Pumpkin pie, with its thick, pumpkin-y custard, fragrant spices, and flaky pastry crust, is about as delicious as Thanksgiving gets. Served with a dollop of homemade whipped cream, there is no Thanksgiving dish that arrives with such anticipation. Yet, even the most seasoned bakers know a truly perfect pumpkin pie is no easy task to pull off. Here are a few mistakes you need to avoid in order to make your best pumpkin pie ever:
1. You use fresh pumpkin
I can hear you now, “But such-and-such variety of pumpkin makes a delicious pie, just like my grandma made!” Well, if you have a tried-and-true family recipe that you’re used to, then nothing is going to change your mind — nostalgia looms large on Thanksgiving. But for those who want to make a truly perfect pie every time, it’s important to practice consistency. Fresh pumpkins can vary wildly in size and moisture content. Roasting time and temperature can change consistency as well. For stunningly perfect pumpkin pies year after year, canned pumpkin puree is the way to go. It bakes up better and will give you repeat results. (We like Libby’s brand.)
Pro tip: Never, I repeat, NEVER use pumpkin pie filling. It’s overly sweet, unbalanced, and not seasoned with quality spices. Always but plain pumpkin puree and spice it yourself.
2. You use the wrong pie pan
A clear glass Pyrex pie pan allows you a peek into the doneness level of your pie crust. Plus, for this purpose, it’s also the best conductor of heat. Aluminum pie pans heat up more quickly and could burn your pie, and ceramic pie pans retain heat much longer, meaning your pies keep cooking — and likely over-cooking — long after you’ve removed them from the oven.
3. You don’t know what kind of crust you like
You need to decide whether you’re going for a flaky, crispy pie crust or a denser, chewier crust. For a slightly chewy crust, don’t be afraid to pour the pumpkin filling directly into the raw pie crust dough. For a flaky crust, par-bake the crust and let it cool before adding the filling. Also, don’t use a fork to poke holes or aerate the crust before baking. This allows the filling to seep into the crust.
Pro tip: Alternatively, for a crispy crust while still pouring filling directly into raw dough crust, make sure crust is nice and thin. Then, poke holes in dough with a fork, and sprinkle with a little bit of sugar. The sugar will help make a light seal between the filling and the crust, allowing for some separation.
4. You over-bake the filling
Over-baked custard tends to crack at the top. For a show-stopping pie, you need to time your cooking just right. Traditional pumpkin pie filling includes a combination of eggs, dairy, and sugar, along with the pumpkin puree, meaning it’s basically a pumpkin pudding or custard. (Which is why you should technically always refrigerate pumpkin pie.) As with all custards, remove pie from oven while there is still a little jiggle to the center of the pie. No matter what type of pan you use, your pie will continue to cook longer after it’s removed from the oven. If your top still cracks, no worries. It happens even to the best of us — just have that whipped cream handy and pile it high on top before anyone can see.
Pro tip:When your pumpkin pie is done, the center should still have a slight jiggle to the center. The pie’s internal temperature should read 175ºF, or if you don’t have a thermometer, insert a knife or toothpick and make sure it comes out clean.
5. You don’t cool it before slicing
Eating a warm pie seems like the most normal thing in the world, but truthfully, most pies require several hours of cooling before they are able to be sliced. Prematurely cut into a pie and risk having its contents ooze out or its center collapse. Cool your pie for at least four hours before serving. If you prefer warm pie, let it cool, and then give it a quick nuke in the microwave if you must.
6. You don’t make homemade whipped cream
Some people swear by Cool Whip, others by Reddi-Wip. But if you’ve never tried homemade whipped cream, you’re missing out on something magical.
Pro tip: Buy a pint of heavy whipping cream and either omit the sugar or just add in a small sprinkling of confectioners sugar and a drop of vanilla extract. Whip it by hand or save time and use a hand-held beater. You’ve gone through all of the trouble to make the perfect Thanksgiving dinner and the perfect pumpkin pie, so why trust the last tiny piece of the meal to a store-bought brand?
Also see, Pumpkin whoppie pie recipe.