Sure, you can follow the friendly little 'recipe' on the back of the can of pumpkin, but why not go a few extra steps to make a Pumpkin Pie that just might sweep you off your feet with this Pumpkin Pie adapted from the world-famous Cook's Illustrated version!
It drives me mildly insane trying to understand why other people go completely bonkers over pumpkin pie.
It isn’t that pumpkin pie is bad—have I said that a few times already? I just don’t want to get flamed by all the pumpkin pie devotees out there—it’s just that almost always, the crust looks and tastes like soggy cardboard, and the pumpkin pie filling, which can be wonderfully fragrant and flavorful with rich spices, always has the mealy, squishy consistency of Gerber.
Now that I think about it, another key ingredient of pumpkin pie, evaporated milk, kind of reminds me of infant formula, too.
It's that B!tch Libby's Fault
Libby’s. I blame it all on Libby, whoever she is, and the recipe for Libby’s Famous Pumpkin Pie on their can of pure pack pumpkin.
They make pumpkin pie too easy. In an effort to sell their monster cans of pumpkin pie, they give you a recipe that makes two 9” pumpkin pies, and make it sound like it’s easier than heating up a Lean Cuisine in a microwave oven. All you do is dump eggs, sugar, and evaporated milk into a bowl, mix it up, pour into unbaked pie shells, and throw them in the oven.
Somehow, I think they are subliminally telling you to buy Pillsbury pre-made pie crusts instead of making the pie crust from scratch. Libby’s famously easy pumpkin pie comes out famously soggy, famously squishy.
Pumpkin Desserts that are not Pie
It's Not You. It's...Pie
I want to love pumpkin pie because it’s pumpkin. I want to love it because it’s a dessert. I want to adore it because it’s made with all those wonderfully warm autumn spices. I want to look forward to the prospect of pumpkin pie with eager, longing, heart-pounding anticipation as soon as the calendar flips from September to October. Pumpkin pie comes around only once a year, and I want a spring and summer absence to make my heart grow fonder...but it doesn’t.
I don’t. I don’t love pumpkin pie.
I don’t love you, pumpkin pie.
But we can still be friends!
We just don’t have that connection the way others who love pumpkin pie have that connection. See, I have that connection with pumpkin cheesecake. I am so head over my stiletto heels for pumpkin cheesecake. Pumpkin cheesecake is my twitter flirtationship, but pumpkin pie?
Pumpkin pie is just my friend.
And then something...changes.
Best Pumpkin Pie Recipe From Cook's Illustrated
That is what happened to me and my "just friend" pumpkin pie.
I ran into a recipe from Cook’s Illustrated for the best pumpkin pie. It promises a flaky, crisp crust. It promises a smooth, delicious, and firm filling. I baked it, sort of unsure of how I’d end up feeling.
After a little more effort than the damn Libby’s-like recipes we’re used to (pre-bake the crust and cook the filling on the stovetop to hot), I slipped it gently into the oven. When it came out of the oven, slightly longer than the prescribed 25 minutes, I let it cool down. When it was time to try it, I pierced through that soft, quivering custard with an 8” chef’s knife and pulled out a perfect, enormous piece. It was heavy. I put the piece on the plate and I wanted it naked, but I surrendered to the gentle pleas for whipped cream (not the Cook’s Illustrated brandied whipped cream, just plain), and I took a bite.
After all these years, I finally fell in... like.
A very very strong like. Not love yet, since after so many years of “just friends,” these weird new emotions with someone with whom you’ve never experienced them takes more time to get used to, but yes, the spark was finally lit. I had to call Mom and tell her.
Pumpkin pie and I? There's a little something going on between us now.
Why the Cook's Illustrated Pumpkin Pie Recipe is Better than Libby's Recipe from the Can
Of course the standard super easy recipe on the back of the can of pumpkin puree works. As in, you end up with something that looks and tastes like pumpkin pie. However, the Cook's Illustrated recipe is definitively better. And if you're going to the effort of baking a pumpkin pie from scratch, why not take just these few extra steps and make it truly great? Here's how and why this recipe is better:
- Pre-bake the pie crust, aka "blind bake" without filling, so the crust gets flaky and crisp, vs. filling an unbaked pie dough.
- Blend the pie filling in the food processor, which makes the filling super smooth, vs. just dumping into a bowl and stirring.
- Simmer filling to evaporate moisture from the pumpkin, which is fairly watery (just the nature of the squash) to concentrate the spice flavors and keep crust from getting soggy, vs pouring super liquidy filling
- Hot, cooked filling speeds up baking so crust isn't soaking up as much moisture from the filling, vs. cold filling straight from the bowl.
