Pumpkin pie is a holiday favorite that will be on everyone’s table this Thanksgiving. Nothing beats homemade pumpkin pie with tender, flaky crust made from scratch. But sometimes the crust is soggy, or the pie filling gets overbaked and cracked because you can’t tell when it’s done. So how do you avoid soggy crust and overcooked pie filling? It’s all about temperature.
The First Secret to Flaky Crust: Keep the Dough Cold!
The key to a flaky crust is to keep the pie dough cold while you work with it!
Chilling the ingredients and dough helps prevent gluten development. Gluten is formed when two types of proteins (glutenin and gliadin) in wheat flour bond with water, and is what gives doughs their elasticity and extensibility. Dough that has been overworked or has gotten too warm will be tough and chewy like bread, not tender and flaky like pie crust should be. Specifically, the water and butter need to be kept ice cold while you form your pie crust dough.
Cut the butter into small bits first and then put those bits into the freezer for 30 minutes before making the dough. The butter and water should be below 40°F (4°C). This typically means you’ll need to add ice to the water from your faucet to chill it.
*Test the water’s temperature with an instant-read thermometer like the Thermapen Mk4.
Work Quickly: The longer the ingredients are left at room temperature and more time spent making the dough, the warmer the dough will be. Pull the butter out of the freezer right before putting the ingredients into the food processor and work quickly to get the dough into the refrigerator as soon as possible. The friction from mixing in the food processor will increase the temperature of the dough. Pie dough should be handled with mixing and kneading as little as possible.
☼ Time Saving Tip: Save some time and make your Thanksgiving pie dough now! Store your pie dough discs in the freezer, then thaw them in your refrigerator the day before you’re ready to bake pies. Just be careful not to let the pie dough get too warm before you roll it, place it, and fill it. Begin rolling your pie dough while it is still stiff with cold.
The Second Secret to Perfect Crust and Filling: 2-Stage Cooking
Here is the secret to a never-soggy pie crust: Pre-bake the pie shell on high without the filling!
Many pie recipes call for baking the filled pie at a high temperature (425°F [218°C]) to set the structure of the crust before lowering the oven temperature to finish cooking the filling more gently. But pie fillings for pies like pumpkin and pecan are delicate and can be toughened or dried out by initial high temperatures.
This traditional approach to baking pies can lead to an undesirable texture in the filling, often while leaving the crust soggy.
Pre-baking the pie shell (sometimes called “blind baking”) ensures that the crust will be cooked all the way through—crisp and tender from top to bottom—before you fill it. Plus, with the shell already baked, the filling will never have to spend a moment in an oven that’s too hot.
FLAKY PIE CRUST MADE SIMPLE
For two regular 9″ single pie shells
- 2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2-1/2 sticks (10 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into small cubes and chilled in the freezer for 20 minutes—to less than 40°F (4°C)
- 6 tablespoons (3 ounces) cold water—less than 40°F (4°C)
- Place the dry ingredients into the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine
- Add the chilled butter and pulse until the butter is in pea-sized pieces.
- Add enough cold water just until the dough comes together (processing with quick pulses).
- Pack into two balls, wrap in plastic, flatten into discs, and chill in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours or overnight.
➤ Blind-Bake the Pie Shell
- Roll out the pie dough and place into a 9″ pie pan. Crimp or flute the edges as desired.
- Dock the pie shell (prick holes in the shell with a fork) to prevent bubbling.
- Chill in the freezer for 10 minutes to firm it up.
- Chilling is an important step to relax the gluten after rolling and to firm up the butter so the dough holds its shape when lining with foil in the next step.
- Line the pie shell with aluminum foil and fill with weights (we used dry beans and rice).
- Bake in an oven set to 425°F (218°C) for 15-20 minutes, until the structure of the crust is set and it has started to brown.
- Pull the crust from the oven and remove the pie weights and foil. Return crust to the oven and bake for 10 minutes longer.
- Bake until the crust is cooked through completely and slightly golden brown. Remove from the oven and cool. Set aside until ready to fill.
The Secret to Silky Pumpkin Pie Filling
Egg Doneness Temperatures: Pumpkin pie filling is a mixture of simple ingredients that set up when cooked because the pie mixture contains eggs. The protein in eggs begins to firm up in the temperature range of 140-150°F (60-66°C). But egg mixtures—custards—set around 160-180°F (71-82°C). The more diluted the egg mixture, the higher the doneness temperature will be. The perfect pull temperature for pumpkin pie is 175°F (79°C).
Inaccurate Pumpkin Pie Doneness Testing
Most pumpkin pie recipes tell you to test for doneness in one of two ways.
- Bake until a knife inserted comes out clean.
- Tap the side of the pan and the center should still be slightly jiggly.
There are problems with both methods.
There will likely always be some filling that clings to the knife—even when the filling is overbaked, and judging the pie’s jiggle factor is far too subjective. What’s perfectly set to one person may look too jiggly to another. You can still be left questioning whether or not it’s really done, and whether or not the pie will firm up as it cools.
Using these inaccurate methods of testing for doneness, it’s easy to err on the side of overbaking the pie, just to be safe. But then the filling ends up cracking and can become curdled rather than smooth and silky.
Use an Instant-Read Thermometer
➤ Bake it Gently: For the best texture, custards should be baked at gentle, low oven temperatures, and cooked just until the eggs solidify and no further. Checking the internal temperature is the best way to determine the set point of the custard.
By quickly spot-checking with an instant-read thermometer like a Thermapen, you can see within a matter of seconds if your pie is done, or if it needs a couple more minutes. No jiggling required! Pull the pie out of the oven when your Thermapen Mk4 probe inserted into the center of the custard reads 175°F (79°C).
Classic Pumpkin Pie Filling
For one regular 9″ pie
- 15 ounces pumpkin puree (canned or fresh)
- 12 ounces evaporated milk
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- Add all ingredients into the bowl of a food processor. Process until the mixture is perfectly smooth—about 2 minutes.
- Pour into a prepared pie shell and bake at 325°F (163°C) until the internal temperature reaches 175°F (79°C). About 45-50 minutes.
- Cool completely and refrigerate overnight. Slice and serve.
Wow your guests this year with an incredible homemade pumpkin pie! Using our thermal tips, the crust and filling are sure to be picture perfect.