Recipe Review

Julia Child Just Taught Me the Secret to Impossibly Creamy Pumpkin Pie

published Nov 15, 2023
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Credit: Pie Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell; Inset photo: Bachrach/Getty Images

There are a lot of ways to describe a pumpkin pie — spice-filled, custard-y, sweet — but fluffy isn’t usually one of them. So when I saw that Julia Child‘s version is called Aunt Helen’s Fluffy Pumpkin Pie, I was intrigued. Would I enjoy a mousse-like, air-filled pie filling, or would I miss the creamy and dense filling that I’ve grown used to?

But Julia Child taught me how to poach perfect eggs, whip up mayonnaise by hand, and to not be afraid of butter, so I had no doubt she could teach me how to make the best pumpkin pie (and a fluffy one, at that). I headed to the kitchen to see if I was right.

Get the recipe: Julia Child’s Aunt Helen’s Fluffy Pumpkin Pie (you’ll find the recipe towards the end of the article)

How to Make Julia Child’s Fluffy Pumpkin Pie

Julia’s recipe yields two 9-inch pies or one 11-inch pie, so if you’re working with a 9-inch pie dish (the standard size), and you only need one pie, you’ll need to halve the recipe. Luckily, the ingredient amounts make that pretty easy to do. Julia’s recipe doesn’t include instructions for a crust, so start by making it yourself or buying one, then roll it out into your pie plate.

For the filling, you’ll start by separating the egg yolks from the whites. Then you’ll place canned pumpkin, brown and white sugars, salt, molasses, a splash of bourbon or dark rum, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, egg yolks, heavy cream, and whole milk in a stand mixer, blender, or large bowl and mix well until smooth and combined.

Here’s where things get interesting.You’ll whip the egg whites in a bowl with a bit of sugar and salt until stiff peaks form, stir a quarter of the whipped whites into the pumpkin filling, then gently fold in the rest. The filling gets ladled into the unbaked pie shell and baked at 450°F for 10 to 15 minutes until the crust starts to brown. Then the temperature is reduced to 375°F and the pie is baked for another half hour until the filling is set. When the pie is done, rather than removing it from the oven straight away, you’ll turn the oven off but leave the pie inside for another half hour. Julia says this prevents the filling from becoming watery. The pie can then be served warm or cooled completely before slicing.

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

My Honest Review of Julia Child’s Fluffy Pumpkin Pie

There are a few things about this pie that immediately stood out to me, even before I sliced into it. Julia uses molasses in the filling, which isn’t common, and she also spikes it with bourbon. She also asks you to separate the eggs (and then whip the egg whites) rather than whisking whole eggs into the filling. As I was making the pie, I kept thinking, this thing will have to be delicious for these extra steps to be worth it.

It was. This is a high-effort, high-reward pumpkin pie. To be honest, the flavor of the filling surprised me at first. The molasses and bourbon (or dark rum, if you so choose) are prominent, giving it robust, mildly smoky characteristics. Yet it’s still full of all the classic warm spices — cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves — so it’s not far off from the classic pumpkin pies you know and love. Each bite is complex, and better than the last.

The texture, though, is really where this pie shines. The added step of whipping the egg whites results in a pumpkin pie that is indeed fluffy. It’s so light, it’s almost soufflé-like. It’s a smart technique I could see applying to other pumpkin pie recipes, in order to make a pie that’s not too dense and heavy after a big meal.

Credit: Sheela Prakash

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

  1. Play with the flavorings. For some, the molasses and booze might be too strong, which is the only reason this pie isn’t getting a perfect score. Julia says the alcohol is optional, and I do think the filling would still be complex without it. The molasses really does make it stand out, but I do think you could use less — maybe just a drizzle instead of the full amount.
  2. Whip the egg whites to stiff peaks. My arm started to get tired when I hand-whipped the egg whites and I almost gave up before stiff peaks formed. I’m glad I didn’t, because the lofty whites made for a super light and fluffy pie! I used my stand mixer to mix the rest of the filling, which is why I hand-whipped the whites. Next time, I’d reserve the stand mixer for whipping the whites to make it easier on myself and combine the other ingredients in a bowl by hand.

Rating: 9/10

Have you ever made Julia Child’s Aunt Helen’s Fluffy Pumpkin Pie? Tell us what you thought!