What Ingredients You Need for the Best Pumpkin Pie
The ingredients for this pumpkin pie are not all that unique or special from the usual recipe on the back of the can, .i.e. you don't have to grow your own pumpkin, roast it, and make your own homemade pumpkin puree.
The big difference is using heavy cream and milk instead of evaporated milk, and making your own pie crust instead of a pre-formed one in a flimsy foil plate.
Here are the ingredients you need for the Pumpkin Pie filling:
- canned pumpkin
- those warm spices: ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves (not a bottle of something called "pumpkin pie spice" though)
- heavy cream and milk
For the standard butter pie crust, you will need:
- all-purpose flour
- cold, unsalted butter
- ice water
- vodka is optional for the pie dough, required for the martini you will be drinking while making this pie.
Different Pumpkin Pie Recipes
Cook’s Illustrated published a second pumpkin pie recipe in 2008, which is a different recipe from this one from 1993. To be honest, the newer version is not as good as this classic recipe for a number of reasons, the most important of which is the inclusion of canned yams, to which I am categorically opposed in a pumpkin pie.
(I am also categorically opposed to canned yams in general but that's a topic for another day.)
Ingredient Notes and Resources for Pumpkin Pie Filling
- PUMPKIN. I use this organic canned pumpkin available at Whole Foods. You can make your own pumpkin purée, but why.
- SUGAR. I use white, granulated sugar or light brown sugar. The original Cook's Illustrated recipe calls for dark brown sugar in the pumpkin mixture, which would normally add a subtle depth to the flavor of a recipe. However, dark brown sugar mutes the orange color of a pumpkin pie, especially with the addition of all the spices. Plain granulated sugar keeps the pie a brighter orange color.
- GINGER. I very finely grate fresh ginger for this pumpkin pie because fresh ginger is SO GOOD, and I almost always have fresh ginger on hand. Ground ginger, as Ina says, is fine.
- CLOVES. Cloves are very strong, and very distinctive. If you don’t have any on hand for all the other baking you do for the Holidays, you can leave it out. You really don’t need to spend money on cloves if you’re only going to use ¼ teaspoon of it quite honestly.
Ingredient Notes and Resources for Pie Crust
- FLOUR. I use this organic, unbleached all-purpose flour. You can use pastry flour as well, but I have never done this because who the F really has all different kinds of flour in their house. Bread flour is higher in protein, which will bake a less tender crust, but unless you’re a pie snob, it won’t be that noticeable. I recommend avoiding whole grain flours. From Cook's Illustrated: "Flaky pastry can be successfully produced using any all-purpose flour, but a low-protein brand (such as Gold Medal) produces a more tender crust. Doughs made with low-protein flours are also easier to handle, and, perhaps most important, they are less likely to buckle and shrink out of shape during baking."
- WATER vs VODKA PIE CRUST. If you have vodka on hand, use 2 tablespoons of vodka, and the rest as ice cold water. Otherwise, using all water is fine, which is what I do anyway. I don’t waste my vodka outside a cocktail.
TOOLS and EQUIPMENT
Click on any of the images below to shop the tools and equipment!
- Food Processor. This is the small, efficient workhorse food processor I use. If you do not have a food processor, you can cut the chilled butter into flour with your finger or two knives or a pastry cutter in a bowl. You can put the pumpkin filling through a food mill or a fine sieve.
- Marble Pastry Board. I have a stone cold countertop, so the ONE time a year I work with pastry dough, I do it directly on the (sanitized) countertop. This is a great marble board, and I use it for charcuterie, too.
- Rolling Pin. I do not bake enough to justify owning a rolling pin, so I use a sanitized red wine bottle.
- 4-quart heavy pot. The one I have is by this brand.
- Chef’s Knife. This is my daily knife.
- 9-inch Pie Dish. I have had the same 9-inch pyrex glass pie dish for years. Glass feels the most forgiving when baking (as opposed to metal).
- Pie Server. I don't know who actually has an entire separate utensil to serve pie, but then again, I have an entire set of spoons only for caviar so here we are.
TIPS and TRICKS for Pumpkin Pie
Refrigerating pie dough. You can make the dough for pie crust in advance through Step 2, cover in plastic wrap, and keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. When you’re ready to bake the crust, remove the dough from the refrigerator and continue to Step 3 to roll out the dough.
Freezing pie dough. You can make the dough for pie crust in advance through Step 2, cover in plastic wrap, place in a plastic freezer zipper bag, remove all air, and seal, and keep in the freezer for up to 6 months.
Thawing frozen pie dough. Plan one day ahead. When you’re ready to bake, remove the frozen pie dough from the freezer and let it thaw in the refrigerator overnight. Continue to Step 3 to roll out the dough.
