Genius

A Truly Stress-Free Pumpkin Pie for 2020

Picture a filling that will never crack and a no-roll pie crust that won’t leave a floury mess—all thanks to this week’s Genius Recipe from Erin Jeanne McDowell’s ‘The Book on Pie.’

November  4, 2020

Every week in Genius Recipes—often with your help!—Food52 Creative Director and lifelong Genius-hunter Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that will change the way you cook.


Every Thanksgiving, somewhere around the time we realize we forgot the clincher step on the Judy Bird, my brother Billy and I also remember we need to get the pies in the oven—fast—before the turkey sets up shop. There are only five large eaters and now one small one, but that never stops Billy and me from making two pies. We need one for each set of crimping hands.

It’s a dash to get the dough made and rolled and pinched and chilled. Wine bottles are makeshift rolling pins, measuring spoons are surrogate polka-dot cutters. Flour is on our sweaters, our keyboards, the floor, the toddler. In the oven, sides slump; butter leaks, hissing smoke; pumpkin custards puff and collapse.

It might be stressful if it wasn’t so fun, if we had a family big and proper enough that someone would care that dinnertime shot right past 6 p.m. and landed at 9.

Let's set aside pumpkin pie stress this year. Photo by Julia Gartland Food Stylist: Lauren LaPenna Prop Stylist: Megan Hedgpeth

I recently moved back home to Northern California, Billy is still in New York, and neither of us is taking travel lightly this year—so this is the first Thanksgiving that the two of us lost flowers won’t be together in decades, maybe ever. Even the year Billy was living in Paris, I flew there with Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix and poultry seasoning in my suitcase for our grandmother’s stuffing, so we could feed his friends a real American Thanksgiving, the turkey acquired sweatily at a local butcher in muted French (“dinde...DIN-de?”).

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Top Comment:
“I found this amazing recipe for Nutella Pumpkin pie I'm dying to try but it required 3 eggs. Can I not use this recipe and add the Nutella on top like the other or will it not work? After 2 full day's and many pies that didn't work out I'm mentally drained 🥴”
— Latasha M.
Comment

For all of us missing the people we love, whose Thanksgivings this year aren’t what we’d hoped, I wish us all long Zoom calls and new traditions, and recipes that will give us comfort—and also give us a break.

Erin Jeanne McDowell has just the pie for us: a pumpkin filling that will never crack, and a dough that wouldn’t think of leaving a floury mess. If you haven’t met yet, Erin is Food52’s celebrity baker and, as of six days from now, the author of The Book on Pie—her latest cookbook of joyful pep talks; mix-and-match crusts, fillings and toppings; and the baking science behind all of it.

This pumpkin filling is based on a traditional sugar pie, Erin’s favorite underrated style of custard. "When I started making that classic sugar pie, the Hoosier pie style (1), I was completely blown away because it never cracked. Never ever," Erin told me as we shot the video above. "If I left it five minutes too long, if I forgot about it, it would never crack because there’s no eggs in it—it’s thickened with flour."

In traditional pumpkin pie, eggs set the custard as their proteins heat and coagulate, but can become over-stretched when forgotten in a hot oven. "That’s when the cracking happens," Erin said. Starches like flour or cornstarch, on the other hand, set pies much more gently, similarly to how they work in fruit pies. As Erin put it, "When was the last time your cherry pie cracked?" She also pointed out one last bonus: When the eggs get out of the way, the pumpkin spice flavor can really speak for itself.

The crust is a soft, shortbread-y cookie dough that you can stir together in a mixer (or by hand), then press in at room temperature, rather than cycling in and out of the fridge to keep butter flakes icy cold. "This is one of those things trying to get you from zero to pie as quickly as possible." Erin said. This tender, buttery crust style is more commonly seen in tarts, but works beautifully in pies too, without rolling or hustle or sweat. And no children or laptops will be debased in the process. (2)

Worth noting: This pie doesn’t appear in exactly this form in The Book on Pie. Which is, in a lot of ways, the whole point. I Build-a-Bear-ed these two pieces together from the hundreds of beautiful options in Erin’s one-woman Wonka factory of a cookbook, because they were exactly what I needed.

