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Although it may not look like it, pumpkin pie is actually a custard pie. A prebaked pie shell is filled and then baked just long enough for the sweet, egg-enriched filling to set. We wanted to create a pumpkin pie with a velvety smooth filling packed with pumpkin flavor and redolent of just enough fragrant spices.
To concentrate its flavor, we cooked the canned pumpkin with sugar and spices, then whisked in heavy cream, milk, and eggs. This improved the pumpkin flavor and the hot filling helped the custard firm up quickly in the oven, preventing it from soaking into the crust and making it soggy. For spices, we chose nutmeg, cinnamon, and, surprisingly, freshly grated ginger. Sugar and maple syrup sweetened things. Our recipe contains one secret ingredient: canned candied yams. Believe it or not, they make the filling taste more pumpkin-y.
To keep the custard from curdling, we started the pie at a high oven temperature for 10 minutes, followed by a reduced temperature for the remainder of the baking time. This cut the baking time and produced a creamy pie fully and evenly cooked from edge to center.
As for the crust, we found prebaking the empty pie shell is absolutely essential. This recipe relies on a half-recipe of our Foolproof Pie Dough.
To ensure that the filling sets, let it cool at room temperature and not in the refrigerator. This pie is best served the day it is baked, although once cooled it can be refrigerated for a day. Serve with whipped cream.
Read on for the 5 most common baking mistakes, and how to prevent them. If you heed our advice, your pumpkin pie will come out perfectly.
Mistake #1: Pie Shell Not Prebaked
What Could Happen: The bottom crust is doughy and raw tasting.
What You Should Do: You must prebake the pie crust before adding the filling. If you skip this step, the filling will be done but the crust will lag behind and remain doughy and soft.
Mistake #2: Pie Shell Not Weighted
What Could Happen: The crust bubbles up and can't hold enough filling. The crust cracks and the filling seeps below the crust, making it very hard to remove slices of pie.
What You Should Do: Blind-baking a pie shell is necessary when the filling requires little or no baking. In our Pumpkin Pie recipe, the crust is partially baked since the filled pie goes back into the oven. To keep the crust from ballooning up in the oven, it's imperative to place a piece of foil on top of the dough and then weight the dough down. If the pie shell is baked without weights, the dough will bubble and crack. The foil makes it easy to get the weights in and out of the pie shell and also prevents overbrowning of the crust.
Mistake #3: Filling Not Precooked
What Could Happen: The pumpkin tastes tinny and flat. The spices are underdeveloped. The filling is watery and thin.
What You Should Do: Most recipes mix the pumpkin straight from the can with the other filling ingredients and then pour everything into the pie shell. We precook the filling to concentrate the pumpkin flavor and cook off some of the tinny notes in canned pumpkin. The precooking step also cooks off excess moisture in the pumpkin. The spices are heated with the pumpkin to develop their flavor. Note that the eggs and dairy elements are added to the cooked pumpkin and spices off heat to keep the eggs from overheating.
Mistake #4: Filling Added to Cooled Pie Shell
What Could Happen: The crust softens and becomes soggy. The filling takes longer to set up and curdles.
What You Should Do: Adding warm filling to a warm pie shell accomplishes two things. First, the liquidy filling does less damage to a warm crust than a cool crust. That's because the filling sets up more quickly when it's added to warm pie shell. Second, the filling cooks more quickly, which reduces the risk of curdling. Start the filling at the same time the pie shell goes into the oven. When the pie shell is done, remove the foil and weights, add the hot filling, and return the pie to the oven.
Mistake #5: Filling Overheats
What Could Happen: The filling curdles and becomes watery. The filling has a grainy texture.
What You Should Do: Pumpkin pie is actually a variation on custard pie. The cream, milk, and eggs are supplemented with canned pumpkin and spices. If the eggs are overheated, they will curdle and make the filling watery. In order to achieve a soft, smooth texture, you must not overbake the pie. Starting the pie in a 400-degree oven warms the filling quickly, and then reducing the heat to 300 degrees guards against overheating. When the pie is properly baked, the center 2 inches of the pie should look firm but still jiggle slightly when the pie is shifted. The pie finishes cooking with residual heat; to ensure that the filling is set, let it cool at room temperature and not in the refrigerator.
