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Pumpkin Pie

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Pumpkin pie is the king of Thanksgiving and Christmas desserts, and this recipe will easily get even your most over-stuffed guests thinking about a second slice.

This pie is adapted from a Cook's Illustrated recipe (Nov. & Dec. 2008, #95), and contains a couple of secret ingredients that are delicious and will ensure requests for your tricks. In the crust: vodka; in the filling: candied yams, maple syrup, and a little bit of apple cider.

Since no one can tell the difference between fresh and canned pumpkin in a pie, this recipe uses canned pumpkins, and other ingredients you are sure to find at any grocery store.

This is an award winning pie! It won the Instructables intra-company Thanksgiving bake-off, taking home Best Pie in Show!
 
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Step 1: The Pie Agenda

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Here's the overview and schedule of baking this awesome pie:

Mix up crust ingredients
Wrap up and chill crust for 45 minutes
Mix up and cook filling ingredients on stove top
Strain filling
Roll out pie dough, and place in pie pan, chill for 15 minutes
Continue straining filling, if necessary
Cook pie crust for 10 minutes with weights, 5-10 minutes without
Pour filling into crust
Bake at 400 F for 10 minutes, 300 F until done
Cool for approximately 2 hours
Eat

Step 2: Pie Crust Ingredients

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Getting the liquid balance in pie dough can be tricky. This pie crust recipe uses vodka to attain the proper liquid balance for mixing and rolling out the dough, but since vodka is about 40% alcohol, almost have of that liquid quickly evaporates when the crust is baked. A reasonable to good quality vodka will not impart any flavor (or alcohol for that matter) on the finished crust.

Here are some other pie crusts if you don't have vodka on hand:
A Quick Pie Crust
How to Make a Pie Crust

Crust
3/4 cup + 1/2 cup flour = 1 1/4 cups unbleached flour
-- mix these together first --
3/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
-- next add these --
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut apart in a bunch of small pieces
1/4 cup vegetable shortening - non-hydrogenated palm oil if you can find it; Crisco or crisco-like shortening if you can't
-- next add this --
remaining 1/2 cup flour
-- finally these --
2 tablespoons cold vodka
2 tablespoons water

Step 3: Mix together Pie Crust Ingredients

Mix together 3/4 cup flour, salt, and sugar. I used a food processor. Add the butter and shortening and mix until it looks like the 7th and 8th pictures; this took around 15 seconds. Add the remaining 1/2 cup of flour and mix until it's fully incorporated, which you can see in the 9th and 10th pictures. This took just a few quick pulses. Finally, add the vodka and water, and mix together with a spatula.

Step 4: Chill the Pie Crust

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Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for 45 minutes. You are chilling the butter and shortening to make the dough easier to work with when rolling it out.

Step 5: Roll Out the Pie Crust Dough

Roll out the dough. I used a silpat coated with some flour. Once the dough was the proper thickness and area, I put the pie plate upside-down on the dough, and used the silpat to turn the dough over and place it into the pie pan. Work the dough into the pan, and tuck the edges under, and flute them. Chill the dough again. I left it in the refrigerator for 15 minutes.

Step 6: Cook the Pie Crust

Preheat an over to 400 F. Line the crust with aluminum foil and weight it down. The object is to keep the crust from slumping and bulking in the center, and it's possible you won't even need to do this. I took this as an opportunity to bake $10 worth of accumulated change, and then run around the house yelling "hot change, hot change!"

Bake the pie crust for around 10 minutes, or until the dough doesn't stick to the foil, and then remove the foil and weights. Bake another 5-10 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown.

Step 7: Pumpkin Pie Filling Ingredients

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Filling
-- mix these together --
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
3 eggs
2 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
-- mix these together --
1 can of 100% pumpkin puree
1 can of sweet potatoes -- these will probably be called candied yams
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup
2 tablespoons apple cider
2 teaspoons grated ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
about a quarter of nutmeg nut micro-ground, or 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg (once you start using fresh ground nutmeg, you won't want to use pre-ground)
1 teaspoon salt

Step 8: Mix, Cook, and Strain the Pumpkin Pie Filling

Mix together the heavy cream, milk, eggs and egg yolks, and vanilla. Save the vanilla for last, and watch how it mixes and flows into the white liquid.

