Make Ahead

Pumpkin Cream Pie

September 14, 2021
4 Stars
Photo by Julia Gartland
Author Notes

It’s pumpkin pie, just not the one you’d expect. This cream pie-ified rendition features a gingery graham cracker crust, pumpkin pastry cream, and a sour cream–spiked whipped cream. A few ways to make this in advance: Prepare the pastry cream up to three days in advance; just cover with plastic, refrigerate, and whisk well to smooth out before filling the crust. Make the crust, fill with pastry cream, and keep in the fridge for up to one day. Morning-of, top with the whipped cream. —Emma Laperruque

Test Kitchen Notes

This is one of the best make-ahead pumpkin pie recipes you can make during the fall, especially to close out a holiday dinner like Thanksgiving. Featuring a pumpkin pastry cream, graham cracker crust, and sour cream whipped cream, this pie evokes the aromas and flavors of autumn like nothing else can. For the best results, leave the cream filling in the refrigerator overnight to make sure that it sets fully. You and your guests won't be able to get enough of this one.

Cream pies may not scream "fall" to you, but the developer of the recipe, Emma Laperruque, would highly disagree. She writes: "Cream pies are often seen as summery, but I’m here to say loud and proud that I’ve eaten a cream pie every month of the year and enjoyed every one. At the bakery where I used to work, we always had a cream pie in rotation. During the summer, the type relied on in-season fruit, like peaches or blackberries, which we’d layer with vanilla pastry cream. During colder months, we had to get creative—say, a malted-banana number or cayenne-spiced chocolate pudding. Likewise, this recipe takes a summery template and makes it Thanksgiving-y as heck."

And keep this in mind when you're prepping, in terms of the timing and how long you need to make this recipe: "The pie needs to chill before it’s sliced and served. Call it your excuse to get dessert out of the way beforehand and have more fun on the holiday itself—a sweet idea, indeed." —The Editors

Watch This Recipe
Pumpkin Cream Pie
  • Prep time 2 hours
  • Cook time 25 minutes
  • Makes 1 (9-inch) pie
Ingredients
  • Pumpkin Pastry Cream
  • 1 3/4 cups whole milk
  • 3/4 cup pumpkin purée
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Gingery Graham Cracker Crust
  • 12 graham crackers (about 6½ ounces), processed into crumbs
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more as needed
  • Sour Cream–Whipped Cream
  • 1/3 cup sour cream
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 cup heavy cream
In This Recipe
Directions
  1. Make the pumpkin pastry cream: In a medium saucepan, combine the milk and pumpkin. Set on the stove over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until just starting to steam. Meanwhile, in a medium heatproof bowl, combine the egg yolks, brown sugar, cornstarch, salt, and pumpkin pie spice; whisk until smooth. When the pumpkin-milk is hot, add a small splash to the sugar-egg mixture. Whisk to combine. Add another small splash and whisk to combine. Continue this process until you’ve added about three-quarters of the pumpkin-milk. Now pour the tempered sugar-egg mixture back into the saucepan. Cook over medium to medium-low heat, whisking slowly but constantly (making sure to scrape along the edges, too), until the mixture thickens like a dense pudding, with your whisk leaving a distinct trail. (This took me about 6 minutes, but it can significantly vary by your stove.) Remove from the heat. Add the butter and vanilla and whisk until smooth. Press the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a heatproof bowl. Cover the top with plastic wrap to avoid a skin forming, then refrigerate until cool.
  2. Heat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 9-inch pie pan with butter.
  3. Make the gingery graham cracker crust: In a medium bowl, combine the cracker crumbs, brown sugar, ginger, and salt. Pour the melted butter on top. Mix until the crumbs are completely moistened. If you grab a palmful of the mixture and gently squeeze, it should easily hold together (but not seem overly saturated or greasy). If it doesn’t hold together, add another tablespoon of melted butter or even water, mix, and test again.
  4. Press the cracker mixture into the greased pie pan, evenly distributing along the bottom and up the sides (a measuring cup really helps here). Bake for about 13 minutes, until the crust is browned. Let cool at room temperature, then freeze for at least 30 minutes before filling with the pastry cream (this makes filling it a lot easier and neater).
  5. Make the sour cream whipped cream: In a medium bowl, whisk the sour cream and brown sugar until smooth. Add the cream and whisk until soft-ish peaks form. You want it a little stiffer than you would for, say, dolloping on top of a sundae, because the pie needs to cut cleanly without the whipped cream slouching all over.
  6. Assemble the pie: Fill the just-frozen graham cracker crust with all the pumpkin pastry cream, spreading evenly to completely fill the crust. Top with the whipped cream. Using a spoon or offset spatula, create swoops and swirls. Chill for at least 1 hour or up to 18 hours before serving. Sprinkle with more pumpkin pie spice just before serving.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Sweet__Kate
    Sweet__Kate
  • Lisa Powers
    Lisa Powers
  • Ann Smyth Horton
    Ann Smyth Horton
  • chowter
    chowter
  • Terry Becker Routh
    Terry Becker Routh

