pumpkin pie

Photo: Andrew Scrivani

Taking "from Scratch" a Step Too Far

While the canned versus homemade cranberry-sauce debate continues, there's no question canned pumpkin wins over fresh. Pie guru Kate McDermott, author of the new book, Art of the Pie, once tried growing and using her own pumpkins, and the results were disappointing: stringy and watery. She prefers store-bought pumpkin purée, which is consistently moist and creamy (products from the brand Libby's are made from their own variety of pumpkin); plus, the quality in every can is exactly the same. Here's her go-to recipe.

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Using Premixed Spices

Pumpkin pie spice is simply a blend of the usual suspects: cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves. But McDermott prefers to use the individual spices, adjusting the amounts to her preference, which helps create a pie that tastes uniquely hers. And while we're on the subject, McDermott advises bakers to check their spice rack every November. Ground spices lose their flavor and potency after three years; so, if yours haven't been updated since 2013, it's time to refresh.

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Not Touching the Oven Dial

Many pie recipes instruct you to preheat the oven to a high temp, around 425°, and then to lower it to 350° (or 375°) about 15 minutes after you put the pie in. The reason for this quirky step, explains McDermott, is twofold. First, it counteracts the loss of heat that occurs when you open the oven door (the temperature can drop anywhere from 25 to 150°, depending on how long it's open). Second, the quick blast of heat sets the crust (helping you avoid the dreaded soggy bottom). There isn't much difference between lowering the heat immediately and lowering it after 15 minutes of baking, but McDermott prefers to do it right away since it's easier to remember that way.

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Going 10 Minutes Past the "Jiggle"

Ever pull a perfect-looking pumpkin pie out of the oven, only to come back an hour later to see that as it's cooled, a giant crack has formed down the middle? That's the result of overbaking, says McDermott; well-done egg proteins coagulate and shrink, causing those canyons to form. A pie will continue to cook as it cools, so to anticipate that, McDermott says to remove your dessert from the oven when a small circle (about the size of a silver dollar) in the middle of the pie still jiggles a little.