After a Thanksgiving feast, there’s barely enough room for pie. Most of us find a way to fit it in anyway, but the decision often leads to regret. Especially when the pumpkin pie is on the dense and heavy side. Not this pie. It has a soufflé quality to it that comes from whipping the egg whites separately. And a spike of bourbon in the filling wakes up those indulgence-fatigued taste buds.
This recipe may initially seem daunting, with ingredient lists and procedures for making each component from scratch, but if you can take it on at a leisurely pace, it’s really not a big deal. Make the pie crust dough the evening before you bake the cake (it’ll take you 5 minutes) and let it rest overnight. And you can cook, purée, and strain the pumpkin ahead of time, too.
You can substitute canned pumpkin to simplify things and it will come out delicious. But it’s worth having the experience of making the whole thing from scratch. It may not be for everybody, but there’s something very satisfying about breaking down a pumpkin, scooping out the seeds for roasting, and transforming it to something besides a jack-o-lantern. Kind of like a vegetarian version of butchering.
With a three-pound pumpkin, you should have plenty of puree. You can also buy a bigger one and use the extra puree for pumpkin muffins (I use Joy of Cooking’s pumpkin bread recipe with just a little less sugar) or for pumpkin butter. Both make great holiday gifts.
Note: this pie takes a while to bake. At a slightly lower temperature than is typical, I find the pie cooks more gently and evenly and makes for a smoother, moister filling that resists cracking.
Makes one 9 1/2-inch pie
Preparation time: About 45 minutes active time, plus about 2 hours 20 minutes total cooking time and 2 1/2 hours resting time for dough
For the crust:
1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon table salt
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
4 ounces cold (frozen is best) butter (or 3 ounces butter and 1 ounce leaf lard or vegetable shortening), cut into bits
3-4 tablespoons ice water
For the filling:
1 three-pound cooking pumpkin (or substitute 1 ½ cups of canned pumpkin puree, pure – unsweetened and unspiced)
3 eggs, separated and at room temperature (Note: a small amount of the egg yolk swill be used to seal the pie crust)
1 cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ginger
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
scant ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon table salt
1 ½ cups half-and-half
3 tablespoons bourbon
Pinch cream of tartar
Topping: lightly sweetened whipped cream (optional)
Prepare the pumpkin: Preheat oven to 350°F. Cut pumpkin in half, scoop out seeds and stringy pulp. (Save the seeds for roasting if you’d like.) Cut pumpkin into large chunks. Spread out in a casserole dish, skin side up, and add about ¼ inch of water. Bake until pumpkin is very tender when pierced with a paring knife, 40-50 minutes. Let rest at room temperature until cool enough to handle.
While the pumpkin is baking, little hands can work on separating the seeds from the glop,
preparing them for roasting.
Peel off skin. Puree pumpkin in a food processor until very smooth, a good 5 minutes. Line a strainer or colander with paper towels and drain puree for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until puree is as thick as the canned variety, kind of like mashed potatoes. You should have about 1 ½ - 2 cups. Refrigerate if not using immediately.
Prepare the crust: (See my post on making a flaky pie crust for full photo tutorial.) Blend together flour, salt, and sugar in a stand mixer with a paddle attachment. Add the butter bits and mix on medium speed for about 1 minute, until the largest butter pieces are the size of a nickel. Drizzle in 3 tablespoons of the ice water and continue to process for another minute. The dough should begin to come together. If it seems a little dry or crumbly, add a teaspoon of water, up to 1 additional tablespoon. Gather the dough together into a disk, wrap in plastic and rest in the refrigerator for at least two hours. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to 1/8-inch thickness. Lay the rolled out dough into a pie pan, gently pressing the dough into the sides of the of the pan and making sure there are no gaps of air beneath it. Trim excess overhang and patch up gaps of dough so that the there is about ½ inch of dough hanging beyond the edge. Tuck the overhang under the dough so that the dough extends just beyond the lip of the pan (this will compensate for any shrinkage). Crimp the edges with a fork, the tips of a kitchen knife, or your fingers. Pierce the dough in several places with a fork and let the dough rest again in the refrigerator for another 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 400°F. Line the pie pan with aluminum foil and fill with uncooked rice or pie weights. Bake 10-15 minutes or until dough is no longer shiny. Remove foil and weights and continue to bake until crust is golden, another 10-15 minutes. Brush a small amount of the egg yolks (no more than a teaspoon) on the bottom of the crust to seal up the perforations and keep the crust from getting soggy.
Prepare the filling: Preheat oven to 325°F. In a mixing bowl, stir together 1 ½ cups pumpkin puree, egg yolks, sugar, spices, and salt. Combine half-and-half and bourbon in a saucepan and bring to a gentle simmer. Pour the hot mixture in a steady stream into the mixing bowl, whisking it together with the pumpkin mixture.
Beat the egg whites and cream of tartar into stiff, shiny peaks. Fold into the warm pumpkin/half-and-half mixture. Pour into the prepared crust. Bake until pie is set and dry on the surface but still quivers slightly in the middle when jiggled, about 1 hour. Allow pie to cool on a rack. Like a soufflé, it will deflate slightly as it cools. That’s normal. Serve with whipped cream if desired. The pie will have more volume if you serve it just after it's had enough time to cool and set a little further, about an hour after taking it out of the oven (above). But even after a night in the fridge, the texture is still very light and delicate, if not quite as fluffy in volume (below).