Pumpkin pie, from scratch

One lesser-known fact about me is how analog I get in the kitchen. One example: For the past 10 years or so, I’ve been making pumpkin pie from scratch–no pumpkin from a can, no pie crust from the freezer case.

See after the jump for the routine I’ve settled on. It started with Epicurious’s “Spiced Pumpkin Pie,” then folded in a Post recipe for pumpkin puree and Mark Bittman’s flaky pie crust from How To Cook Everything, my usual go-to cookbook. (The pie crust is the easiest part–seriously, if you have a food processor, never buy frozen pie crust again–and the recipe needs no alteration, so I left that out of the instructions below. Update, 11/24: After making this pie crust without a food processor on Thursday, I realized that Bittman’s recipe doesn’t address that situation and that I had also departed from it in a few minor ways, so I added my take on it, plus two photos from Thursday’s production.) Lessons learned from mistakes led to the rest of my pie procedure, although further mistakes may change it again.

Pumpkin puree

Yields about 2 cups

One roughly two-pound sugar or pie pumpkin (no, not the Halloween kind)

Preheat an oven to 350 degrees. Knock off the stem off the pumpkin, cut it in half and place the halves, cut side down, in a cookie sheet or Pyrex pan, pouring in just enough water to cover the bottom. Bake for about 40 minutes, or until you can easily poke through the skin with a fork.

Cool, scoop out the seeds and the stringy bits around them, and scrape out the flesh from the skin. Puree in a food processor until smooth.

This will still have a lot of water, so I drain the puree for maybe 20 minutes either right away or after defrosting by pouring it into a disposable coffee filter in a measuring cup. If you skip that step, I suppose you’d get closer to the 3 cups the original recipe cited, and you will need to cut back on the cream to ensure that the filling still sets when baked.

You can also double this recipe, since pumpkin puree takes well to the freezer. I always do, since I bake one pie for a pre-Thanksgiving pot-luck dinner friends have been having since the last century and another for Thanksgiving itself; the leftovers go into pumpkin bread or pumpkin cookies.

Flaky pie crust

1 cup and 2 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold butter, cut into 8 pieces (32 if making without a food processor); can substitute 4 ounces shortening or lard
3 tablespoons cold water

If using a food processor, combine the dry ingredients, hit the “pulse” button twice, then dump in the butter and process for 10 seconds. If not, use two forks, two knives or a pastry blender to cut the smaller pieces of butter into the flour; you may need to let the mixture rest in the fridge if the butter starts to soften too much. Either way, pour the mixture into a bowl and sprinkle the cold water onto it, then mix with your hands (which will take longer if you didn’t use a food processor; in that scenario, Bittman’s recommendation to use ice water instead of merely cold tap water should help keep the butter from melting). Form into a ball, cover with plastic wrap and toss in the freezer for 10 minutes or the fridge for half an hour.

Clean a countertop, scatter a tablespoon of flour on it, center the dough on that and dust with more flour. Use a rolling pin to flatten the dough until it exceeds the pie plate’s diameter by an inch or so, transferring excess bits to fill gaps and scattering more flour on it if the pin starts to stick. Transfer to the pie plate and fold any excess under itself around the edge, then press a fork into that edge to decorate it.

(Bittman suggests refrigerating the crust for an hour before filling, but I’ve forgotten or skipped this step almost every time.)

Spiced pumpkin pie

2/3 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon each of allspice, ground cloves and ginger (if there are other dessert-compatible spices you’re partial to, like nutmeg or five-spice powder, add or sub them in instead)
1 1/2 cups homemade pumpkin puree
2 tablespoons molasses
3 eggs
1/2 cup heavy cream (for a dairy-free version, I’ve substituted coconut milk)
Pie crust (per Mark Bittman’s recipe as summarized above or similar)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl (use a pestle to break up any stuck-together brown sugar or, if you’re like me 10 years ago, cover a softball in plastic wrap and use it in the same manner). Pour in the pumpkin and molasses, crack the eggs into the bowl and add the cream before whisking everything together.

Fit the crust into a pie plate, then pour in the mixture. Bake for 10 minutes, drop the temperature to 325 degrees and bake for another 45 minutes. The center of the pie should be set, even if it wiggles a little bit as you take the pie out of the oven; if not, leave it in for another five minutes. Let cool. You know what to do from here.

Updated 11/28/2013 to fix an incorrect oven temperature, 11/26/2015 to adjust the time, and 11/24/2022 to add two ingredient-substitution possibilities.

3 thoughts on “Pumpkin pie, from scratch

  1. I think you are heroic! I tried real pumpkin once and it felt virtuous, and if it was the only thing I had to bring to thanksgiving dinner I’d certainly do it again.

    However, I’m responsible for a couple of dozen yeast-raised dinner rolls (because the now-grown children in the family we celebrate with adore them), the traditional Green Bean Casserole (don’t shoot me) and two homemade pumpkin pies. In the interests of conserving energy (mine) I go with Libby’s solid pack and the recipe on the back of the can, slightly modified (such as 1 can minus 3 tbsp of evaporated milk because otherwise it’s too soupy and I have to cook it too long). This year I used 2 tbsp of maple syrup instead of 1 tbsp of molasses (Christopher Kimball’s influence) and baked according to the temp in the center of the pie (175ºF is supposed to be the sweet spot, again per CK). Best. Pie. Ever. as far as I’m concerned, although next time I’m going to add back a bit of molasses to deepen the flavor. YMMV, of course!

    On another note: thanks for keeping up the tech writing. I’ve followed you since the weekly WP chats and have learned so much! I know some of your posts don’t get many [useable] comments but I suspect your stats make it worthwhile.

  2. Pingback: Is it even Thanksgiving if you don’t travel? | Rob Pegoraro

  3. Pingback: Thanksgiving almost entirely from scratch, and on short notice | Rob Pegoraro

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