Storing leftover Pumpkin Pie. Pumpkin Pie will keep, covered, in the refrigerator for three days. After three days, though it may not technically go bad, the crust will definitely get way too soggy to be a pleasant eating experience. If you are able to seal pumpkin pie in an air-tight bag or container, you can freeze it for up to two months. Pop frozen pumpkin pie into a 350 oven until it’s thawed and almost toasty.
Best Pumpkin Pie Recipe
- food processor
- marble board
- pie dish
Flaky Pie Pastry Shell Ingredients
- 1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour, measured by dip-and-sweep
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon sugar
- 10 tablespoons unsalted butter (1¼ sticks) chilled and cut into ¼-inch pats
- 3 tablespoons ice water — use up to 2 tablespoons vodka if you like, see notes below
Spicy Pumpkin Pie Filling Ingredients
- 2 cups pumpkin puree (16 ounces )
- 1 cup packed dark brown sugar — I use granulated white sugar
- 2 teaspoons ground ginger — I use 1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg
- ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
- ½ teaspoon salt — I use 1 teaspoon salt
- ⅔ cup heavy cream
- ⅔ cup milk
- 4 large eggs — I decrease and use only 3 eggs
Brandied Whipped Cream Ingredients
- 1 ⅓ cups heavy cream cold
- 3 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
- 1 tablespoon brandy
Pie Pastry Shell Directions:
- For pastry shell, mix flour, salt, and sugar in a food processor fitted with steel blade. Scatter butter over dry ingredients; process until mixture resembles cornmeal, 7 to 12 seconds. Turn mixture into a medium-sized bowl.
- Drizzle 3 tablespoons of water over flour mixture. With blade side of a rubber spatula, cut mixture into little balls. Then press down on mixture with broad side of spatula so balls stick together in large clumps. If dough resists gathering, sprinkle remaining water over dry, crumbly patches and press a few more times. Form dough into a ball with your hands; wrap in plastic, then flatten into a 4-inch disk. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. (Can be refrigerated for 2 days or, if sealed airtight in a plastic bag, frozen for up to 6 months.)
- Generously sprinkle a 2-foot square work area with flour. Remove dough from wrapping and place disk in center; dust top with flour. (If it has been chilled for more than 1 hour, let dough stand until it gives slightly when pressed, 5 to 10 minutes.) Roll dough in all directions, from center to edges, rotating a quarter turn and strewing flour underneath as necessary after each stroke. Flip disk over when it is 9 inches in diameter and continue to roll (but don’t rotate) in all directions, until it is 13 to 14 inches in diameter and just under ⅛-inch thick.
- Fold dough in quarters and place the corner in the center of a Pyrex pie pan measuring 9- to 9 ½-inches across top. Carefully unfold dough to cover pan completely, with excess dough draped over pan lip. With one hand, pick up edges of dough; use index finger of other hand to press dough around pan bottom. Use your fingertips to press dough against pan walls. Trim dough overhanging the pan to an even ½-inch all around.
- Tuck overhanging dough back under itself so folded edge is flush with edge of pan lip. Press double layer of dough with your fingers to seal, then bend up at a 90-degree angle and flute by pressing thumb and index finger about ½-inch apart against outside edge of dough, then using index finger (or knuckle) of other hand to poke a dent through the space. Repeat procedure all the way around.
- Refrigerate for 20 minutes (or freeze for 5 minutes) to firm dough shell. Using a table fork, prick bottom and sides — including where they meet — at ½-inch intervals. Flatten a 12-inch square of aluminum foil inside shell, pressing it flush against corners, sides, and over rim. Prick foil bottom in about a dozen places with a fork. Chill shell for at least 30 minutes (preferably an hour or more), to allow dough to relax.
- Adjust an oven rack to lowest position, and heat oven to 400 degrees. (Start preparing filling when you put shell into oven.) Bake 15 minutes, pressing down on foil with mitt-protected hands to flatten any puffs. Remove foil and bake shell for 8 to 10 minutes longer, or until interior just begins to color.
Spicy Pumpkin Pie Filling Directions:
- For filling, process first 7 ingredients in a food processor fitted with steel blade for 1 minute. Transfer pumpkin mixture to a 3-quart heavy-bottomed saucepan; bring it to a sputtering simmer over medium-high heat. Cook pumpkin, stirring constantly, until thick and shiny, about 5 minutes. As soon as pie shell comes out of oven, whisk heavy cream and milk into pumpkin and bring to a bare simmer. Process eggs in food processor until whites and yolks are mixed, about 5 seconds. With motor running, slowly pour about half of hot pumpkin mixture through feed tube. Stop machine and scrape in remaining pumpkin. Process 30 seconds longer.
