Every week, baking expert Alice Medrich is going rogue on Food52 -- with shortcuts, hacks, and game-changing recipes.
Today: Enjoy a slice of pumpkin pie -- minus the crust.
Pumpkin pie? I think people like the idea of pumpkin pie more than the pie itself. I think what people really like is pumpkin pie filling, because the crust on a pumpkin pie is almost always soggy. I’m not saying pumpkin pie can’t be done well, but it rarely is, and Thanksgiving is no time to try to perfect a new skill.
With everything we have to eat for Thanksgiving, who needs extra pastry, anyway? My mother figured this out over 50 years ago and I’ve simply picked up her torch.
My family’s Thanksgiving always included “pumpkin pudding.” I wish I could say that the pudding starts with a freshly baked pumpkin, lovingly mashed and blended with fresh cream, eggs, spices. In reality, it was (and still is!) canned pumpkin purée and evaporated milk, mixed with spices exactly as directed in the recipe on the can of pumpkin, but baked in a dish instead of a crust. I can say that we have never stooped to buying cans of that already-spiced pumpkin pie filling instead of straight pumpkin purée -- because we do have our standards (and our spice drawer). The pudding is served chilled, scooped from the dish and topped with whipped cream. Real whipped cream. The whole business is divine. People ask for the recipe.
I have notes for various baking dishes (see baking notes below) that I have used over the years, telling me how many recipes fit in it and about how long it takes to bake, including an emphatic note one year to NOT bake the stuff in that really large ceramic dish because it will crack -- the pudding, not the dish -- in an ugly way. A good thing to know is that you can fill a baking dish deeper than a pie crust, but it’s best not to exceed a depth of about 1 1/2 inches. Baking times vary with depth, size, and type of baking dish so you just have to watch and check. I used to dither each year about whether to start baking at 425° F, as directed on the can, and then turn down to 350° F for the rest of the time, or just do it all at 350° F. I decided that the higher temperature was meant to get a fast start and prevent a soggy (ha!) crust, so I bake the pudding at 350° F from start to finish. One year, my attempt to bake even more gently, in a water bath, resulted in the following note to self: “Your know-it-all attempt to improve on mom’s method made the pudding less wonderfully creamy and flavorful. Go figure!”
The pudding can and should be baked the day before Thanksgiving -- both texture and flavor are enhanced with a night in the fridge. I make a lot of pudding, as my mother always did, because we are devoted to leftovers. We eat pumpkin pudding with a side of Bea's No-Peel Apple Crisp for as many days and meals as it lasts, starting the day after Thanksgiving. It would not be possible to eat so much, especially with whipped cream, if both the pumpkin and the apple had crusts. So, you see, ditching the crust it quite brilliant -- it’s not just an emergency, last minute, no-time-to-make-a-crust kind of crisis thing, but a good plan to have from the start.
P.S. At 91, my mother still prefers leftover Pumpkin Pudding and apple crisp to all of the other leftovers.
A triple recipe for filling (three regular 14-ounce cans or one large 28-ounce plus 1 regular can of pumpkin purée) will fill two 2- to 2 1/2-quart baking dishes. Baking time will be somewhere between 55 and 65 minutes at 350° F -- use the knife test for doneness.
From the Libby's can
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
2 large eggs
One 15-ounce can pumpkin purée
One 12-ounce can evaporated milk
Whipped cream for serving
Get excited about Alice's new book Flavor Flours: nearly 125 recipes -- from Double Oatmeal Cookies to Buckwheat Gingerbread -- made with wheat flour alternatives like rice flour, oat flour, corn flour, sorghum flour, and teff (not only because they're gluten-free, but for an extra dimension of flavor, too).
Photos by Bobbi Lin