Weekend Project: Homemade Pumpkin Pie
There's no shame in phoning it in with a store-bought pie, but this year, try your hand at making it with one of the easiest recipes on Earth.
It is safe to assume that you have, at some point in life, purchased a store-bought pumpkin pie, in all its gooey, occasionally dewy-from-precipitating-in-plastic, glory. I know you. You’re like me: you took that pre-baked seasonal sludge out of its container and paraded it on some charming ceramic dish of your own to pass as semi-home-made. (Here’s looking at you, Sandra Lee.)
The custardy crevice that’s slightly discolored in the center that pulls and cracks from the middle, with those perfect factory crimped edges tells us what we already know. You phoned it in. There’s no shame here, I have an intimate knowledge of those spiced autumnal flavors. And, as an advocate of the ‘work smarter not harder’ mentality, the grocery store pumpkin discs serve their purpose with dignity and rarely disappoint. That said, I needed a break from the 24-hour news cycle during past election week, so here we are, scratch baking one instead, trying to outdo the Costco classic. Callista Mei, host of her own baking show and brand of the same name, Six Sweet Under and head baker at Magnolia Bakery in Los Angeles, shares her recipe. I’m here to tell you that damn: this might be one of the easiest baking recipes to execute, so you can stop telling fat pie lies on Thanksgiving and put a little heart into your potluck this year.
PSA: STOP READING if you do not have either a hand held or standing mixer. Yes, this recipe is very manageable, but it includes a boozy chantilly whipped cream. As someone who has previously committed to a recipe unknowingly needing a mixer and almost reached an early death from whipping 3 cups of egg whites by hand, I am warning you here and now... You will not want to do this portion of the recipe manually, unless you’re a beef cake with a point to prove. I whipped the cream first, simply because I prefer it pretty chilled and it can hang out in the fridge while I accomplish other tasks. If the cream appears to be too firm after fridge time, fold in a splash of leftover whipping cream or whole milk to soften. Or don’t do it as a first step, this is your world. The recipe calls for brandy. I accidentally grabbed a bottle of cognac from my grandparents’ cabinet, so now I have cognac chantilly cream. They are quite nearly the same; cognac is just brandy made in the Cognac region of France, so apparently now my pie has a French accent. Grandpa says, “it’s good.”
This pie is a fun diversion from the pre-made ones primarily for its graham cracker crust. Typically the store bought pies are a dough crust - you know this. Here at home, we can smash the grahams into dusty smithereens. I found this part to be a good time, and I wish that for you too, as you continue on in your live-streamed quarantine journey to become the next Food Network star. The recipe calls for a food processor but you can just as well blitz the crackers with a rolling pin and a heavy hand. With two ingredients and a 15 minute bake time, it’s already very loveable.
The filling feels very familiar, with pumpkin pie spice and vanilla extract to keep you cozy. After two slices and some reflection, I appreciated that this recipe could withstand a little at home remix—a teaspoon or two of ground ginger, cardamom or five-spice blend would fall nicely into place here. If you’re a real go-getter, you can sub out the canned pumpkin puree for the whole, bonafide fruit, seeds et al. Get yourself a one pound pumpkin, or a Kabocha squash will do. Jenna Fuscher, pastry chef at Los Angeles’ Gjusta Bakery suggests this method for the more committed. Should you choose that mission, cover your pumpkin in olive oil and roast whole at 350 degrees Fahrenheit until soft and skin can be pierced with a fork (about 30-40 minutes). Let cool, then remove skin and seeds. Brown 4 ounces of butter, and integrate pumpkin with an immersion blender. I don’t have an immersion blender, I have a can opener. If you’re like me, canned puree is listed below and proves delicious, just as Callista says.
Callista also says the pie should cool for at least three hours. Something to keep in mind, if you’re on a holiday schedule. I cheated and let it sit for one hour, then put it in the fridge for 30 minutes. It set up nicely and cooled down enough to decorate with the cream - I dotted the pie with a piping bag (Ziplock with a hole.) If you’re a minimalist, the cream can be served on the side. To make a recipe testing story short, this pie slaps. The brandy (cognac) chantilly has a nice way of cutting the sweetness, but the booze is subtle. Its filling is smooth and rich, with a touch of baked, buttery crunch from the cracker crust. If you’ve been wounded one too many times by the promise of a user-friendly baking recipe and ended up with an unexpectedly and heavily involved dish, this is not that moment. On my honor, this pie is very approachable and delivers the goods. You’ll get way more ‘oohs’ and ‘ahs’ for it than you would for a last minute market run - enjoy the praise, chef. This recipe is also great because now I’ve meal-prepped breakfast for the following five to seven days.
Pumpkin Pie with Cinnamon Graham Crust & Brandy Chantilly Cream
- 2 cups cinnamon graham cracker crumb
- 1/4 cup melted butter
Brandy Chantilly Cream:
- 2 cups heavy whipping cream
- 1/4 cup powdered sugar
- 2 tbsp brandy
- Blend graham crackers in food processor until a fine crumb
- Mix with melted butter and press evenly into a 9 inch pie dish
- Bake at 350 for 15 minutes; set aside
- Mix all ingredients together until well incorporated and smooth
- Carefully pour into prepared crust
- Place on baking sheet and bake at 350 for 60-75 minutes or until the filling looks set and slightly jiggly in the center
- Allow to cool completely (about 3 hours)
- Pour heavy cream into a clean, chilled bowl, whip on high until slightly thickened
- Turn down the speed to low and add powdered sugar; when combined, turn speed back up to high
- When soft peaks form, add brandy and whip until medium peaks
- Serve with pie