Confession: I’ve always liked the idea of pumpkin pie better than pumpkin pie itself. A wedge of deep-orange pie, neatly sliced and dolloped with fresh whipped cream to cap off Thanksgiving dinner–what could be better? Nothing, except a cold piece the next morning, washed down with hot coffee. I so want to love it.
In reality, pumpkin pie can have some unappealing attributes (well, who doesn’t?). It often tastes of canned pumpkin, with an aggressive overlay of spices. It’s grainy in texture, sometimes even gritty from all those spices. It’s…wet. It has a soggy crust. In fact, I rarely make pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving.I usually rely on Rose Levy Berambaum’s recipe for pumpkin cheesecake. It was published in Fine Cooking back in 1999 and I’ve been making it more or less every year since.
The other day, after making Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s homemade mascarpone, it occurred to me that this might be the answer to my issues with pumpkin pie. I remembered that mascarpone had quite nicely resolved similar longstanding issues I had with ricotta crostata. So I added mascarpone to the pumpkin filling.
Also, I didn’t actually use pumpkin, canned or otherwise. I used roasted red kuri squash, a squat, bright orange variety with dense, smooth, sweet orange flesh. It’s not fibrous and it makes a rich pumpkin pie filling. (Buttercup and kabocha, similar varieties except with a hard green rind, are equally good.) And I toned down the spices. I like and want to taste the flavor of the pumpkin…or squash.
Finally, I used my go-to recipe for all-butter pie crust, which started many years ago as a Betty Crocker recipe and which I’ve gradually tweaked to my liking over the decades.
So there you have it, perfect pumpkin pie. Or nearly perfect. After I posted a picture of it on Instagram, someone commented that they spike their pumpkin pie filling with bourbon. Head slap.
We’re getting there.
What’s YOUR perfect pumpkin pie? Tell us about it or share a link to your recipe.
Technically, this is a winter squash pie. I almost always use roasted winter squash in place of canned (or fresh) pumpkin puree, which tends to be watery and has less flavor than squash. My favorite squashes for baking are red kuri, kabocha and buttercup. I get them at the Twin Springs Fruit Farm stall at my local farmers' market. They all have orange flesh that is dense, sweet and smooth. To roast, cut the squash in half and scoop out the seeds. Rub a little vegetable oil on the cut side and place the halves, cut-side-down, on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast at 375 degrees F. for 45 to 60 minutes, until the squash is completely tender. I used Homemade Mascarpone in this recipe, but store-bought is also fine.
- 1 (9-inch) pie crust, chilled
- 1 1/2 cups pureed roasted red kuri, kabocha or buttercup squash, cooled
- 1 packed cup light brown sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated (or ground) nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/4 teaspoon fine salt
- 1 cup (8 ounces) mascarpone, homemade or store-bought
- Freshly whipped cream for serving
Heat the oven to 375 degrees F.
With an electric mixer, beat together the squash puree and light brown sugar. Beat in the eggs, then the lemon juice, vanilla extract, spices and salt. Add the mascarpone and beat until smooth. Pour the mixture into the chilled pie crust.
Bake the pie until the filling is puffed up slightly around the rim and set in the middle, about 1 hour. Transfer the pie to a cooling rack and cool to room temperature. Just before serving, dollop a mound of whipped cream into the center of the pie.
I have always made an all-butter pastry for my pies. I've tried versions with vegetable shortening and with lard, but to me nothing beats the fresh flavor and crispy, flaky texture of a butter crust. I long ago stopped mixing this dough by hand, as it comes together easily in a food processor. Just be sure to pulse rather than to process continuously, and use cold butter (I keep mine in the freezer and take it out shortly before making the dough).
- 1 1/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon fine salt
- 1 stick (1/2 cup, 8 tablespoons) very cold unsalted butter, cut into dice
- 4 to 5 tablespoons ice water
Measure the flour and salt into the work bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine. Distribute the butter around the bowl and pulse to cut the butter into the flour. Take care not to over-process. You want visible bits and pieces of butter in the mixture. While pulsing, drizzle in the water and process just until the dough begins to come together.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and pat it into a disk. Wrap in wax paper or plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes before rolling out.
To shape the crust, remove the dough from the refrigerator. On a lightly floured surface, roll it into a 12-inch disk and gently press it into a 9-inch pie plate (I prefer glass), leaving an overhang. Trim the overhang to about 1 inch from the rim. Fold the overhang under so that it is even with the rim. Crimp or flute with your fingers. Chill until ready to fill.
This recipe is easily doubled for a two-crust pie.