WHY THIS RECIPE WORKS: Too many pumpkin pie recipes result in a grainy custard in a soggy crust. For our pumpkin pie recipe, we avoided this outcome by drying out the pumpkin puree (and adding roasted yams for complex flavor) on the stovetop before whisking in dairy and eggs. The hot filling let the creamy custard firm up quickly in the oven, preventing it from soaking into the crust.
MAKES ONE 9-INCH PIE
If candied yams are unavailable, regular canned yams can be substituted. The best way to judge doneness is with an instant-read thermometer. The center 2 inches of the pie should look firm but jiggle slightly. The pie finishes cooking with residual heat; to ensure that the filling sets, cool it at room temperature and not in the refrigerator. To ensure accurate cooking times and a crisp crust, the filling should be added to the prebaked crust when both the crust and filling are warm. Serve at room temperature with whipped cream. Vodka is essential to the texture of the crust and imparts no flavor; do not substitute.
1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (6 1/4 ounces)
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 tablespoon sugar
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch slices
1/4 cup vegetable shortening, cold, cut into two pieces
2 tablespoons vodka, cold (see note)
2 tablespoons cold water
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
3 large eggs plus 2 large yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin puree
1 cup drained candied yams from 15-ounce can (see note)
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon table salt
1. For the Crust: Process 3/4 cup flour, salt, and sugar in food processor until combined, about two 1-second pulses. Add butter and shortening and process until homogenous dough just starts to collect in uneven clumps, about 10 seconds; dough will resemble cottage cheese curds with some very small pieces of butter remaining, but there should be no uncoated flour. Scrape bowl with rubber spatula and redistribute dough evenly around processor blade. Add remaining 1/2 cup flour and pulse until mixture is evenly distributed around bowl and mass of dough has been broken up, 4 to 6 quick pulses. Empty mixture into medium bowl.
2. Sprinkle vodka and water over mixture. With rubber spatula, use folding motion to mix, pressing down on dough until dough is slightly tacky and sticks together. Flatten dough into 4-inch disk. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least 45 minutes or up to 2 days.
3. Adjust oven rack to lowest position, place rimmed baking sheet on rack, and heat oven to 400 degrees. Remove dough from refrigerator and roll out on generously floured (1/4 cup) work surface to 12-inch circle about 1/8 inch thick. Roll dough loosely around rolling pin and unroll into pie plate, leaving at least 1-inch overhang on each side. Working around circumference, ease dough into plate by gently lifting edge of dough with one hand while pressing into plate bottom with other hand. Refrigerate 15 minutes.
4. Trim overhang to 1/2 inch beyond lip of pie plate. Fold overhang under itself; folded edge should be flush with edge of pie plate. Using thumb and forefinger, flute edge of dough. Refrigerate dough-lined plate until firm, about 15 minutes.
5. Remove pie pan from refrigerator, line crust with foil, and fill with pie weights or pennies. Bake on rimmed baking sheet 15 minutes. Remove foil and weights, rotate plate, and bake 5 to 10 additional minutes until crust is golden brown and crisp. Remove pie plate and baking sheet from oven.
6. For the Filling: While pie shell is baking, whisk cream, milk, eggs, yolks, and vanilla together in medium bowl. Combine pumpkin puree, yams, sugar, maple syrup, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt in large heavy-bottomed saucepan; bring to sputtering simmer over medium heat, 5 to 7 minutes. Continue to simmer pumpkin mixture, stirring constantly and mashing yams against sides of pot, until thick and shiny, 10 to 15 minutes.
7. Remove pan from heat and whisk in cream mixture until fully incorporated. Strain mixture through fine-mesh strainer set over medium bowl, using back of ladle or spatula to press solids through strainer. Rewhisk mixture and transfer to warm prebaked pie shell. Return pie plate with baking sheet to oven and bake pie for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 300 degrees and continue baking until edges of pie are set (instant-read thermometer inserted in center registers 175 degrees), 20 to 35 minutes longer. Transfer pie to wire rack and cool to room temperature, 2 to 3 hours. Cut into wedges and serve.
VIEW THE DETAILED VERSION OF RECIPE & 47 STEP-BY-STEP PHOTOS: Pumpkin Pie Tutorial
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