Introduction: Pumpkin Pie

About: Eric J. Wilhelm is the founder of Instructables. He has a Ph.D. from MIT in Mechanical Engineering. Eric believes in making technology accessible through understanding, and strives to inspire others to learn …

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!

Step 1: The Pie Agenda

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

Step 2: Pie Crust Ingredients

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

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

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

-- 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

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!