- Immediately pour warm filling into hot pie shell. (Ladle any excess filling into pie after it has baked for 5 minutes or so — by this time filling will have settled.) Bake until filling is puffed, dry-looking, and lightly cracked around edges, and center wiggles like gelatin when pie is gently shaken, about 25 minutes. Cool on a wire rack for at least 1 hour.
Brandied Whipped Cream Directions:
- For whipped cream, beat cream at medium speed to soft peaks; gradually add confectioners’ sugar then brandy. Beat to stiff peaks. Accompany each wedge of pie with a dollop of whipped cream.
Cooks' Community Reviews and Advice
Food for Afterthoughts
Every girl has one. Every girl has that guy that she’s “just friends” with. You’ve known each other for I-don’t-know-how-many years, but you’ve never once been attracted to him. No really, you’ve never ever been wildly attracted to him (it is possible for girls, you know) and the idea of dating him, well, makes you snortle because you’ve always been, and always will be, “just friends.”
We're Just Friends
Now, he’s not your best friend because, for one thing, you’re only besties with girls, and besides, he doesn’t even live in the same city, so how can you be BFFs with someone you can’t go shopping with everyday? You get along just fine, and when he does come into town to visit family, or even, say, a girl who he’s dating, you and he will at least grab dinner. Whenever he’s around, you hang out, and heck, even though you’ve never been attracted to him, if you’ve been deprived of, well, you know, you might even play a little, but it’s so totally understood between both of you that this is so totally platonically physical.
It’s not like his laugh forever echoes in your ears, or his adorable crooked smile is emblazoned on your brain, or you get hot flashes in the middle of Whole Foods for God’s sake because you are always thinking about him. It’s not like you get butterflies the way you do when that guy from twitter direct messages you.
You guys are “just friends.”
The thing is, all your BFFs and your family adore him. They love him. They think you and he should totally get married one day and why don’t you guys just try dating? They don’t understand why you aren’t all over this amazing, charming, funny, intelligent guy, and aren’t those all the man-characteristics that you talk about on your “list?”
You don’t understand why you can see what they’re saying, but you can’t see what they’re saying, you know what I’m saying? You don’t not like him. Actually, you kind of wished that you did because, hm, now that they mention it, they’re right. He does have all the right characteristics, and you guys do get along so well, and if it actually worked out you wouldn’t have to waste all that time. You want to like him.
You don't know what it is. He’s just sort of...you don’t know. You just can’t be passionate about him. There’s something missing. That spark. That je ne say what. The wildly passionate chemistry is not there to take it from *shrugs* we’re-just-friends to *shriek!* clothes on the floor the minute you walk in the door.
Pumpkin pie is like that guy.
Pumpkin Pie and I Are "Just Friends"
It’s an ambiguous relationship. Perhaps “relationship” isn’t quite the right term to explain how I feel: I don’t love pumpkin pie, but I so desperately want to.
Some of it has to do with falling victim to the warm spices that are always used with pumpkin. I love cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and nutmeg with pumpkin in breads, muffins, and pancakes. If pumpkin were usually cooked with say, cilantro, I don’t think I’d love it as much.
Unlike with pumpkin, my relationship with cilantro is very clearly defined – I fucking hate cilantro.
Now don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I hate pumpkin pie, or even to a lesser degree, that I don’t like pumpkin pie. It’s just that I don’t looooove pumpkin pie the way some people do. In fact, when it’s around, I eat it without thinking twice. I mean, for God’s sake, it’s still a pie.
I’ll even eat leftover pumpkin pie that is sitting in the refrigerator because every guest who offered to “bring dessert” brought pumpkin pie instead of thinking to bring pecan or apple. I’ll peel back the plastic cling wrap from the pie dish that’s wedged between a tupperware of mashed potatoes and gallon-size ziploc bag of turkey breast, not even bothering to remove the pie from that middle shelf because I’ve contorted my post-Thanksgiving bloated body so that my ass can prop open the refrigerator door while I sneak five or six bites straight from the pie dish with my fork.
Did I just reveal too much about myself there?
Something Happened on the Way to...
And then something happens. You’re running an errand, stopping off at the market, and your friend tags along just for the hell of it. While you’re standing in line and he’s rummaging through your purse looking for your club card because he knows you hate to not get that club card discount, you look at him with your head slightly tilted to the side. Did you do something with your hair? “Yeah, put some gel in it,” he replies, punching your telephone number into the keypad because the card is on the other keychain at home. Is that a new shirt? “Yeah, just got it. Cool, huh?”
Very cool. And weird, because suddenly, he looks different to you, but you don’t think it’s the gel and the new shirt. He looks hot. Very hot. You snatch the celery and eggs, grab his hand, and run for the car, dragging him behind you.