I looked, but couldn't find canned sweet potatoes without added sugar, so I drained and rinsed the candied sweet potatoes. After removing the corn syrup, I was left with about a cup of sweet potatoes. Mix these together in a sauce pan with the pumpkin puree, sugar, maple syrup, ground cinnamon, salt, and fresh apple cider. We were juicing apples while I was putting this pie together, so it was only natural that I would add some cider, but you could skip this. Grate in ginger and nutmeg. Simmer at low heat until some of the moisture is driven off, and everything is mixed together. Smash the sweet potatoes, and make sure the mixture is homogeneous. Cook and stir continuously until the mixture will stick together in a big lump without flowing back to level. It's really obvious when this happens, and might take longer or shorter than it did for me, depending on how much moisture you start with.

After cooking for around 15 minutes, take the pot off of the heat, and mix in the cream mixture. Again, mix until homogeneous, then strain the mixture. The straining is laborious and annoying, but trust me, it's worth it. Yell continuously about how no one has ever made a pie as smooth as the one you're making.

In the second pie I made, I blended the mixture and then ran it through a strainer. There was no appreciable difference.

Thanksgiving 2009 Update:
I had extra roasted sweet potatoes from a sweet potato casserole dish, and decided to use fresh rather than canned sweet potatoes this year.  After draining the liquid, I found 250 g of cooked sweet potatoes in a 15 ounce can of candied yams, and so substituted the same mass of scooped-out sweet potato flesh roasted at 400°F until total tender.  It's hard to do a direct comparison because I didn't have one pie with canned and one pie with fresh, but I felt that using fresh sweet potatoes contributed a brighter flavor.

Also, after mixing the cooked-down pumpkin and sweet potato with the dairy and eggs, I blended it until smooth with an immersion blender (specifically the KitchenAid KHB100) and did not strain.  The mixture was totally smooth, and the blender whipped in a bit of air.

Step 9: Cook and Cool the Pumpkin Pie

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Once the filling is strained, and the crust is golden brown, whisk the filling, pour it into the crust. You're whisking in some air so the filling turns out light and airy, and not super dense once baked. Bake at 400 F for 10 minutes, then turn the temperature down to 300°F and cook for an additional 20-45 minutes. The theory here is to speed up the cooking time without curdling the filling. You could cook the pie at 300°F, but it would probably take 2 hours.

Cook's Illustrated says to cook the pie until the center is 175°F. When mine reached this temperature, a tooth pick still didn't come out of the pie cleanly, but I went with it anyway and took it out of the oven. The pie cooled for about 2 hours. The center was just barely cooked, and cutting a clean slice was a challenge. Next time, I'll probably cook the pie until a tooth pick comes out clean -- maybe 5-10 minutes additional time at 300°F after the center reaches 175°F.

Thanksgiving 2009 Update:

Since last year, I started using a Thermapen Instant Read Thermometer instead of the dial thermometer shown in the images.  So this Thanksgiving, when the pies reached a center temperature of 175°F, I took them out, despite my note above.  Once cooled, they were perfectly cooked.  I suspect the dial thermometer wasn't properly calibrated, and I had slightly undercooked the pie.

Step 10: Eat the Pumpkin Pie

Even after all my yelling about how this was going to be the best pie anyone ever ate, and the smoothest pie ever baked, the tasters grudgingly admitted that the pie was one of the best they've tried. Then, they all snuck second slices!
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goodgnus8 months ago
7th year making these! My filling always seems to be a bit more liquid than Eric's, but they always bake up fine. This year I did 400F/10min and 300F/35 min. Next year I plan to cook my own sweet potatoes as the only canned ones I can find are in corn sugar syrup and I'd like to avoid that next time. Might do pumpkin, too. I'm thinking I'll have to spend less time heating the mixture to drive off moisture (the one part I don't enjoy). Or maybe I'll see if I can find dehydrated maple syrup?
Mihsin1 year ago
Exquisite defenition of Pumpkin Pie. Your recipe has inspired my wife to begin baking three of 'em right now. We are not brought up to such baking, (We're from Lebanon), however we have good taste(buds) and we appreciate such art work as your's.
Excellent recipe.
morrieD4 years ago
for those of us in countries without access to canned pumpkin, assuming I can replace canned pumpkin with fresh pumpkin, how much does a can of pumpkin weigh?
chrwei morrieD1 year ago
3 cups of cooked puree (by volume) makes 2 pies. You can also use butternut squash and it taste about the same. I've read that canned pumpkin is actually a butternut/pumpkin hybrid and not a traditional pumpkin variety.
goodgnus1 year ago
6th year in a row making these about to commence! Can't wait to taste the finished product!
jkeehn23451 year ago
The edge of the crust will come out less burnt if you place aluminum foil over the edge for the first half of the baking time. The pie looks great, never tried it with vodka. I will try that with the next pie. Don
emystrange5 years ago
you can also use dried beans to weigh down the pie crust, i would recommend that instead of heating up a bunch of change :p
I have used the same beans over and over again. I keep them in a plastic bag and store them with my pie baking supply. Works great.
 I thought the change was a brilliant and original idea; better than wasting good beans!  It's not very eco-friendly to waste food, emystrange!
im just saying there are other options, some of us dont have $10 in change laying around like that :P
I suppose it's possible to just eat the beans, but I wouldn't want to spoil my appetite for the pie...
chrwei1 year ago
the updates are a nice touch! and whipping before pouring in the shell is something I need to try now.

I make mine with a can of coconut milk instead of evap milk or cream and I like the texture of that a lot better, plus it means my lactose intolerant friends and family can have some. Do you think curdling would be an issue if there's no milk in? I've still always done the 400/300 stages, but 350/375 for the whole time would sure be nice.

I think we have the same set of mixing bowls. Thanks for the very thorough instructable.
goodgnus2 years ago
I know it's Thanksgiving when I'm making this pie. 5th year in a row. Smells so good!
Im making this over in germany for my host parents from scratch. looks amazing :) lets see how it goes in metric :D
seamaas3 years ago
How well does this pie recipe compare to the pumpkin pies from Costco?
It doesn't. Costco pumpkin pies are fine and all, but this one is so much better and worth the effort. In a few weeks I'll be making several of these for the 4th year in a row.
dchall86 years ago
We had a pumpkin pie from Sam's Warehouse over the weekend and it was amazing. If it was really average I wouldn't mention it because it's tacky to send people to Sam's, but it was really good. And now that you mention it, it had a maple taste to it. I was trying to figure out that flavor, but that seems right. I think this recipe might be The One. The reason you re-chill the crust is to ensure that the butter is solidified. When you roll it out, the chunks of butter will remain intact if it is solid to begin with. Otherwise it will blend into the flour. When the butter forms solid globs in the dough, those globs will melt out at a relatively low temperature but leave open holes in the crust. Those holes will heat up separately and cook into very flat bubbles. When we eat the crust we distinguish each little bubble as a "flake" of crust. It is as if the crust consisted of lots and lots of layers, but it is really the little holes left where the butter was. If you allow the butter blobs to melt into the crust before cooking, you get a very dense crust. So you want to have ice cold ingredients going into the crust and do not over mix it. When you roll it, roll it on a chilled surface with a chilled roller. Do it fast and put it into a chilled pie plate, then back into the fridge. Doing all that fast takes practice but each pie crust will be better than the previous one. Also take the phone off the hook and don't get distracted. Time and heat are the enemy of pie crusts. I like the idea of using money to weigh the crust down. They sell stones for that purpose but they cost more than your pocket change and you can't do anything else with them.
Thanks for the tips. Now I was considering the heat here was mostly my problem and you confirmed it. I was so disappointed that I could no longer make a Pate Brisee, but I will be very diligent about keeping it cold next try.
goodgnus4 years ago
3rd time around! Almost done making 2 of these for 2010. Probably make a few more around Christmas. Believe it or not, I burned out my immersion blender making homemade dog treats about a month ago, bummer! Just going to use a regular handheld power mixer, we'll see how it turns out.

If you are contemplating making this pie, stop contemplating, just make it! This year I'm sipping on home brewed Blackberry Belgian Wit beer instead of some wine as I make it.
One more note, I'm using pre made pie crust dough from Trader Joe's this year rather than making crusts. It's too time consuming. I'm also skipping the crust pre-bake. I'll report on how it turns out this way.
Crust pre bake not really necessary. Electric mixer worked well but I think immersion blender yields smoother airier pie. Subbed cinnamon spiced pear cider for apple cider this year. Tasty tasty tasty!
ewilhelm (author)  goodgnus4 years ago
Awsesome! I just put mine in the oven. I'll have a few more notes to share shortly.
bmsovick4 years ago
can you keep the dough in the fridge for a few days?
ewilhelm (author)  bmsovick4 years ago
Yes. This past weekend, I made crusts for this Thanksgiving.
my family and i made a pumkin pie... we used a real pumkin becuase we had an extra one after halloween that no one wanted to carve... i myself dont like pumkin pie, but my family said it tasted great....even though it was grey. They didnt put any squash in it to give the orange colour.

i guess i'll have to show them this recipe so they dont make concrete coloured pie ever again.
I made this recipe, but used prepared crusts, due to time. The one thing I missed, I think, was what size pie pan to use. I ended up with enough filing to make two pies, one 9" and one deep-dish 10". I didn't have the apple cider, either, regretfully.

I also set aside a dollop of the filling and microwaved it in a small glass bowl, fridged it, and tasted - heavenly transport complete. These will be gone in a heartbeat... to serve with whipped topping/cream would be gilding the lily... and who woudn't want that???
Marsanni4 years ago
I have to say, your pie recipe is very delicious :) I substitute the apple cider with apple juice and the vodka with pumpkin juice (for the kids) and get the same taste.
ewilhelm (author)  Marsanni4 years ago
Thanks for your comment! Do you have pictures of the one you baked?

Please note that the vodka (and specifically the alcohol in the vodka) is used to create the proper liquid-balance in the pie dough. Substituting something other than alcohol will result in an inferior dough that has too much water. All of the alcohol evaporates during baking, so you need not be concerned about serving the pie to children.
This looks AMAZING!!!
Deminots4 years ago
Goood
Jayefuu4 years ago
I think I might have to make this. I've never had it. Not sure I can get tinned pureed pumpkin in the UK. Will have a look!
Saturn V4 years ago
I'm not a big fan of Pumpkin Pie, but I may just have to give this a shot!
I seem to have a problem I see pumpkin pie but I cant seem to get my fork to the pumpkin pie. help me please!!
my simone5 years ago
Actually it's a question, how do you prevent the filling from separating from the crust, am I using too much or not enough of something, or is this normal?
ewilhelm (author)  my simone5 years ago
You might be cooling too quickly.  When I put pies outside in the cold, for example, the filling can crack and pull away from the crust.
Darcy7775 years ago
Interesting. I will have to try it once. Try everything once.  My problem with pies is that the ring of crust always gets burnt by the time the pie filling is perfect.
PggRgg Darcy7775 years ago
You can fashion a ring of aluminum foil and bend it around the rim of the pie crust if it's looking too brown before the pie is done.  Or you can buy a pie crust shield but they don't seem to be easy to find.
goodgnus6 years ago
I made this last night, very good, but all told took me 3 hours.

A few notes:

To those would make this, the dough when finished doesn't resemble ordinary dough. I thought I did something wrong so I checked and double checked that I added all the ingredients in the correct quantities. It looks more like a big ball of cake icing instead of dough.

Instead of rolling it out I simply but the chilled doughball into a chilled glass pie pan and used my hands to work it into a crust shape. Put it in the freezer to get the dough colder faster and return it to the freezer for 10 minutes after shaping the pie crust. As dchall8 states below, don't worry about small chunks of butter. Weighing the crust down is necessary. I used a disposable aluminum pie tin that I reshaped with my hand, inserted and held down by a heavy pyrex bowl.

You mentioned adding apple cider but no mention of how much, I didn't buy any so I skipped it.

Instead of pushing everything through a strainer I used a KitchenAid immersion blender, much quicker and made the filling exceptionally smooth and airy.

I did 10 min. at 400, 25 at 300 and then bumped up to 350 to finish when a toothpick in the center came out *almost* clean then took the pie out assuming it would finish baking the center as it cooled. Easy to slice and serve when cooled!

Oh, and every recipe should have a Step 0 that states: Open a bottle of your favorite wine.
ewilhelm (author)  goodgnus6 years ago
Awesome! The immersion blender is an interesting technique. I did notice that there wasn't much actually left on the strainer, so was definitely questioning the necessity of that step.
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