Pumpkin pie is one of the most traditional holiday foods on the table (some even argue it's better than the main event). It's a classic we look forward to every year. But without getting too crazy, this winter we're sprucing up this classic holiday dessert. Whether you're looking to recreate an old favorite or cover up a mistake, our friends in the Bon Appétit Test Kitchen have some great ideas for making pumpkin pie even better.
1. Start with the Crust
Whatever you do, says Bon Appétit digital food editor Dawn Perry, don't use a store-bought crust. If rolling out pie dough just isn't your bag, that doesn't mean you have to surrender to the supermarket. "A press-in crust is incredibly easy," she explains. Melted butter binds the crust together, and as it bakes, it transforms into a crunchy, crumbly, cookie-like crust: What's not to like about that? Use pastry flour, graham cracker crumbs, crushed chocolate cookies, or even ground oats and nuts for a twist that will add flavor and texture. If you need a little inspiration to get started, this butterscotch pie with a curried cookie crust is a staff favorite.
2. Get Nutty (Or Seedy)
"Pumpkin loves nuts," says Perry. To really up the ante, scatter candied almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, or walnuts over the top of your pie once it's finished baking. Crunchy pepitas, or pumpkin seeds, also look nice on a pie, and keep the autumnal theme going. Sugar or maple syrup are great for candying— you can find more detailed instructions here. Be sure that both the pie and the nuts have cooled before topping them, so they don't melt into the filling.
3. Whip It Real Good
Sure, we have a soft spot for aerosol cans of whipped cream, but a homemade whipped cream is easy to make, and adds a personal touch (plus, no one will squirt it directly from the can into his or her mouth). Whipped cream and pumpkin pie are an inseparable pair, but the fluffy stuff can do more than add a little sweetness. If your pie cracks or dimples while baking, wait until it cools, then cover up the crack by spreading whipped cream over the entire topping (leave the crust exposed). Use a small, fine-mesh sieve to dust cinnamon over the cream to give it a little color, and voila: a perfect pie once more. Whether you serve the whipped cream on the side or over the top, there are endless possibilities for flavoring it: Perry and associate food editor Claire Saffitz like to add maple syrup, bourbon, and baking spices (like ginger and nutmeg) to theirs. If adding liquid (like whiskey or maple), keep these guidelines in mind: Beat the cream to soft peaks before folding it in, and start with 1 tablespoon liquid for each cup of cream. Otherwise, it'll be too dense and heavy to whip. Perry also gently folds candied nuts into whipped cream, for a crunchy surprise in each bite. To temper sweet whipped cream with a tangy note, use a rubber spatula to gently fold in crème fraîche or mascarpone cheese.
4. Switch Your Squash
"Squash pie is incredibly forgiving," says Saffitz, explaining that it rarely curdles or breaks, and that although the texture of pumpkin, butternut, acorn, and other squash varies, they're relatively interchangeable in a pie. The test kitchen says that canned pumpkin purée is just fine, but if you want to go the extra mile, this is a great opportunity to experiment with DIY roasted and puréed squash or sweet potato. The predominant flavor of traditional pumpkin pie isn't even pumpkin at all. Heady cinnamon, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, and ginger often take center stage, so scaling back on the spice and switching the squash will allow the vegetable to really shine.
5. Pour Some Sugar On It
A brûléed pumpkin pie makes for an impressive presentation, and has the added bonus of being fun to crack into— think of it as a giant crème brûlée. Use granulated sugar and a kitchen torch until the pie is burnished deep golden brown with a hard crust. Although you can bake the pie in advance, don't brûlée it until the last minute: That will ensure it stays crackly with a glossy sheen.
6. Cookie Cutters to the Rescue
Pumpkin pie is a favorite among the pastry averse, because it doesn't call for a double crust, or even scarier, a complicated lattice top. But that doesn't mean you can't dress it up. If you have extra dough from the bottom crust (this will require a roll-out dough, rather than a press-in), use seasonally-themed cookie cutters, like leaves or turkeys, and bake crust "cookies" along with the pie— just keep a close eye, and remove them as soon as they're done; they will cook quicker than the actual pie. Once the pie and cookies have cooled, you can dress it up by placing the crust cookies on top. This is especially helpful for covering up a cracked crust, but it's also just a nice way to add a little something extra.
7. Get Saucy (and Salty)
Finally, one of the best things you can do to a pumpkin pie is also the easiest: Drizzle with a caramel, chocolate, or butterscotch sauce, and sprinkle with a few flakes of fleur de sel. A little savory, a little sweet, a lotta delicious.
On the other hand, you don't have to make a pumpkin pie at all. