Growing up, pumpkin pie was a big deal around our house. It was kind of legendary… well, to us anyway. Every Thanksgiving my mom would make 5 or 6 pumpkin pies, along with all the other traditional fare, and we would have a huge gathering with all the cousins. The recipe my mom used came from my paternal great grandmother Cornelia, whom I never met. I have an old recipe card with her recipe, type-written by my mom.
What I love about this recipe card is seeing all the additions and modifications; clearly my mom suffered over getting things just right in the same way that I do. And the secret ingredient for this pie? Bourbon. You can see written in on the card at the bottom in my mom’s handwriting, “1 tsp grated orange rind instead of bourbon“, and then it is crossed out. I’m laughing to myself about this. Sorry, but orange zest just won’t do it. On the backside of this recipe card my mom typed out her own version.
So on this one, she basically doubled the recipe, increased the sugar, halved some of the stronger spices, tripled the pumpkin, decreased the bourbon… well, she changed a bunch of things. And here’s another funny bit. At the bottom of the recipe card, next to the bourbon, she wrote, “or 1 jigger sherry brandy“, and then that got erased. Not just crossed out, but erased! But you can still see it if you look closely. I’m guessing my mom really wanted to replace the bourbon with other things, but in the end, the bourbon won out. And what is a jigger, you may ask?
A jigger is a measurement equaling approximately 2 tablespoons, so if you don’t have one of these cool jigger-measuring-thingies, you can just use a tablespoon. But when I found one of these at the thrift store, you know I had to get it.
To be honest, trying to make a really good pumpkin pie with a really good crust is what started my obsession with pie crust, oh so many years ago. Every time November rolled around, I found myself still not being able to make a decent crust. Now here is the kicker: sometimes I could make a decent crust, but then when I would use it for a pumpkin pie, suddenly that pretty decent crust became either tough and disappointing, or flabby on the bottom. And then the dreaded cracked pumpkin pie would happen too.
So here I am finally writing about this pumpkin pie, because I think I’ve finally got it figured out! What’s the trick? Well, first of all, I don’t use the directions on the back of the Libby’s can of pumpkin; that renders a soggy bottom of a pie crust. Not that there is anything wrong with that. That is what I grew up with, and that’s how I always thought it was supposed to be! But for a well baked pie crust, I “blind-bake” the crust. Like, blind-bake the heck out of it. Way more than I ever thought was possible or necessary.
Secondly, I don’t stick a knife into the pie to see if it’s done. Instead I check by nudging the pie plate while it’s still in the oven: if the pie filling ripples like miniature waves, it’s not done yet. Once the pie filling jiggles (like jello) in the center, but doesn’t ripple, it’s time to take it out of the oven. The custard will continue to set after removing it from the oven.
In the end, I decided I like Cornelia’s original recipe. It is creamy, dark and spicy, not too sweet, and not too squash-y either, if you know what I mean. And I choose to blind-bake a homemade crust. Worth it.
Cornelia’s Pumpkin Pie
- 1 disc pie dough (made from scratch – try this one or this one)
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon ginger
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon allspice
- 1/4 teaspoon cloves
- 3 large eggs
- 2 cups Libby’s pumpkin (or fresh roasted pumpkin, well drained)
- 1 1/2 cups half and half
- 1 jigger (scant 2 tablespoons) good quality bourbon
- 1 egg or egg white for egg wash
- Roll out your pie dough, put it in a pie pan, crimp as desired, and freeze it in its pan for 30 minutes. (You can do this up to a day or two ahead of time if you like. Once the crust is frozen, wrap it well and leave it in your freezer until you are ready to bake it.)
- In the meantime, preheat your oven to 400° and make sure to have one oven rack in the lower third of your oven and one oven rack in the center.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the sugar, flour, salt, ginger, cinnamon, allspice, and cloves. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, whisk the eggs until well beaten. Whisk in the sugar/flour/spice mixture. Next whisk in the pumpkin, half and half, and bourbon. Set aside on your counter (it is ok, and even preferable, for your filling to come to room temperature).
- Once your prepared crust has been in the freezer for at least 30 minutes, and your oven is preheated, place your crust on a cookie sheet, line pie crust with parchment paper* or aluminum foil, then fill to the top of the crust with dried beans or pie weights.
- Place crust and cookie sheet on bottom rack of oven, and bake for 45 minutes, rotating the crust halfway through the baking time.
- When 45 minutes is up, remove crust from oven and carefully remove the dried beans and parchment and save beans indefinitely for blind-baking your crusts. Beat the egg (or egg white) with a pinch of salt and brush the inside of the hot crust with it. Put back in the oven and bake for one more minute. Remove crust from oven and set aside. Turn oven down to 375°.
- If necessary, move whisk slowly through your pie filling, without creating bubbles, in case any of the spices have settled. Pour into hot crust. You may want to put a foil ring around the edge of your crust to prevent it from burning.
- Place your pie only (no cookie sheet please!) on the center rack of your oven, and bake for 35 to 45 minutes, or until the filling is set. I start checking at 35 minutes**. I nudge the pie pan, and if the center of the filling ripples like teeny waves, looking liquidy just under the surface, the pie is not done. Continue to check every 3 minutes or so. When the center of the pie jiggles or trembles (like jello), but no longer has the teeny liquidy ripples, your pie is done.
- Remove and let cool on cooling rack for at least 2 hours.
- Optional! If you want to decorate your pie with crust cutouts, roll out your dough scraps extra thin and cut out any festive fall shapes you like. Place on cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Brush with egg wash (or egg white). Bake in a 400° oven for ten minutes. Remove and let cool. Once your pie is baked and has cooled completely, decorate with your crust cutouts.
* When using parchment paper for blind-baking, I find it helpful to crumple it up first, which makes it more pliable for lining the crust.
** I start checking my pie at 35 minutes, because I am pretty sure it won’t be ready by then. I like to see the ripple when I nudge the pie pan, that tells me the pie is not done. That way, when the ripple is no longer there, but the filling still has a slight jiggle, I can tell the difference. I hope that makes sense!