Perfect, Creamy Pumpkin Pie and Pie Crust 101

Pumpkin Pie

My darling husband is not a picky man. He will cheerfully eat just about everything I put in front of him with nary a complaint. There is, however, one thing that he insists on: pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving.

In the early years of our marriage, I struggled with this. I made pumpkin chocolate tarts and pumpkin bread puddings, pumpkin panna cotta and pumpkin cheesecakes. He always took a polite bite and reached for the plain pumpkin pie (that someone wiser than me always provided).

Now I’ve wised up and have come to realize that he was right all along — there’s something really marvelous about a perfect piece of pumpkin pie — the smooth pie filling with its faint vegetal flavor warmed by spices, the crunch and plainness of the crust contrasting with the creamy flavorful filling. Now, even though I sometimes ALSO make pecan pie or spiced buttermilk pie or  even cranberry pie, I can’t imagine a Thanksgiving table without plain old pumpkin pie.

Homemade Pumpkin Pie

 

But since I’m me, I wasn’t satisfied with plain old pumpkin pie. It had to be perfect plain pumpkin pie. The best pumpkin pie you’ve ever tasted. And when I tasted my aunt Sally’s creamy pumpkin pie with its perfect balance of spices last Thanksgiving, I knew this was it. And I begged her for the recipe, so I could share it with you. (Together with step by step photos of pie crust making — read on!)

pumpkin pie

Of course, no great quest comes without its trials. I made the pie last weekend — the crust got too dark. Armed with a pie shield and shortening the blind baking time, I baked another crust on Tuesday, and it shrunk and warped horribly. Thanks to some internet advice and more pie weights, I tried again Thursday night — nailed the crust, but the filling curdled and the top got too brown. Finally, on Saturday, I invested in an oven thermometer, lowered the heat significantly, moved the rack down in my oven (I think this was key), and managed the pie you see above.

thanksgiving pumpkin pie

It really is perfect — dreamy creamy, it slips on the tongue like a French kiss. The spices add warmth and that “holiday” aroma without becoming bitter or overwelming, and the pumpkin flavor shines through. When it comes out of the oven, it has just a little jiggle to add to the excitement. Nobody could call this pumpkin pie plain.

Lets go back to the crust. I’m still using the Ruhlman ratio and the Child food processor technique, but I’ve refined it.

Butter is frozen, cut into cubes. Pulse it with the flour and salt in the food processor only about 5 or 6 times — there should still be chunks of butter.

How to make pie crust

Add your water all at once, and pulse only a couple of times to mix. In Los Angeles, my flour is often dry dry dry, and I often have to add a little more water.

The dough should look like pebbles, like this:

how to make pie crust

 

Form into a disc, and chill.

How to make pie crustWhen your dough is chilled, lay a piece of parchment on the counter, sprinkle with flour, add the dough disc, then more flour, then the other piece of parchment. Roll the dough, starting from the center and rolling out in all directions. Make sure to peel it off the parchment and flip it over at least once, adding more flour. You want your dough to be flattened but not stretched.

How to make pie crust

When it’s big enough, peel off the parchment and move it to your pie plate. Take some time to lift the edges of the dough and make sure that the inside corners of the pie plate are covered. Using scissors, trim the overhang of the dough to 1/2 inch. Use any scraps you have to fill in any holes in the edges, adding layers of dough. Then pinch it together so it stands up nicely, and put that pie crust back in the fridge for at least 15 minutes, while the gluten relaxes and the dough firms back up.

How to make pie crust

When it’s chilled, using two fingers and your thumb, crimp the dough into a fluted pattern.

How to make pie crust

Prick all over with a fork (sides too!) Line carefully with tin foil, and fill the tin foil with pie weights (e.g., pie weights, dried beans, uncooked rice, uncooked barley). Lay a shield atop the pie crust, or cover with tin foil. Then bake it, and let it cool before filling it.

 

Mix your filling, and beat the crap out of it. Also, don’t substitute white sugar + molasses for brown sugar. Also, use good spices. Pour the filling into the cooled shell. Top it with the pie shield again, or protect the crust with tin foil. Bake low and slow — 350 for 50-60 minutes. When it’s done, the whole filling will be wobbly but not liquid.

Then try not to eat the whole thing, because nothing beats a perfect piece of plain old pumpkin pie.

Update:  I have an updated tutorial for pie crust here.

3.3 from 3 reviews
The Best Pumpkin Pie and Perfect Pie Crust
Author: 
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 6
 
Ingredients
For the crust:
  • 6 oz. flour
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 4 oz. butter, frozen, cut into cubes.
  • 2 oz. (or more) ice water
For the filling:
  • 1 15 oz. can (2 c.) pureed pumpkin
  • ¾ cup brown sugar
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • ½ cup half and half
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg (freshly grated if you're aiming for perfection)
  • 1 small pinch ground cloves
  • ½ teaspoon salt
Instructions
To make the pie crust:
  1. Pulse the frozen butter cubes with the flour and salt in the food processor only about 5 or 6 times -- there should still be chunks of butter. Add your water all at once, and pulse only a couple of times to mix. The dough should look like pebbles.
  2. Form into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap and chill until firm.
  3. When your dough is chilled, lay a piece of parchment on the counter, sprinkle with flour, add the dough disc, then more flour, then the other piece of parchment. Roll the dough, starting from the center and rolling out in all directions. Make sure to peel it off the parchment and flip it over at least once, adding more flour. You want your dough to be flattened but not stretched.
  4. When it's big enough, peel off the parchment and move it to your 9 inch pie plate. Take some time to lift the edges of the dough and make sure that the inside corners of the pie plate are covered. Using scissors, trim the overhang of the dough to ½ inch. Use any scraps you have to fill in any holes in the edges, adding layers of dough. Then pinch it together so it stands up nicely, and put that pie crust back in the fridge for at least 15 minutes, while the gluten relaxes and the dough firms back up.
  5. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  6. When it's chilled, using two fingers and your thumb, crimp the dough into a fluted pattern.
  7. Prick all over with a fork (sides too!) Line carefully with tin foil, and fill the tin foil with pie weights (e.g., pie weights, dried beans, uncooked rice, uncooked barley). Lay a shield atop the pie crust, or cover with tin foil. Then bake it for 16 minutes (the crust should be pale gold, and dry to the touch), and let it cool before filling it.
  8. Preheat oven to 350.
For filling:
  1. Mix all of the filling ingredients together, making sure that everything is incorporated. Let rest a few minutes for the sugar to dissolve, mix again, and let rest again to let any air bubbles escape.
  2. Pour the filling into the pie crust (this is enough filling for a fairly deep pie), set on a cookie sheet, protect the crust with a shield or tin foil, and bake 50-60 minutes, or until the filling is set (not liquid) but still very wobbly.
  3. Let cool and serve chilled.

 

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