pumpkin pie, an odyssey

Some years ago, for our family’s annual Thanksgiving dinner, pumpkin pie became my dish. I’m not exactly sure when it happened, but I’m  sure I volunteered to make it. You see, I’m no dummy. I’ve learned that the easiest way to ensure that a favorite item winds up on our holiday menu is to put it there myself.

Last year I started experimenting with some new recipes for pumpkin pie. My original was a variation on the classic Libby’s recipe from the back of the pumpkin puree can. I can’t leave well enough alone, though, so I started playing around with the recipe. I tinkered with the crust and I finally got that right. For the past two weekends, I have been on a mission to improve on the filling.

pie crust ready for blind-baking, foil-covered, filled with pie weights

The first pie I baked was okay, but the cooking method was a little off. The temperature was too low or the time was too short, or a combination of the two. Regardless, I wasn’t satisfied with the way the pie set up. And the spices were not quite right. The second pie was a little better, but I had to do some more adjusting of spices, and I used sour cream in the filling. I decided after that second pie that I’m not a fan of sour cream in my pumpkin pie filling. It makes it a little too creamy for my preference.

With the last pies, the cooking technique was perfect – a technique that the America’s Test Kitchen uses. Their technique is to warm the filling and add the warmed filling to the hot partially-baked pie crust. This method worked quite well for me and gives the pie a nice firm texture.

ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves

Unfortunately, with one of those last pies, I learned another valuable lesson. Adding sugar to the pie is pretty important. Don’t skip that step. Sugar free pie pretty much sucks. Although, if you give a taste to your adoring six year old daughter, she will tell you it’s the best pumpkin pie she has ever tasted, even though she will grimace the entire time she’s swallowing it.

good vanilla extract & dark rum

I’m done testing pumpkin pies for this year. I really like this version of the pie. It’s got a good combination of sweetness and spice, and I think the little bit of rum and vanilla add some depth that my previous pumpkin pie versions didn’t have. I’m not sure whether I’ve found pumpkin pie nirvana or whether I’m just exhausted from the two marathon pie baking weekends. And even though I never ate an entire piece of pie out of all of these pies, I found it was a little hard to be objective by the time the pie tasting was completed.

So, I asked my husband, what he thought when it was over. His answer? “I really like that old pumpkin pie you used to make.”


Pumpkin Pie

Adapted from The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook. Note: When blind-baking the pie crust, I use non-stick aluminum foil so that the foil doesn't tear the pie crust. You can use parchment paper if you prefer.


1 recipe all-butter pie crust dough, partially-baked and still hot

1 15-ounce can pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)
1 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2/3 cup heavy cream
2/3 cup whole milk
1 tablespoon dark rum
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 large eggs


Preparation of the Crust

Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Prebake ("Blind bake") the crust: Roll chilled dough into a 12-inch circle and fit it into a pie plate. Trim and fold the edges and freeze until firm, about 30 minutes, before baking. Remove from freezer, pierce the bottom of crust with the tines of a fork a few times, and line the chilled crust with aluminum foil, overlapping the edges of the crust with the foil (so the crust won't brown). Fill the foil with pie weights or dried beans. Spread the pie weights or beans evenly to the fill the edges of the foil. Place the pie plate on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or a Silpat and bake for 25 minutes.

After removing the partially-baked pie crust from oven, leave the oven rack at lower-middle position and increase oven temperature to 400 degrees. Crust should still be hot when filling is poured in.

Preparation of the Filling

While the crust bakes, in the bowl of a food processor, process the canned pumpkin puree, sugar, spices, and salt until combined, about 1 minute. Transfer the pumpkin mixture to a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium high heat. Cook the pumpkin, stirring constantly, until thick and shiny, about 5 minutes. Whisk in the cream, milk, vanilla, and rum. Return to a simmer briefly then remove from heat.

Process the eggs in the food processor until uniform, about 5 seconds. With the machine running, slowly add half the hot pumpkin mixture through the feed tube. Stop the machine, add the remaining pumpkin, and continue to process the mixture until uniform, about 30 seconds longer.

Immediately pour the warm filling into the hot, partially-baked pie crust. Bake for about 25 minutes. The filling will be puffed and lightly cracked around the edges, and the center will jiggle slightly when the pan is tapped. Transfer to a wire rack and cool until warm or room temperature prior to serving.

For more information on baking pies:
Deb at Smitten Kitchen has a great post on rolling and crimping pie crusts.

Jen at My Kitchen Addiction has a recent post on making pie dough.

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24 Responses to “pumpkin pie, an odyssey”

  1. 1
    Liz the Chef — October 16, 2010 @ 7:41 pm

    It is definitely time for me to update my family recipe – love the rum and blind-baking. Soggy crust – who needs it?! We can put our husbands together with my old recipe and scarf down yours 😉 best, Liz

    • 1.1
      mj (merry gourmet)
      mj (merry gourmet) — October 17, 2010 @ 7:59 am

      I like your idea, Liz!

