree looks glossy.
Transfer the puree to a saucepan and set over medium-high heat. Stir frequently until you see wisps of steam rising from the puree, then stir continuously until the mixture is very steamy and "plops" when you pause for a second. The mixture will also start to smell like spices and cooked pumpkin. (Total stove time will be about 5 minutes.)
Off the heat, whisk the milk and cream into the pumpkin puree. To warm the eggs and ensure that they don't cook when you add them to the pumpkin mixture, whisk them together in a separate bowl, then whisk in a few spoonfuls of the warm pumpkin mixture. Slowly whisk the eggs into the saucepan with the pumpkin mixture. Whisk in the vanilla.
Place the partially-baked pie crust on a parchment-lined baking sheet and set it near the stove. Carefully pour the warm pumpkin mixture into the warm pie crust. If it looks like there's too much filling for the crust, stop when you come close to the edge of the crust.
Carefully transfer the baking sheet with the pie to the oven and immediately turn down the heat to 375°F. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes — until the pie is puffed in the middle, but still jiggles when you gently shake the pan. You'll also see small cracks form in the outer part of the pie and some bubbling around the edge. Check the pie every 15 minutes or so and cover the crust with a ring of foil when it becomes deep brown.
Let the pie cool before serving — it will continue to set as it cools. This pie can be baked a day or two ahead; wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve.