Family Recipe: My Dad's Legendary Pumpkin Chiffon Pie

I have a confession: Trying new recipes for Thanksgiving is not my thing. In fact, when the time comes to prep my dad's legendary pumpkin chiffon pie, nothing delights me more than the same old same old.

There are certain dishes that pull so hard at our heartstrings, the secrets to conjure the foods that define us and our family traditions, they nearly barrel us over with love. This pie is one of those dishes, a dessert that signifies togetherness. Do you have one of these recipe narratives in your life? What's your family's signature dish?

Pin it button big

My dad, Richard, first encountered this recipe while shooting a Thanksgiving spread for Saveur magazine, over a decade ago. He's a photographer as well, although I didn't know this part of the recipe origin story until this year. Known for his images of museums, historic spaces throughout the world and most recently, a body of work addressing incarcerated juveniles, food was about the farthest thing from his repertoire. He shot the pie and accompanying Thanksgiving meal in New York anyway, typifying his photo motto of "Say 'Yes' then figure it out later." He also tasted the pie that would define our family's Thanksgiving meals for years to come.

Pin it button big

What's so great about this pie? To put it simply, it's ruined me for every other pumpkin pie out there. I can't eat any pumpkin related confection because it just makes me wish for my dad's pie.

You know the hallmark traits of some traditional recipes for pumpkin pie? High density, low flavor filling met by a pasty white crust? This version trumps tradition with its impossibly light 'chiffon' (just saying the word makes me feel buoyant!) texture throughout the lightly spiced filling and the shattering crusty, vanilla sweetness of a Nilla wafer crust. This pie, it's poetry.

Pin it button big

I know I'm being challenging when I declare this pie the best, and probably you have your own dearest pumpkin pie recipe, but Thanksgiving calls for bold statements and it calls for family favorites. If you're looking to change it up this year, throw this recipe into your mix. You'll be pleasantly surprised at the light, mousse–like filling and the strong vanilla crust.

Pin it button big

Dad's Legendary Pumpkin Chiffon Pie
adapted from Saveur
makes 2 pies

For the crust:
4 cups crushed Nilla wafer cookies (a rough texture with unevenly sized pieces is fine)
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt

For the pie filling:
3 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
1/4 cup Cointreau or Drambuie
1 1/2 cups pumpkin puree
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup sugar and 1/3 cup sugar, divided
3 egg yolks, lightly beaten
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 egg whites
Fresh whipped cream, to serve

Prepare the crust:
Preheat oven to 400°F. In a large bowl, combine the cookie crumbs, butter, sugar and salt. Press mixture firmly into 2 9-inch pie pans (if you have any extra mixture left over, you can press this into muffin tins with great results).

Bake for 10 minutes, and cool on a wire rack.

Make the filling:
In a small bowl sprinkle the unflavored gelatin over 1/4 cup Cointreau to soften for 5 minutes. Set the mixture over a bowl of hot water and stir until the gelatin is dissolved.

In a heavy saucepan whisk together the pumpkin puree, heavy cream and 1/2 cup of sugar, 3 egg yolks, the cinnamon, ground ginger, nutmeg, allspice and salt and cook the mixture over moderately low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spatula for 10 minutes. Transfer the mixture to a bowl, stir in the gelatin mixture, and let the mixture cool.

In a large bowl beat 4 egg whites until they hold soft peaks (see this video for a clear idea of what you're looking for). Beat in the remaining 1/3 cup sugar, 2 tablespoons at a time, beating the meringue until it holds stiff peaks, and fold this meringue into the partially cooled pumpkin mixture.

Assemble:
Pour the filling into the baked shells and chill the pie, lightly covered, for at least 6 hours. Garnish with plenty of fresh whipped cream.

Related: Ginger Pumpkin Pie with Graham Cracker Crust

(Images: Leela Cyd Ross)