America’s favorite Thanksgiving dessert is a particular favorite of
mine. And over the many years of preparing them, I have learned they
can be quite persnickety and are rarely “perfect” without a little

Most home bakers will buy some cans of pureed pumpkin on sale this
time of year and use the recipe on the back of the can. By the way, go
right ahead, since these filling recipes are not only standard, but
delicious. Most will also purchase pre-made pie pastry, which is a
timesaver. But whether you use canned pumpkin or fresh, pre-made pastry
or homemade, you are still going to face a few challenges.

Foremost is the likelihood that the pastry shell will become soggy
during baking, a rather notorious condition when making custard-based
pies. This is easily avoided by partially pre-baking the shell before
filling, and cooking lower in the oven.

The fillings will often curdle if the pie is cooked in too high a
heat, or overcooked, producing a filling that separates (really making
the crust soggy) and becomes grainy with a thick browned film on the
top of the pie. For this inescapable threat, one does not cook a
pumpkin pie so much by time, as one does by “feel” of the custard
filling. Never cook so long that a knife inserted into the center
returns clean, but only to the point where the center no longer
“sloshes”, but jiggles like jello.

And if you roast your own pie pumpkins to make your own pumpkin
puree (as I always do), you’ll never go back to using the canned stuff,
despite how long it takes to make your own. The reason for this is not
only flavor, but texture. (There may be some obstinacy on my part here,
too.) Homemade pumpkin puree is smooth as silk and has an unbelievable
deep, rich flavor that makes any effort on buying pie pumpkins
worthwhile. Canned pumpkin is notoriously fibrous and almost always has
that “canned” taste you clearly discern when tasting homemade puree and
canned puree side-by-side.

However, it is certainly great to use canned pumpkin and just two
steps are all you need to follow to make the canned stuff taste almost
as good as homegrown and home-roasted (although you will never achieve
the depth of pumpkin flavor found in one fresh from the vine): (1)
Before using canned pumpkin puree, run it through your food processor
for a minute or so to completely puree any fibrous bits; and (2)
precook this puree with the sugar and spices and the “canned” flavor
will quickly disappear.

Here is how to make the best pumpkin pie of your life, regardless of
whether you use fresh or canned pumpkin, from a few tips you will never
find on the back of a can. I offer my preferred recipe two ways, the
first with a drop-dead wonderful filling from fresh pumpkins, the
second that illustrates how to create a canned pumpkin filling that
even I couldn’t guess was canned…after a couple of glasses of wine, of

The Perfected Classic Fresh Pumpkin Pie

1 partially pre-baked pie pastry in a 10-inch “deep-dish” pie dish

2 cups fresh roasted pumpkin puree

1 cup dark brown sugar, packed

1 teaspoon ground ginger

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon salt (not sea salt, please)

1 cup heavy whipping cream

1/2 cup milk (2% is fine)

4 large eggs

You will need to prepare your fresh pumpkins the day before making this pie.

There are several varieties of pie pumpkins available across the
country, but Sugarpie and Sweetiepie are probably more common to find
in farmers’ markets and larger stores (like my Central Market). You can
generally expect a 2-pound pie pumpkin to produce 1 cup of puree. I
always buy several usually around 3 to 4 pounds in size, roast them at
the same time, and then can and/or freeze the extra puree for other
uses (like soups, cookies, cakes, cheesecakes and future pumpkin pies).
Inspect the pumpkins carefully and reject any with dark spots or
abrasions/cuts to the skin or having any mold around the stems.

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees (F). Line a jelly roll pan with
heavy duty aluminum foil extending over the sides and crimping into
place, then oil the foil generously with vegetable or canola oil. (If
you roast several pumpkins at once, place your two or three oven racks
spaced evenly in your oven above center, (at center, if using three
racks) and below center, and prepare two or three jelly roll pans as

Using a sharp chef’s knife, remove the stem end from each pumpkin.
Cut each pumpkin in half and remove all of the seeds and fibers. Cut
each half again creating quarters, then cut each quarter in half across
the middle creating triangles.

Arrange the pumpkin triangles evenly on the oiled foil with the
outer skin side up. Place into your preheated oven and roast for about
2 hours, or until the pumpkin pieces are fork-tender. (If roasting two
or three pans-full, the roasting time will probably require three hours
of cooking to reach fork tenderness.)

When tender, remove from the oven and transfer the pumpkin pieces to
wire racks to cool completely for about 2 hours, placing the pumpkins
skin side down on the racks.

When cool, remove the skins using a sharp knife and discard. Also
slice off any hard or dried-out spots that may form in the flesh,
especially toward the ends that touched the baking pan. Slice the
pumpkin triangles into 1-inch pieces and place into a large bowl.

Fill your food processor bowl or blender with the pumpkin chunks and
pulse a few times to reduce the pieces. Then puree the pumpkin for 1
full minute, or until completely smooth. (If you have roasted two or
more pans of pumpkin triangles, you will need to puree in batches.)

Measure out two cups of puree and set aside for the pie filling, then can and/or freeze the balance of puree for use elsewhere.

Meanwhile, prepare your pastry shell:

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees (F) and place your rack below the oven center.

Mix your pastry, roll out and line the 10-inch “deep-dish” pie dish.
Once your pastry is done and has nicely fluted edges, place it into the
refrigerator to chill for at least 30 minutes. Remove from the fridge
and line the inside of the pastry with a couple of layers of heavy-duty
aluminum foil pressed gently into place and with the edges of the foil
extending over the edges of the pastry. Completely fill the foil cavity
with ceramic pastry weights or dried beans.

Bake in your preheated oven for about 25 to 30 minutes, or until the
pastry looks complexly dry, but is still unbrowned. Remove the dish
from the oven, carefully gather the corners of the foil and lift out
the weights and set aside to cool. Return the pastry to the oven to
cook for another 5 minutes, or until the pastry has turned a light
golden brown. Set aside on a wire rack.

Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees (F) and carefully place your cooking rack below the center of your oven.

Next comes the filling:

In a small bowl or large measuring cup, whisk the eggs until the
whites are completely blended and the eggs smooth. Add the cream and
milk to the eggs, whisking briskly until the eggs and cream are
completely combined.

In a separate large bowl, combine the pumpkin puree, brown sugar,
spices and salt and whisk well to completely blend. Continue to whisk
for a couple of moments to help dissolve the sugar. Pour 1/3 of the
egg-cream mixture into the pumpkin and whisk well to combine. Add half
of the remaining egg-cream mixture and whisk well again. Then add the
balance of the egg-cream mixture and whisk well once more until the
filling is well combined and smooth.

Pour the filling slowly into the partially pre-baked pastry shell.
Brush the edges of the pastry with an egg wash (1 egg whisked with 1
tablespoon of water).

Place into your 350-degree oven and bake for 35 minutes, then pull
it out for a test. Insert a clean dinner knife 1-1/2 inch from the
crust edge. If it returns clean, great! But shake the pie dish – if the
2-inch diameter of the center of the filling sloshes about and is still
very loose, return to the oven for ten more minutes, then recheck by
the jiggling method. Once the very 2-inch diameter of the center, when
shaken, jiggles like firm jello, remove the pie from the oven and place
on a wire rack. The residual heat will continue to firm up the center
of the filling.

Allow the pie to cool on the wire rack for at least 1 hour before
serving warm, or after the hour, cover the pie with plastic wrap and
place into the refrigerator to chill completely for another hour.

Serve with a dollop of sweetened whipped cream that is flavored
(during the whipping) with 1 tablespoon of bourbon or brandy.
Alternatively, serve the pie with a scoop of rich vanilla ice cream.



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