I just as easily could have gone with Eggnog Sugar Pie in Brown Butter Cookie Crust or Two-Bite Pumpkin Swirl Cheesecakes in Press-In Pretzel Crust, if either had struck me that day. With the genius, choose-your-own-adventure style of Erin's book, you’ll be empowered to do the same. Thanksgiving will feel not quite as it should, but we'll be grateful anyhow.

(1) The best-known example, Erin explains in The Book on Pie, is Hoosier pie, flavored with vanilla and nutmeg. (To which Erin adds chocolate, citrus, spice, and the aforementioned ’nog variations.)

(2) Erin also published an earlier version of her Pumpkin Sugar Pie right here on Food52 in her famous All-Buttah Dough, if you want to go flaky instead of cookie.

Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Perhaps something perfect for beginners? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].

This post contains products independently chosen (and loved) by our editors and writers. As an Amazon Associate, Food52 earns an affiliate commission on qualifying purchases of the products we link to.
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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Paul
    Paul
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    Steven Williamson
I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."

17 Comments

Paul November 23, 2020
No egg yolk needed.
Second time I made the pie. Love it. I give it to neighbors so I don.t eat the whole thing. This time I let the crust sit overnight in the refrigerator. Got up in the morning and put it in to blind bake. Thought - OK get the leftover egg white to do the egg wash after baking, Then realized I don't remember separating the egg. I thought the crust would fall apart, but it worked fine.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. November 24, 2020
Great to know—thanks, Paul!
 
Latasha M. November 10, 2020
I spent this last weekend cooking pies to make it perfect dor my 21 month old twins who cannot have eggs. I've called so many places for help and I'm beyond excited to try this! I can't thnak you enough. Here's my question. I found this amazing recipe for Nutella Pumpkin pie I'm dying to try but it required 3 eggs. Can I not use this recipe and add the Nutella on top like the other or will it not work? After 2 full day's and many pies that didn't work out I'm mentally drained 🥴
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. November 11, 2020
I hope you all love the filling—it's so creamy, even without eggs. I think the uncooked custard is too thin to hold the swirl (it would sink to the bottom), but you could maybe try carefully swirling it in once it's partially set in the oven?
 
Diane November 9, 2020
Thanks Kristen! This pie looks yummy. But the pie wasn't the hit, it was your daughter! She is so adorable!
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. November 11, 2020
Thanks, Diane :)
 
Monica M. November 9, 2020
Can I use Truvia to make the pie sugar-free?
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. November 11, 2020
Hi Monica, I don't have experience with sugar substitutes, but if you're used to swapping Truvia 1:1 for sugar, then it should work just fine in this pie.
 
Steven W. November 6, 2020
But the cracks are why they invented whipped cream!!
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. November 11, 2020
True! Don't worry—I'm never going to stop you and your whipped cream, even if the pie is perfect.
 
scoot87501 November 5, 2020
I don't care if my pumpkin pie cracks.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. November 5, 2020
That's the spirit! Cracking can sometimes be a sign of overbaking and a drier, less-creamy texture, and one great thing about this filling is that it's resilient even if you overbake it.
 
Tyler M. November 4, 2020
I have tried to ask this question on the original Pumpkin Sugar Pie page... but what is the texture of this pie like? Is it more dense that a traditional pumpkin (custard) pie with eggs? or is it relatively the same? Many thanks!
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. November 5, 2020
The texture of the pie is so lovely—it's super creamy and pudding-like, and yet it holds a slice beautifully.
 
Lauren K. November 4, 2020
Hi, can you sub out the AP flour for Almond flour?
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. November 5, 2020
Hi Lauren, if you're referring to the filling, unfortunately, almond flour won't have the same absorbency and thickening power as a starch like flour will, but I have seen sugar pies made with cornstarch instead of flour, if gluten is your concern. I think almond flour would lend itself well to a cookie crust, though I haven't tested with this one specifically.
 
Lauren K. November 5, 2020
Hi Kristen, thank you for responding. I should have said crust.
I’m going to try it. Your recipe sounds great.
Happy Thanksgiving