Thursday, November 22, 2012

Easy pumpkin pie

Two weeks ago, I had never made a pumpkin pie in my life.  Now I've made six: two of each of the three recipes I'm featuring on the blog.

Why the sudden urge to master pumpkin pie?  I think it had something to do with my stepmother's horror at my bringing cornbread to Thanksgiving last year, which she regarded as strange. I hate to admit it, but in the deep, primitive recesses of my brain, I felt that if I could master the quintessential Thanksgiving dessert, somehow I would redeem myself from a lifetime of being the strange girl in the corner of the room who read odd books and never had Tastykakes to trade with the other kids for lunch.

Six pies later, I am by far not the master of pumpkin pie.  However, I will say that I have become the master of EASY pumpkin pie.  And, although you can make life as complicated for yourself as you want, there is something to be said for having an easy pumpkin pie in your baking playbook.

The first pumpkin pie recipe I attempted was Libby's, mainly because when I mentioned to people: "I am making a pumpkin pie," all of them said that was the one they used and it was foolproof, even people who only baked once a year.

My first attempt was a total disaster.  Note: when they say on the back of the can: 'use a deep dish pie pan,' they mean it..  Make sure it holds at least 4 cups. 

My first Libby's attempt bubbled all over the baking sheet.  Amazingly I had the foresight to put the pie on a baking sheet.  I was actually still able to salvage some of the pie, but it looked rather uneven and strange.

I used a larger pie tin for my second attempt, which was successful. (I was giving the pies away, hence the disposable cookware). Of the three pie recipes I tried, Libby's was by far the runniest and the most orange.  I can't explain the runny nature, because the recipe involves almost no measuring, and I didn't alter it at all, other than using a 1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg rather than cloves.  I think it just needs a large pie tin of a specific dimension (in other words, the first time I did not FOLLOW THE RECIPE that has been tested and developed for, oh, nine billion years in an incredibly professional test kitchen).

Instead of using a traditional pie crust, I decided to use a homemade graham cracker crust for all the pies.  I tried using both a baked and an unbaked crust with all three pie recipes. The baked crust got harder when I refrigerated the pie, but quickly softened to room temperature.  I would recommend using a baked crust with the Libby's recipe because it was SO moist, the baked crust held its shape much better.  With the other two recipes, it didn't matter that much.

I realize that not making a butter crust could be classified as 'wimping out' but, in my defense:

1. I did make the graham cracker crust from scratch (or at least according to most people's definition of scratch).
2. Although I love, love a good pie crust, I've always found even the best pumpkin pies tend to make the crust taste rather wet and doughy, and the flavor of graham crackers goes so nicely with pumpkin.
3. These are easy pies, and I am admitted newbie, so I wanted to focus on the filling. No crust stress!

The second pie recipe I tried was Emma's favorite pie.  Emma is my friend Anna's daughter over at Cookie Madness.  This pie was MUCH less runnier than Libby's and came together so much easier.  It uses sweetened condensed milk (in contrast to Libby's, which uses evaporated milk).  It is so easy, you don't even have to add sugar.

Unfortunately, my pie doesn't have an adorable eight-year-old's thumbprint in it, but I really loved the texture of the pie--the condensed milk gave the pumpkin batter a nice solidity and it spread less. It cut very easily and professionally.

Finding my third pie came about by accident. I was listening to NPR (of course) and heard an interview with Melissa Clark in which she mentioned her new pumpkin pie recipe with browned butter and bourbon.  I don't drink but I love browned butter and when I saw the recipe on the radio showpage, I said: "hey, that looks easy, and I bet that would be fantastic with a graham cracker crust."

This pie had a smooth, unctuous texture and the batter was very thick.  I used my small, more shallow pie pan and it didn't spread at all!  This is my new go-to easy pumpkin pie recipe!  Next year, I can conquer more Olympian pumpkin heights, perhaps, but I'm satisfied with this one.

I did make some modifications to Melissa's original, so I am including mine below.

Browned Butter Pumpkin Pie (with a graham cracker crust)

Graham Cracker Crust (make this first)
--adapted from Allrecipes--


6-6 1/2 tablespoons of melted butter (you may need to use the extra half tablespoon if your graham cracker crumbs are especially dry--I used this brand because it doesn't contain any HFC)
1 1/2 cups finely crumbled graham crackers
1/3 cup white OR light brown sugar (I used both, both work fine, but the brown sugar will give you a more moist crust; don't use dark because it will be too crumbly)
1 teaspoon of cinnamon


1. Very easy--after melting the butter, sift the crackers, sugar, and cinnamon.  Mix the dry mixture into the wet mixture and pat firmly into a 9-inch pie pan.

2. Either bake at 375F for 5-7 minutes or chill for 1 hour, unbaked

Browned Butter Pumpkin Pie


6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 3/4 cups canned pumpkin puree (or 1 standard 15 ounce can)
3 large beaten, eggs
1/2 cup half and half
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoons ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt


1. Preheat oven to 325F.  Brown the butter in a pan until it is just foaming, remove from heat.
2. While the butter is cooling, mix the pumpkin, eggs, half and half, sugar, spices, and salt together.  Add in the browned butter.  Stir thoroughly.
3. Pour into your prepared graham cracker crust.
4. Bake for 50-60 minutes until center is moist and edges have begun to solidify.
5. Cool for two hours.  Then refrigerate.


  1. Every year I say I'm going to make a pumpkin or sweet potato pie from scratch and then I always end up getting one from bakery. The only pumpkin pies I've baked have been from the freezer case, and those are inconsistent. Even if you take them out of the oven when they look properly set, you can still end up with a runny pie. They're safe to eat, but I still can't help thinking I'm going to get salmonella.

  2. @flurrious--the 'middle pie' is a great one to start with! You should give it a try on a non-holiday just for fun, when there is no pressure. I hear ya regarding the difficulty of telling when one is done. I was hovering by the oven every time I made one, terrified of overcooking it.

    Oddly enough, despite being a hypochondriac I'm not that afraid of getting food poisoning from raw eggs. Weird, tropical diseases that are unheard-of in my region of the country are another story ("but what if I am that one rare case...")

  3. In my experience, pie making is always hard no matter how experienced you are at it. i've made quite a few pies in my day and yet I had a total apple pie fail this T-Day. Next year I'll be trying your brown butter pumpkin pie instead!

  4. An apple pie fail? That's hard to believe, because the apple pie you posted before Thanksgiving was my vision of pie perfection!