About that “silky smooth” pumpkin pie…

by Kate Steadman

So, I made this recipe, originally from Cooks Illustrated via Smitten Kitchen. Two things: damn was this a lot of extra work for pumpkin pie, and that’s with canned pumpkin! I thought the pie crust recipe was just terrible. Quite tough and not flaky at all.

Anyone else try this? The filling was delicious…but I’m unconvinced. Baking is not my specialty, do you see obvious flaws in this pie dough recipe?

14 responses to “About that “silky smooth” pumpkin pie…

  1. I made two pies with this recipe. The pumpkin pie version was fine, not spectacular but good and I didn’t find it any more difficult than any other pie crust I’d made. However, I also used it for my apple pie (top and bottom) and there the flaws really shined through. Tough, not flaky, browned too quick. The juices from the apples got into the bottom crust and made something like drying cement.

  2. .75 cups of water sounds like much too much to me. One should add ice cold water only until the dough just barely comes together, which shouldn’t take all of 3/4 cup.

  3. That’s funny(though not surprising)… I made that same pie as my “first ever pie” and had a pretty bad time with the pie shell… and also thought it was a crazy amount of work. However, my problem was more with the lack of description of the blind baking process… I thought the pie shell was delicious.

    My first pie shell fell badly (as seen here), but I then combined her dough recipe (including vodka) with the more complete directions from New Best Recipe. The differences were, IIRC, rolling and fluting/shaping in one step instead of two… then refrigerating for something like 40 minutes… then into the freezer for 20. Then blind bake with weightsts for about 25 and then 5 to brown. Then recipe as written.

    While I have no pie making experience, I thought the crust turned out really well… and my girlfriend and her mother who both make a ton of pies thought the crust was really good as well.

  4. I haven’t made many pies, but every one has been delicious and the crusts have always been successes. I use Alton Brown’s food processor-based recipe and it’s worth the time and cleanup. I agree with Ursula that too much water sounds like the most likely culprit. AB recommends applying the ice water with a spritzer and I’ve found that works wonderfully. As for SK’s contention that using the food processor makes the butter chunks too small, that has never been a problem for me. I can always see chunks of butter/shortening in my finished dough.

  5. The filling: I bake pumpkin and use the immersion blender for the filling. It’s not grainy.

    The dough: A normal recipe would have 1/4 c. ice water per cup of flour. That is way too much water, IMHO, which means the gluten will develop as you mix.

    Also, I like shortening because Flaky is the name of the game in my tradition. I use Earth Balance, which has no trans fat, combined with butter. And the recipe I use has egg and vinegar in it.

    I would also suggest that this recipe has too much salt for the amount of flour.

    Bernard Clayton’s pastry book is my pie bible, though I don’t eat lard so I miss out on some of the joys, I suppose.

  6. Nathan Williams

    I made the pie twice from the CI recipe, with a blend of local sugar pumpkin and butternut squash that I’d roasted, processed, and squeezed/drained. I thought it was pretty fabulous, though I’d dial the sugar down some more. The first time I used the 3/4c white sugar and 1/4c maple syrup; the second one was fine with just 1/2c white sugar, and I’d like to take it lower.

    Pressing it through the strainer was a serious hassle. If I wanted to do this again (and the 6c of frozen squash puree in my freezer says that I do) I should get a Foley food mill or similar.

    As for the crust – read carefully, the original CI recipe and the “101” linked from smittenkitchen are for double-crust pies.

  7. My theory is the amount of butter. I only use 1.5 cups of butter for 2.25 cups of flour. Then I add water until the dough is barely sticking together. I also use my hands to combine the ingredients from the beginning because it helps me to not overwork the dough and it makes me feel hardcore.

  8. Definitely too much water. Any time you see the words “tough” and “pastry/ pie crust” in the same sentence, its too much water and/or abuse. I use the AB spritzer filled with ice water and add as little as humanly possible to make it come together.

    Another mistake I used to make was fussing with it too much. The flour hydrates as it stands so if it looks too dry and unmixed after it shaggily comes together, it probably isn’t. Patience.

    I want to second PJM on the matter of mixing butter and Earth Balance.

  9. Just a quick note: if you really want to cut down on the amount of liquid in you pie dough – which I find to be a highly desirable state of affairs – use a stand mixer. I have been doing it this way for about a year (out of almost 18 of making pie dough), and it has been pretty successful so far. The main problem is that the stand mixer will make the dough come together long before the appointed quantity of liquid is used up, especially if you are making multiple recipes. That’s OK. Don’t be tempted to add more than is required to bring the dough together. The recipes always warn against adding too much flour when you roll, but adding too much liquid to make the dough come together is a much greater peril. You can always add a few drops of liquid later, but you can’t remove water once it’s started mixing with gluten.

    Also, my husband bought me a silicone pie dough rolling mat from King Arthur, and it cuts down on the flour needed for rolling as well. Even with silicone, though, you need a little flour. But if your dough is nice and dry, you don’t need very much.

    And RoboticGhost, I am glad you agree about the Earth Balance. I have tried other brands of palm-based shortening, and they don’t work, but I can’t bring myself to use Crisco anymore. A butter crust is nice, but I have Southern heritage, and that dictates flakiness. Butter is crispy instead.

  10. That recipe totally sounds like a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. If you are worried about “grainy,” the solution is a mixer, not a strainer. Whip the bejesus out of the pumpkin. That strainer proces is ridiculous. That recipe also doesn’t have enough spice in it.

  11. I second what PJM says- I use a Kitchenaid mixer to make crust, and you only have to use 5-6 T. of water to bring together enough flour/butter to make two crusts.

  12. I find Cook’s Illustrated recipes generally to be a little substandard and only use them as a starting point. I think maybe they have Chris Kimball’s downeast set of tastebuds. Sort of like baked Calvinism.

    Use a food processor. Stop a little shy of pea-size lumps if you’re worried about that. I never have a problem with flakiness. Don’t use shortening — it is unnecessary and bad for you. The water in the butter is what makes it flaky as it evaporates.

    Two things I do that Cook’s Illustrated frowns on but they make a difference. Add a tablespoon of cider vinegar. CI is right — doesn’t affect the flavor noticeably. But it does affect the flour chemistry, preventing gluten formation which will turn your pie crust into pizza crust.

    I also use two whole sticks of butter for two crust disks but half of one stick is softened at room temperature and added before the cold butter. This doesn’t affect flakiness but it does significantly affect mouth feel. It is the tender part of “tender flaky.” I think I got that idea from Alton Brown.

  13. Two words. Duck Fat

    Or lard. or shortening. The just add a certain something.

  14. Two words. Duck Fat

    Or lard. or shortening. They just add a certain something.

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