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We’re not here to knock Libby’s, but there’s more to pumpkin pie than the recipe you’ll find on the back of a can of pureed squash. The classic mixture of pumpkin, eggs, sugar, evaporated milk, and spices has been displayed on the back of the bright orange can since 1950, and it’s become a staple at holiday dinner tables. For most people, it’s what immediately springs to mind when they think of pumpkin pie.
The now-classic recipe has endured for a reason: It’s tasty and easy to make, producing a creamy, spiced custard that people love. But just because a recipe is good doesn’t mean it can’t be improved upon. Over the years, various chefs have taken a stab at making a better pumpkin pie. Some add a streusel topping while others put cream cheese in the filling, spike it with rum, or stir in some molasses. Using a gingersnap or graham cracker crust is another common twist.
One step you should skip
Whether any of these variations really produce a better pumpkin pie is a matter of taste. One thing most experts can agree on? Making your own fresh pumpkin puree probably isn’t worth the time. The canned stuff (which typically doesn’t have any additives) will do just fine. “It is positively not worth the effort to make your own pumpkin purée from scratch, when there’s a 100% pure canned version readily available that might very well be more richly flavored than what you make yourself,” wrote Elizabeth Gunnison in Bon Appétit.
With all that in mind, we’ve tracked down a pumpkin pie recipe that’s very similar to the one you know and love, but with a few important tweaks. This recipe from Once Upon a Chef adds a small amount of pepper to the filling, calls for both granulated and brown sugar, and uses egg yolks, rather than whole eggs, to reduce the chances that your pie will crack. The homemade crust is blind-baked, so the pastry is flaky, not soggy, when it comes out of the oven.
Pumpkin Pie Recipe
Jenn Segal of Once Upon Chef spent years perfecting her pumpkin pie recipe. Her version involves a pastry with two kinds of fat – butter and shortening – and calls for completely baking the crust before you add the filling. A little flour in the pie filling and swapping out some of the whole eggs for egg yolks yields a crack-free pie.
For the crust:
- 1½ cups (6½ ounces) all-purpose flour, spooned into measuring cup and leveled with a knife
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon baking powder
- 6½ tablespoons cold unsalted butter, sliced into ¼-inch pieces
- 2½ tablespoons cold vegetable shortening, in 4 pieces
- 4 tablespoons ice-cold water
For the pie filling:
- 1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin (about 2 cups)
- 1 large egg
- 3 large egg yolks
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- ½ cup light brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1¼ cups evaporated milk
Directions: To make the crust, add the flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder to the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade attachment. Pulse a few times to combine. Add the butter and shortening pieces, then pulse until the mixture forms course crumbs with some pea-sized lumps mixed in.
Add 2 tablespoons of water and pulse until incorporated. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of water and pulse until the mixture is evenly moistened and crumbly. (The dough won’t stick together.)
Turn the dough out onto a work surface and gather it into a ball. Flatten into a 5-inch disc and wrap in plastic wrap. Transfer to the refrigerator and let rest for at least 45 minutes.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator. (If it has been chilled for a long time, let it sit on the counter for 10 to 15 minutes.) Lightly flour a work surface. Place disc of dough on the floured surface and sprinkle a little more flour over. Using your hands, quickly shape the dough into a smooth disc, smoothing the edges and being careful not to overwork the pastry.
Roll out the dough into a circle roughly 13 inches in diameter, adding more flour as needed to keep it from sticking. Carefully drape the dough circle over the rolling pin and transfer to a 9-inch pie pan at least 1½ inches deep. Fit the dough into the pie pan, and take care to ease it inwards rather than stretching it out. If the dough tears while you work, patch up the rip.
Trim the edges of the pastry so a ½ inch hangs over the edge of the pan. Turn the edges under to create a rim, then press it against the edge of the pan to form an even edge. Crimp the rim of the crust using your fingers or the tines of a fork. Transfer pie pan to freezer and let sit for 15 minutes while you preheat the oven.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Remove pie pan from freezer and place it on a baking sheet so it’s easier to move in and out of the oven. Cover the crust with a piece of parchment paper and fill it halfway full with dried beans (or use pie weights.) Bake for 20 minutes.
Remove crust from oven. Carefully remove the dried beans or pie weights, along with the parchment paper. Tent the edges of the crust with strips of aluminum foil folded in half to prevent excessive browning, or use a pie shield.
Return crust to the oven and bake for another 20 minutes, until the dough is dry and golden in color. If the bottom of the crust puffs up slightly, gently press it down using a spatula, being careful not to puncture it. Remove from oven and remove foil (if using) but do not discard.
Reduce heat to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
To prepare the pie filling, whisk together all the ingredients in a large bowl. Pour into the pre-baked crust. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until the filling is just set (it will look dry around the edges but should still jiggle slightly in the center). Watch to make sure the edge of the crust is not browning too quickly; if it is, tent again with foil.
Remove pie from the oven and place the pie and the baking sheet on a rack. Let cool to room temperature, then slice and serve. The pie can be refrigerated for up to a day before serving.
While a homemade crust will produce a superior pie, you can use a store-bought pie crust if you’re not ready to try your hand at pastry-making. If you do so, don’t skip the step of pre-baking the crust, since it’s what keeps the bottom of the pie from getting soggy. Simply follow the blind-baking instructions on the packaging.
Refrigerating the dough before baking gives the gluten time to relax, which yields a tender crust. (Fine Cooking explains the science behind it here.) Handling the dough as little as possible will also prevent a tough crust. Pressing the edges of the crust against the rim of the pan doesn’t just form a pretty edge — it also keeps it from pulling away from the pan while it bakes. Using a mix of cold butter and shortening means your crust should have those perfect, flaky layers everyone loves.
More pie cooking tips
A lower cooking temperature and a slightly different combination of ingredients helps avoid the problem of unsightly cracks in your pumpkin custard. This recipe is more forgiving of over-baking than some, but you’ll still want to watch the time carefully. Overcook the pie too much, and it’s likely to dry out and crack. Don’t worry if the pie still looks underdone when you take it out of the oven; it will continue to cook as it cools.
Making the pastry dough is the most labor-intensive part of this pie recipe. To save time, you can prepare it in advance, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for up to two days until ready to bake. You can also freeze the unbaked dough for up to a month, then let it thaw overnight before you’re ready to make the pie. The pie itself can be made up to a day ahead of time and refrigerated.