30 Reviews

Sweet__Kate November 13, 2021
This recipe could be 5 stars, AND it is still worth making. After reading the reviews and suggestions AND after reading Serious Eats' "How to Make Pastry Creme" - I was able to confidently modify the pumpkin creme pat to a better flavor and texture. Here are all of my modifications: I added 1/2 C. pecans and 1 tsp. of cinnamon into the food processor with the graham crackers for the crust. I used 1 C. pumpkin puree (twice baked squash puree), I used 2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice (1/2 tsp. is WAY too little), I added 1/4 tsp. cardamon for a little chai spice flavor, and I used 5 Tbs. corn starch (I can't believe the recipe author stands by her 1/2 C. - unnecessarily excessive) - the extra pumpkin and spice bring it to Thanksgiving-Dessert-Level. I had to trouble-shoot my creme pat twice and it still turned out - use Google if it isn't right. I added 1 tsp. vanilla to the whipped cream, and I wished I had added another Tbs. of brown sugar - it needed to be just a touch sweeter IMO. I practiced this in advance to see if it was worth bringing to Thanksgiving, and it definitely is.
 
Sweet__Kate November 13, 2021
Also - I DID strain my creme pat to get some clumps and larger spice bits out. It made a big difference, and it came out nice and smooth.
 
Kelly4yr November 2, 2021
I would not recommend this one. It took forever with so many steps and a lot of waiting. There was also a step about straining the filling through a sieve that was frustrating and in the end, not a single clump was left behind so it was just an exercise in time waste. The pie tasted good but the whipped cream was bland and tasteless. If you make this, make sure you have a lot of time to do it + don't do the sieve step + make your whipped cream from another recipe that includes powdered sugar so it will at least have taste. I won't be making this one again.
 
hotelalfalima October 23, 2021
Amazing! It came out perfectly and is now one of my favorite pies ever. Love the sour cream whipped cream. I halved the corn starch and let the mixture bubble for a minute - this deactivates the amylase enzyme in the egg. If it doesn't get hot enough the amylase will dissolve the starch and make the filling runny.
 
Steve November 17, 2021
This comment needs to be a part of the recipe. Love the explanation (outside of just the typical “need to activate the cornstarch” or “cook till thick”) which is WHY 1/2 cup is way too much. You have to boil/bring to bubbling for a minute. Otherwise just cooking till thick won’t allow the filling to fully set.
 
Beasti November 25, 2021
Why oh why didn’t I read your comments first? Mine never set. What a waste. Bubbling for one minute is a perfect explanation.
 
Suzanne B. January 3, 2021
1/2 cup of cornstarch. Yikes!!! Way way way too gummy and tastes like corn starch. Ugh. And this is an all time food52 fave!!! Seriously? Oh well you can’t win em all. Definitely NOT A WINNER.....
 
Lori M. December 28, 2020
Move over regular pumpkin pie, there’s a new Thanksgiving dessert traditionBased on other reviews, I made the following modifications and the pie turned out perfectly. 3 tablespoon of cornstarch made a creamy filling. I cooked on medium low heat for 12 minutes while constantly stirring. It slowly bubbled if I stopped stirring to give you an idea of heat needed to activate the cornstarch. I also doubled the pumpkin the pumpkin pie spice to kick up the flavor. Thanks for such a great recipe!
 
Maria E. November 26, 2020
Sounded sooo good...but was so disappointed 😞...made exactly as directed yet found the custard never set up even after a full 24 hours chilling and was messy as well as not pumpkiny at all! The only thing tasty about this recipe was the crust
 
Lisa P. November 15, 2020
Question: typically, a pastry cream calls fir the custard to boil or simmer. This does not. Do we want it to reach simmer stage?
 
Author Comment
Emma L. November 16, 2020
Hey Lisa P! I've found that when and how much a pastry cream bubbles fluctuates a lot, so I rely more on the mixture visually thickening, but simmering can be another good indicator that the cornstarch is activating.
 
Lisa P. November 21, 2020
Thank you!
 
Beasti November 25, 2021
From Martha Stewart:
Gradually whisk in remaining milk mixture. Return entire mixture to saucepan. Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until bubbling in center, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Immediately whisk in pumpkin. Whisk in butter.

From now on I only go to Martha for recipes.
 
Stephaniea November 1, 2020
1/2 c cornstarch + 6 minutes to set up? As I followed the instructions I knew I should have reduced the thickener but have been looking forward to this for weeks and wanted to follow the recipe closely so it would look just like the picture. Mine set up into a gelatinous brick within a minute or two. I’d like to try this with just a couple tablespoons of cornstarch and see what happens.
 
Ann S. December 27, 2019
I followed this recipe to a T & found the end result to be incredibly messy & pretty tasteless!
 
chowter December 1, 2019
Delicious!! I reduced the cornstarch to 43 grams, and used skim milk and only 5 egg yolks (because that's what I had in the fridge). The pastry cream held up well and the pie sliced beautifully. I will definitely make this again. And again!
 
Jill F. November 29, 2019
We loved this pie, it was light and rich all at the same time. So nice to have another pumpkin pie option! I will make it a regular at our Thanksgiving table.
 
