Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Making a Better Pumpkin Pie

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Lauren Volo)

Pumpkin pie is the quintessential Thanksgiving dessert. This custard pie might taste complex, but it’s simply an accumulation of smart shopping, thoughtful preparations, and patience. Here’s a primer for baking a pumpkin pie from scratch.

Building a Better Pumpkin Pie

We’re looking at pumpkin pie from the crust to the filling and sharing a few tips on the details in between. We’ll start with the filling and end with ways to primp the pie before serving. All these tips are built into our classic pumpkin pie recipe. Even if you don’t follow that recipe, these tips will benefit your holiday pie-making no matter the pumpkin pie you make.

(Image credit: Lauren Volo)

The Pumpkin Pie Filling

What’s a pumpkin pie without an incredible filling? From the spices to the purée, plus a few tips to help you make it a standout, here’s what you need to know about creating a spectacular pumpkin pie filling.

Use canned pumpkin purée.

Roasting a whole pie pumpkin and making perfect purée isn’t ideal for a consistently awesome pumpkin pie. Baked pumpkins can vary in size and moisture, while canned purée is the same year to year, state to state. Be sure to purchase canned pumpkin purée and not canned pumpkin pie filling.

Purée the pumpkin again.

Once you’ve cracked open your can of pumpkin purée, you might notice that it isn’t exactly puréed. Despite best manufacturing process, there will still be some fibers and even a few tiny lumps in the purée. A quick swirl in the food processor of blender will make a very fine purée, which helps to make a creamier finished pie.

Check the freshness of your spices.

If you’re anything like me, your pumpkin pie spice blend hasn’t seen much use since last November. Ground spices have a shelf life of six months, so ditch your stale spices and make your own spice blend with fresh spices.

Cook the filling for more flavor.

Having done a side-by-side test, I can say with confidence that cooking your pumpkin purée, sugar, and spices before making your pumpkin pie filling is absolutely worth it. The pumpkin’s moisture evaporates a little and the spices bloom with aroma and flavor with even a few minutes of stovetop cooking. Cool slightly before adding your eggs and dairy to avoid curdling.

(Image credit: Lauren Volo)

The Pumpkin Pie Crust

Perfect pie filling deserves a very good crust. Whether you’re looking for a classic recipe or a gluten-free option, here’s all your crust intel in one place.

Two Crust Recipes for Your Pumpkin Pie

Blind bake the crust.

Whether you use store-bought or homemade crust is up to you, but be sure to blind bake it before adding the filling. Blind baking is the practice of lining the raw pie shell with parchment paper, followed by pie weights (or dried beans), and baking the pie shell until just golden. This ensures the pie and the filling are ultimately done baking at the same time and it prevents the pie crust from getting soggy while baking with the filling.

Buy the crust!

There’s no rule that says you have to make your pie crust from scratch. If you’re shuffling numerous pies and didn’t get the chance to make crusts ahead, buy them.

Be confident and read through the recipe.

There’s something about pie crust that can unravel the most confident of cooks. So before you head to the kitchen, read through the recipe to acquaint yourself with the key tips that will help make your pie a success. We’ve gathered all those tips in one place.

Our best tips for pie crust: 5 Steps to Master Perfect Pie Crust

(Image credit: Lauren Volo)

Baking the Pumpkin Pie

Since you worked so hard to craft a delicious filling and a rich homemade crust, knowing all the details on how to actually bake and cool the pie is key. Nothing is worst that a burnt pie except, perhaps, an under-baked one.

Know when it’s done.

Custard pies are notoriously easy to under-bake. Because their surfaces brown quickly, they look done (and smell done) long before the center is set. Look for a filling that is slightly puffed, and give the pie a gentle nudge. Once cooked, the center should quiver just a bit. When in doubt, a probe thermometer inserted in the pie should read 175°F.

Cool it completely.

Just like steaks and cakes, pies continue to cook as they cool, so give your pie plenty of time to cool before cutting. I’d say a minimum is four hours, but overnight is ideal. And remember that the edge of the pie will cool faster than then center, so don’t be fooled by a pie pan that is cool to the touch.

(Image credit: Tessa Huff)

Remixing the Classic

There’s always going to be room for classic pumpkin pie on the Thanksgiving table. It’s a good place to learn the basics, which means it also lends itself to interpretation. Here are a few of our favorite pumpkin pie variations.

(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

Whipped Cream Is Required

My mom always says that the worst mistakes of Thanksgiving cookery can be solved with whipped cream or gravy, so don’t be without either on the big day. Lightly sweetened whipped cream is perfect for pie, but meringue or marshmallows can also be added to hide cracked pie or crust. If all else fails, crumble the pie and serve with ice cream as a pumpkin pie sundae.