The Almost Best Pumpkin Pie

Several years ago, I decided that Nancy Silverton was not full of hubris when she introduced the recipe for her “Pumpkin Pie” by saying “I don’t think there’s a better pumpkin pie out there” (Nancy Silverton’s Pastries from the La Brea Bakery, p. 267).  It really was an amazing pie.  However, given that her ingredient list included a vanilla bean, brandy, and white pepper (never mind the insistence on “2 medium Jewel or Garnet yams” for a pumpkin pie), her recipe is not the most economical choice.  

But let’s say that money is no object.  How about time?—and, for that matter, patience?   Do you have time during Thanksgiving craziness to roast yams, then puree them with pumpkin puree, then cook them together to evaporate the moisture before making a brown butter sauce by scraping a vanilla pod?  Hers is also one of the few pumpkin pie recipes out there which demands a blind-baked pie crust before filling it.  None of these steps—or ingredients—is outrageous on its own.  Combined, it’s a headache you don’t need when you are already doing too much.

Just when I decided that no pie is worth that much effort, my mother-in-law quashed my resolve never to bake the Silverton pie again.   The first time she ate a slice of that pie she was in her late 70s (now 85), and she clearly had a long lifetime of consuming homemade pumpkin pies.  She didn’t know that this was a particularly famous pastry chef’s recipe.  What she did know?: “This is the best pumpkin pie I’ve ever had.”  So, clearly this pie recipe is worth another look.

Now we all have our compromises and our hard lines-in-the-sand when it comes to substitutes and shortcuts.  For instance, I know that many believe that homemade mayonnaise and chicken stock are indispensable, but I’m not too ashamed to admit I’ve been known to use packaged (organic free-range chicken stock and Hellmann’s mayonnaise).  On the other hand, I suspect my mother would disown me if I ever even contemplated using that jarred chemical-smelling pre-chopped garlic.  (After all, we are Korean…) 

So, we individually need to decide on what modifications we can live with.  This is what I came up with.  You too will have to decide which steps are too onerous for you and which are worth the extra investment of time or money or energy.  It’s true that during the holiday season we usually have homemade pumpkin puree available, packed (and often frozen) in 1-cup quantities for muffins, breads, and—of course—pies.  If you don’t have that, a can of pumpkin puree usually contains 15-16 oz and is a fine substitute.  If vanilla beans are not a staple in your kitchen, you can just use vanilla extract.  But it’s worth remembering that Trader Joe’s and Costco are good places to get vanilla beans for much less than at many other stores, and those little vanilla bean specks add a lot of flavor. 

Note: Like Nancy Silverton's original recipe, this one uses less spices than most pumpkin pie recipes (though more than Silverton herself calls for).  Your primary flavor will be vanilla-butter custard.  If you like more spices, just add more ground cinnamon, cloves, ginger, etc.


--Your favorite single-crust pie recipe  (Our household likes Hay Day Country Market Cookbook’s “All-Purpose Pie Pastry”—by Kim Rizk, page 272)

2 cups pumpkin puree (preferably homemade, then strained of excess liquid.)
4 tbs unsalted butter
1 vanilla bean (or 1 tsp vanilla extract)
2 eggs
½ cup heavy whipping cream
1/3 cup pure maple syrup
¼ cup brown sugar
¼ tsp ground ginger
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground cloves
¼ tsp kosher salt

Garnishing seasoning:
1 tbs granulated sugar
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground nutmeg

Whipped cream for topping


1. Preheat oven to 375.  You should have your rolled out pie crust lining a 9-inch pie plate and chilling in the refrigerator as you prepare your filling.

2. Melt butter in a small saucepan, scrape vanilla bean seeds into the butter, and then throw in the pods too for extra flavor.  Stir occasionally over medium heat for just a few minutes until the butter becomes brown (but don’t let it burn).  Remove from heat and discard vanilla bean.  Or, just lightly brown the butter by itself and mix with vanilla extract.  If you decide to use vanilla extract and canned pumpkin puree instead, you’ll sacrifice a little flavor (and having to follow Step 3).

3. Scrape entire butter mixture into a bowl that has 2 cups of pumpkin puree, combine, and then place mixture in a medium mesh colander so that the mixture can be scraped down into a mixing bowl (but leaving behind bits of vanilla pods or hard bits of puree to get discarded).

4.  (If you skipped Step 3, blend together the pumpkin puree and slightly cooled butter-and-vanilla-extract mixture.)  In another bowl, mix 2 eggs, cream, maple syrup, brown sugar, and spices for the filling.  Then whisk the cream-egg mixture with the butter and pumpkin puree mixture.

5. (If you wish, you can brush the edges of pie crust with milk or cream.)  Pour filling into the crust, then mix and sprinkle over the filling the garnishing sugar and spices.

6. Bake for about 30-40 minutes, checking to see that the crust is not browning too fast.  Once the crust is a just a little lighter than you would like for the final product, cover the crust with a pie-crust shield (cheap and easily accessible through places like Bed, Bath, and Beyond—and so very handy).  If you don’t own one of these handy shields, use strips of aluminum to cover edges.  Unlike some other cooks, I like covering the crust later in the baking process rather than at the beginning.  This way, you don’t have anything sticking to possibly wet crust, and you can control better how brown you want your crust.

7.  Bake for another 20-30 minutes until the filling is just set (no jiggles, but no cracking of center either).  Remove, cool to room temperature, and serve with whipped cream. 


Popular Posts