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Picture this: It’s Nov. 24 and you’ve been assigned to supply the pumpkin pie for this year’s Thanksgiving dinner. You peer into the oven and stifle a scream – the top is cracked, the crust is underdone, and it certainly doesn’t smell like pumpkin pie… What went wrong?! And— oh no…. What will your in-laws say?!
King Arthur Baking School Director Amber Eisler says that this exact scenario is due to what she calls pie anxiety. Having been with the baking school for nineteen years, she’s seen her fair share of pumpkin-pie-related meltdowns and attributes the added pressure to holiday stress.
“On the scale of difficulty, pumpkin pie lands right in the middle,” Eisler says. “Maybe not the easiest, but also not the most difficult pie. The filling is pretty simple, but you do have to balance the bake so that your crust bakes perfectly at the same time as your custard.”
The perfect pumpkin pie should have a brown crust with bright orange custard. The crust should be crisp and well-baked — no soggy bottoms. The filling should be silky smooth and flat on the top without any dips weighing down the middle.
To recreate this idyllic result and banish pie anxiety, we asked Eisler what the most common mistakes are when baking a pumpkin pie and how to avoid them.
The Mistake: Underbaking the crust
The Solution: Pre-baking
“Folks often either underbake their crust or over bake their filling,” Eisler says. “I think the worse of those two is underbaking your crust.”
Eisler recommends doing a partial pre-bake before filling your pie crust with custard. Use pie weights to keep the crust in place and bake it halfway through the regular baking time. Take it out of the oven, fill in with custard, and bake the rest of the way.
“You’re ensuring you get a nice full bake on that crust without over baking your filling,” Eisler says.
If you don’t have pie weights, you can use a coffee filter filled with dry beans. Just make sure you don’t use anything that will impart flavor upon the crust.
The Mistake: Burning the pie
The Solution: Low and slow
“A lot of pie recipes have a start that bake at a pretty high temperature like 400°F-425°F,” Eisler says. “Halfway through the bake, you want to turn the oven down to 350. That gives your filling time to thoroughly bake.”
The low and slow approach will also help prevent those unsightly cracks on the top of your custard.
The Mistake: Using the wrong pan
The Solution: Metal and shallow
While Eisler says there’s not exactly a wrong pan to bake a pumpkin pie in, different sizes and materials do require different approaches. Use a metal, shallow pie pan for better heat conduction. A glass or ceramic pie pan might be a little more insulating, so you’ll have a more difficult time getting that well-browned bottom crust.
“The size can also affect how your custard bakes,” Eisler says. “If you have a shallow pan, your custard will bake much faster. If you have a really deep pie pan, it’ll take a lot longer and can contribute to the problem of underbaked filling.”
The Mistake: Under-spicing
The Solution: Freshen up your spice cabinet
Those spices collecting dust over the years in your cabinet might not be so spicy anymore. Make sure you have the freshest ingredients when making your pie.
“If they don’t have much of an aroma to them anymore, they might not have much flavor,” Eisler says. “So it may be time to get some fresh spices.”
She also recommends taking liberties with how much of certain spices you want in your custard. If you love cinnamon, put an extra dash in. If you want a spicier flavor to come out, add an extra teaspoon or two of ginger.
“You’re not breaking any rules when it comes to spicing your pie!” Eisler says. “But I would generally discourage tasting the pie filling beforehand though, because there’s usually raw egg.”
The Mistake: Full meltdown
The Solution: Go easy on yourself
Mistakes happen! Don’t beat yourself up. Eisler says most cosmetic mistakes with a pumpkin pie can be covered with a little whipped cream garnish.
“Try not to stress about it!” She says. “And don’t get too upset – one of these mistakes doesn’t necessarily mean the pie is a complete flop!”