Pie1234 November 27, 2019
Bombed!! I just poured my pastry cream, that I made yesterday, into the baked cooled crust and it is like porridge! This will not set up. Now without dessert for tomorrow. Back to the drawing board, half a dozen eggs and a stick of butter later....
 
Author Comment
Emma L. November 27, 2019
Oh no! I'm really sorry to hear that. The amount of cornstarch called for here is pretty generous (to avoid any difficulty setting up), so it's hard for me to say what might have happened. Sometimes if you don't cook the pastry cream long enough, the cornstarch doesn't fully activate. If you let me know what other ingredients you have around, I can try to brainstorm another dessert with you.
 
Beasti November 25, 2021
Exactly my result. I whisked and cooked the cream until it started to curdle. YOU MUST EXPLAIN MORE THOROUGHLY WHEN TO TAKE IT OFF THE STOVE! I could use a thermometer. I was afraid it was going to boil solid because of all of the yolks and starch. I used all the freshest ingredients. It never set up. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and I was supposed to bring dessert.
The step of getting the cream cooked just right is CRUCIAL! A photo or a better explanation is needed. Very time consuming and all wasted.
 
Author Comment
Emma L. November 29, 2021
Hi Beasti, I'm so sorry to hear that. I know how much work and care goes into Thanksgiving, and that's hugely disappointing. I appreciate your note and will do my best to improve the recipe's clarity for the future.
 
Terry B. October 11, 2019
This sounds like my kind of pie! However, I think a gingersnap crust will be divine! I can't wait to try it this Thanksgiving! Yum!!
 
AmyWirth November 27, 2018
My family loved everything about this pie. It will definitely replace the old Libby's can label standby. I made the filling and crust the night before, then made the topping first thing in the morning. After assembling, I put the pie in the fridge for a few hours, and it held up beautifully on the hour drive to Thanksgiving. Fabulous.
 
Author Comment
Emma L. November 27, 2018
Thanks for reporting back on your assembly approach, Amy—and I’m thrilled to hear that the pie travelled well! So glad your family enjoyed it.
 
Bbv2020 November 24, 2018
I wanted to try a different take on traditional pumpkin pie and this is a great alternative. It is lighter that a traditional PPie and that was one of the things people really liked after a large meal. Two people asked for the recipe so I consider that a win! When making the Pumpkin filing, I really cooked it longer and in the end had to up the heat a tad to get it warm enough to set up. When I took it off the burner it was thickened up quite a bit and when I topped it with the Whipped cream, it was firm enough to hold it up. Think of the consistency of a very thick pudding. I didn't want it to run when cut and I wanted it to set up correctly. And if you don't cook it enough, the cornstarch stays grainy and chalky.
Secondly, the pie is just sweet enough so taste the filling and if you want it sweeter, I would either add more sugar to the custard filling or the whipped cream, which is slightly tangy due to the addition of sour cream. The crust was really good, loved the touch of ginger in there and honestly could see adding a few ginger snaps the next time around for a more pronounced ginger flavor. At our house, the pumpkin pie is for the 2-3 people that really love it vs. the other 18-20 that prefer fruit pie or pecan pie. Not this year. This pie was gone first! Will make every Thanksgiving now!
 
Author Comment
Emma L. November 25, 2018
Thanks for reporting back with these notes—I'm touched that some folks asked for the recipe!
 
Victoria L. November 23, 2018
This recipe is only OK as is. I actually made the pumpkin pie filling twice:
First batch - I followed the recipe exactly as stated. While the filling was fine, the amount of cornstarch it calls for made for a more gelatinous texture. I wasn’t nuts about it, so I went for round two..

Second batch - this time around, I only added 3TBL cornstarch and an extra 2TBL brown sugar (I wanted it to be slightly sweeter vs the first batch. This slight addition didn’t make it too sweet). The amount of time on the stovetop was definitely increased (probably closer to 12ish minutes, but look for the whisk to leave a trail as she suggests), however, it did firm up and the result was a CREAMIER pumpkin filling. Much better.

Don’t take it off the stove too early, it WILL firm up (particularly if you go with recipe as written). I also opted for regular pie crust and regular homemade whipped cream (minimal sugar since I added more in the pumpkin filling and a splash of vanilla). Just my preference.
 
Author Comment
Emma L. November 25, 2018
Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Victoria!
 
Anna November 23, 2018
Pros- Flavor was great and I liked that it was a less dense version of traditional pumpkin pie.
Cons-Definitely make ahead of time. The recipe states that the finished pie should chill 1 to 18 hours...mine was in the fridge for 6 and didn't ever set up. I would recommend cooking the pastry cream a bit longer than you'd think it needs and then giving it overnight in the fridge. We ended up with "deconstructed pumpkin pudding with graham crumble" for dessert but the leftovers in the fridge were solid enough that they could have been sliced this morning.
 
Author Comment
Emma L. November 25, 2018
Hi Anna! So sorry to hear that the pastry cream didn't set up properly—it sounds like it wasn't cooked long enough for the cornstarch to activate and thicken the custard. That said, love the way you turned lemons into lemonade with the "deconstructed" take!