  2. 2
    Sunchowder - Wendy Read — October 16, 2010 @ 8:01 pm

    Love to see this in print after watching your tweets last weekend. The pie looks wonderful!! Too funny that you hubby likes you “old” pie–isn’t it always the way??? Beautiful post from a lovely person:)

    • 2.1
      mj (merry gourmet)
      mj (merry gourmet) — October 17, 2010 @ 8:02 am

      Thanks, Wendy. And, yes, it always seems to happen that way. As much as I love him, my sweet husband is somewhat resistant to change. 🙂

  3. 3
    Nancy@acommunaltable — October 16, 2010 @ 8:43 pm

    This is truly a beautiful pumpkin pie – I love it’s rich, deep color and I bet it tastes fantastic! Adding the rum was a wonderful idea – I have found that adding a little alcohol can really amplify flavors as I am sure that it does with the pie!!

    • 3.1
      mj (merry gourmet)
      mj (merry gourmet) — October 17, 2010 @ 8:04 am

      Nancy – Last year I made one with bourbon, but I found the sweetness and booziness too overpowering. The rum worked really well – enhanced the flavors and I couldn’t tell there was any alcohol used.

  4. 4
    Camala - CC Recipe — October 16, 2010 @ 9:01 pm

    Ha, that is too funny about your husband, sounds like mine:) This pumpkin pie looks fabulous, but yes I agree it should be sweet, because that does suck!

    • 4.1
      mj (merry gourmet)
      mj (merry gourmet) — October 17, 2010 @ 8:04 am

      Camala – I’ll never forget that sugar again, that’s for sure! 🙂

  5. 5
    Joy — October 16, 2010 @ 10:59 pm

    I couldn’t be happier with this pie. I’ve made this last year and this year again for our (Canadian) Thanksgiving feast and it hasn’t failed to deliver. 🙂

    • 5.1
      mj (merry gourmet)
      mj (merry gourmet) — October 17, 2010 @ 8:05 am

      Joy – Yay! I love getting votes of confidence for this pie. Hope you had a good Thanksgiving!

  6. 6
    Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite — October 17, 2010 @ 6:21 am

    When I saw you tweeting about this, I couldn’t wait to read the post. Gorgeous as always and so well written. I am not a pumpkin pie fan (learning to like it) but perhaps I will try this one 🙂 Plus, you can’t go past good vanilla and rum!

    • 6.1
      mj (merry gourmet)
      mj (merry gourmet) — October 17, 2010 @ 8:07 am

      Thanks, Mardi! I agree with you – everything’s better with a little vanilla and rum. 🙂

  7. 7

    I’ve been trying to convince my mom to update her pumpkin pie recipe for a while, but she just won’t change it. Some people just don’t like to mess with classics.
    I will try to get her to blind bake the crust next time to avoid the soggy crust issue. Maybe baby steps will lead to change! Thanks for the inspiration!

  8. 8
    saltyseattle.com — October 17, 2010 @ 5:05 pm

    i’ve got a pumpkin roasting away as we speak, so your post and tips are timely, indeed. oh, and sugarless pie? that’s an oopsie if I ever heard one. You sure know how to paint a lovely picture with your words, of course the perfect photos are screen-licking good.

  9. 9
    Barbara | VinoLuciStyle — October 17, 2010 @ 5:23 pm

    For all the hubs resistance to change…I remain tickled at your sweet daughter applauding your effort without sugar. Now that’s Mom’s girl!

    Beautiful pie…and reminds me. I so want a ceramic pie plate like yours; sure adds a touch of elegance to the finished result.

  10. 10
    Macaroni Mama — October 17, 2010 @ 5:43 pm

    I’m looking forward to the pie…with a little rum.

  11. 11
    Gail — October 17, 2010 @ 6:31 pm

    Brilliant idea about warming the pie filling a bit, and then putting it into a partially baked shell.
    And, of course, rum couldn’t hurt.
    You should be proud of yourself. The pie even looks proud of itself!!!

  12. 12

    Love the addition of the rum. Got to love America’s Test Kitchen – they tend to perfect recipes. Thank you for testing out the pumpkin pies and sharing your best. A must make for the holidays!!

  13. 13
    Pam @ Kitchen Cookware — October 18, 2010 @ 2:23 am

    I love Pumpkin pies and make different versions of it, as I have yet to find a right recipes that is perfect! I have never tried Rum inside the pie before, but I do love America’s test kitchen so I may try it out.

  14. 14
    Kate @ Savour Fare — October 19, 2010 @ 7:51 pm

    You are becoming the pie queen. My husband LOVES pumpkin pie (no fancy additions) and we have it every year — last year my aunt made the best pumpkin pie I’ve ever tasted — I have to get her recipe.

  15. 15
    Jason Phelps — October 21, 2010 @ 6:20 pm

    The simplest way to improve pumpkin pie is to use freshly roasted pumpkin from a local source. Everything else is pretty much standard. Canned it OK, but it doesn’t taste as good as something right from the pumpkin patch. Works for squash or a combination as well.


  16. 16
    Jamie — October 22, 2010 @ 8:34 am

    I actually make that pumpkin pie from America’s Test Kitchen and love it. Although, I do not cook the filling first and I cut back on the amount of one of the liquids, but it still turns out fantastic every time. My husbands mother wasn’t a fan of pumpkin pie until she ate that one! To add a little booze to it, we make a bourbon whipped cream to add to the top. Delicious!

  17. 17
    Brenda — October 25, 2010 @ 8:22 pm

    I’m going to try this recipe as a flan, with a little more rum and a caramel topping. My family did not grow up eating pumpkin pie, but they eat flan, so I think this will work. . . . (using less pumpkin too)

  18. Pingback: the gifts of thanksgiving, and a recipe: pumpkin pie, the 2012 edition | The Merry Gourmet

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