I fell in love with classic pumpkin custard pie all on my own. My immigrant grad-student parents hadn’t yet acquired a taste for cinnamon-and-spice by the time I was having Rockwellian fantasies and indulging in coffee shop and Mrs. Smith’s Frozen versions before finally graduating to the Libby’s recipe.
Fast forward many years. I was invited to give a millennial Thanksgiving presentation at Slow Food’s Salone del Gusto in Turin, Italy, a wild food extravaganza that is all about recipe and ingredient authenticity. Was my old-fashioned slice with a dollop of cream the all-American holiday dessert?
Kinda yes. Think Plimoth Plantation and plentiful pumpkins (pompions back then). Think of the early 17th-century recipes the pilgrims might have carried with them from England. Surprise: there is a familiar similarity to the recipe on the back of the can. Sure, other traditions evolved in other parts of the country, and more recently there’s been endless improving and deconstructing of the classic. But the England/New England legacy is solid. For more on the history of pumpkin pie, my adventures in Torino, and pie-making tips, here’s the story I wrote for the LA Times.
Here’s the best part: “authentic” pumpkin pie takes less than 30 minutes to put together and can be baked the day before you want to serve it. Happy Thanksgiving!
Classic Pumpkin Pie
Make the pie a day ahead and refrigerate. Remove from the refrigerator an hour before serving.
For the crust:
1 1/2 cups flour
Heaping 1/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 teaspoons sugar
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut in 1/2-inch pieces
3 tablespoons shortening, chilled
1/3 to 1/2 cup ice water
For the filling:
2 cups roasted winter squash or 1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin puree
3/4 cup milk
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup heavy cream, whipped to soft peaks, for serving
Make the crust: Use a fork to mix together the flour, salt and sugar in a large bowl. Toss the butter chunks with the flour mixture and chill 10 minutes in the freezer.
Blend the butter into the flour mixture using your fingertips or a pastry cutter until the dough is partly the texture of coarse meal, with some chunks of butter flattened but still whole. When you’re three-fourths of the way to this point with the butter, add the shortening, blending it in the same way.
Using a fork, stir the water into the flour-butter-shortening mixture 1 to 2 tablespoons at a time, just until a piece of dough holds together when pressed between your fingers. Gather the dough into a ball, wrap it in plastic, press it into a disk and chill 15 to 30 minutes.
On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough to 1/8-to a scant 1/4-inch thickness and fit it into a glass or dull aluminum perforated 9-inch pie pan, guiding the dough downward to hug the sides of the pan. Using scissors, trim the dough to a 1/2-to 3/4-inch overhang. Fold this extension under itself to create a rim. Use the side of your index finger and thumb and the index finger of your other hand to crimp the edges of the dough. Chill or freeze the crust until ready to fill, at least one hour.
Heat the oven to 425 degrees.
Make the filling: Whisk the eggs until well blended, then add the pumpkin, milk, cream, sugar, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg, whisking until well blended. Pour the filling into the prepared crust. (If there is too much filling, pour in the remainder after the pie has baked for 5 to 10 minutes and set slightly.) Bake on the lowest oven rack for 15 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350 and bake until the filling is still slightly jiggly in the center, 40 to 45 more minutes. Remove the pie to a cooling rack and cool completely before serving.