I don’t mean to hit a sour note as we approach this time of collective gratitude and feasting, but am I the only one who finds traditional pumpkin pie underwhelming?
Not that I have anything against pumpkin, per se. I mean, it’s a great squash and all. But it’s a little blah. And most pumpkin pies only go about halfway as far as they could – in the richness and wow! departments – to un-blah it.
It’s as if – when the Pilgrims got together to plan the Thanksgiving Day menu – the dessert committee said “Whoa! We better not invent anything that’s going to upstage the turkey, dressing and green bean casserole! Better keep it plain, ladies.” Thus, boring pumpkin pie was born.
Well I think it’s time we stepped back and gave this national treasure a makeover. I propose we adopt this Creamy Pumpkin Cheesecake Pie as the gold standard.
Relax: we’re not thumbing our nose at tradition here. We’re simply stepping on its toes so pumpkin pie seems less like an afterthought and more like a starring attraction.
We gather our ingredients, which – you will note – looks like the congregation of any pumpkin pie in the making, save for the cream cheese, which gives this pie its uncharacteristic creamy richness. Our partially prebaked pie shell is the to right.
I get frequent emails asking me if it’s really necessary to prebake your pumpkin pie shell, and the answer is yes, unless you really like limp crusts. End of story. And by the way, see the white smears on the shell above? Those are dabs of cream cheese that a rub over the holes to plug them so the filling doesn’t run out.
I like a little lemon zest in my pumpkin pie. It adds a bit of sparkle. A pumpkin pie should wear lemon like a guy wears cologne: you should barely know that it’s there. You want just enough to add interest; not enough to make a statement. If you don’t have one of these Microplane graters, you should pick one up. They’re sharp and efficient, like a grater on steroids.
Whether you’re baking this or almost any pumpkin pie, the visual clues to done-ness are essentially the same: first, the top of the pie will “lift” a little, more so at the sides. You don’t want a really big lift, or you may end up with a crack in the pie.
Also, see in the photo how the perimeter of the pie has a “flat” texture, while the center is more moist-shiny? That’s what you want. This photo – taken about 5 minutes before the pie is done – illustrates the difference pretty well. When your pie is done, expect to see only a small shiny circle – a couple of inches in diameter – at the center of the pie.
As you pie cools down, the top will settle and the surface will take on a uniform texture and appearance like it has in the photo below.
You could serve the pie just like this, but I think the sweetened sour cream topping gives the pie a really attractive finish…not to mention the fact that it eliminates the need for whipped cream. I like to drizzle slices with a little butterscotch or caramel sauce when I serve the pie.
Sour cream topping or not, you’ll need to start this the day before because it has to refrigerate overnight. That’s just as well: it leaves you more time on the big day to attend to more pressing matters.
Here’s wishing you and yours a warm, cozy, and otherwise fabulous Thanksgiving. And in case you’re wondering, one of the things I’m most grateful for this year is you and the many other pie lovers and Pie Academy members who have generously shared their ideas, challenges, compliments, and hopes for this site. Thanks for your support.
PASTRY NOTE: Use any pastry you like here that will fit a 9 1/2″ deep-dish pie pan. I like the GOOD BASIC PIE DOUGH.
ANOTHER NOTE: Careful observers will note that this is week 11 in our parade of tailgate pies. I’m simply playing that down this week, in favor of Thanksgiving. However, so long as you can keep this cold, it would make a great tailgate pie.