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How-To

How to Make Classic Pumpkin Pie

An intro course to a classic holiday pie

October/November 2014 Issue
From the 2017 Thanksgiving Guide
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Photos: Scott Phillips
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The first pie I ever baked was pumpkin. My mother showed me how to roll out the buttery pie dough and explained why blind-baking is crucial for custard pies. Little did I know that that pie, coupled with my relentless sweet tooth, would start me on a path toward a career as a pastry chef, instructor, and cookbook author.

Since then, I’ve made hundreds of pumpkin pies. The recipe I use these days, which I happily share with you here, remains very similar to my mom’s. It starts with an all-butter dough that’s soft, supple, and remarkably easy to handle—perfect for newbie bakers, like I once was. It bakes into a tender-yet-flaky crust that complements the satin-smooth, not-too-sweet pumpkin custard filling. I wouldn’t have any other pumpkin pie on my holiday table; I hope you enjoy it on yours.

Get the recipe: Classic Pumpkin Pie
Chill the butter. If the butter in the pie dough is cold, it’ll melt slowly in the oven, creating steam pockets that leave behind a flaky texture.

Smear the dough. The French technique of fraisage, or smearing the dough with the palm of your hand, creates layers and streaks—not lumps—of butter in the dough that create a flakier crust.

Roll on floured parchment. Flour and parchment paper work together to minimize the amount of flour necessary to keep the dough from sticking to the counter.

Rest twice. No, don’t take two naps while making your pie! Let the dough rest in the refrigerator after it’s shaped into a disk and again after it’s shaped in the pie pan. That’ll keep the butter cold (see above) and relax the gluten in the dough so the crust rolls easily and doesn’t shrink when it’s baked.

Buy pure pumpkin purée, not pumpkin pie filling. The latter has added sugar, flavorings, salt, and water, which means you’re not in control of how your pie tastes.

Use brown sugar and fresh spices. Traditional pumpkin pie recipes often call for white sugar, but I prefer brown sugar for its rich flavor. Fresh spices pack a potent punch; replace any that are more than 6 months old.

Blind-bake the crust in a glass pie plate. Baking the crust before filling it—blind-baking—gives it a head start so it’s cooked through when the filling is done baking. I always use glass pie plates so I can easily judge how the crust is browning.

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