Recipe Review

Alton Brown’s Trick for Better Pumpkin Pie May Surprise You

updated Oct 21, 2020
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Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell

If there’s anyone who is willing to break the rules surrounding classic recipes in the name of improving them, it’s Alton Brown. Seeing as he’s all about science, I felt pretty confident he had perfected the art of the pumpkin pie. After all, his cocoa brownie recipe is pretty darn perfect, and we could live off his blueberry buckle and be content.

As with most Alton recipes, however, I could tell that this pumpkin pie was more involved than most. Would the extra work result in a better pie, or just a messy kitchen and a worn-out cook? Let’s find out.

Get the recipe: Alton Brown’s Pumpkin Pie

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell

How to Make Alton Brown’s Pumpkin Pie

The first thing that makes Alton’s pie stand out is that he calls for making your own homemade pumpkin purée. To do that, you’ll roast a large baking pumpkin until the flesh is tender. Then you’ll let it cool, separate the flesh from the skin, and blend the flesh in a food processor until smooth.

Once you have your purée, you can start making pie. You’ll combine gingersnaps, brown sugar, and ground ginger in a food processor and pulse until fine crumbs form. That’s right — this pie is made with a cookie crust, not a traditional pie crust. Drizzle in melted butter and pulse until it’s evenly distributed, then transfer to a nine-inch pie dish and press firmly on the bottom and up the sides to form the crust. You’ll bake it at 350ºF for 10 minutes, then let it cool while you prepare the filling.

For the filling, you’ll bring the pumpkin purée to a simmer in a medium pot to slightly thicken it. Then you’ll stir in half-and-half, nutmeg, and salt. In a separate bowl, you’ll whisk together brown sugar, a couple of eggs, and an egg yolk, then whisk in the pumpkin mixture. Once the filling is poured into the pie dish, the pie is baked until it’s just set. Then you’ll let it cool for at least a few hours before slicing.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell

My Honest Review of Alton Brown’s Pumpkin Pie

As much as I love a flaky, buttery pie crust, I am a huge fan of cookie pie crusts, so I was extra excited about Alton’s gingersnap crust. The crust was easy to pull together and packed with ginger flavor, thanks to the combination of gingersnaps and ground ginger. And while I personally enjoyed this spiciness, I could see it being too much for some. If you’re not a huge ginger fan, I’d probably use less ground ginger or drop it completely.

Thank goodness the crust was easy, because I sure can’t say the same about the filling. I’m all about DIY and had no problem taking the time to make homemade pumpkin purée, but I’ll be honest with you: You won’t miss out on much flavor if you swap in a can of the store-bought stuff. I’ve taken both routes with this pie, and been happy both times. Opting for a 15-ounce can of pumpkin purée means you can skip the step of simmering the purée too, and just mix it right in with the rest of the filling ingredients.

Taste-wise, I loved the uniqueness and spice of the crust, but found the filling to be a bit lacking in flavor. I think the idea is to let the pumpkin flavor shine, but I missed the usual kiss of cinnamon. If I made it again, I’d add a few generous pinches. The filling was also denser than some of the others I tested, which I could see feeling extra heavy after a large Thanksgiving meal.

Credit: Sheela Prakash

If You’re Making Alton Brown’s Pumpkin Pie, a Few Tips

1. Reduce or eliminate the ground ginger if you prefer a less spicy crust. The crust is perfectly gingery without the addition of the ground spice. I personally loved the extra bite, but if you’d like a more mellow crust, reduce the ground ginger or leave it out. The gingersnap crust is what makes this pie special, though, so don’t skip it.

3. You can swap in canned pumpkin. If you want to save time and skip the step of roasting a whole pumpkin and puréeing the flesh, you can. Simply swap in a 15-ounce can of pumpkin purée and whisk it right into the bowl of eggs and brown sugar with the half-and-half, nutmeg, and salt.

4. Try making mini pies. While I didn’t try Alton’s variation of mini pies, I love the idea. He calls for brûléeing them, which I could see being a great contrast to the spicy crust. Although I don’t have mini pie dishes, I may try the brûlée option on the regular-sized pie next time.

Rating: 8/10

Have you ever made Alton Brown’s Pumpkin Pie? Tell us what you thought! 

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell

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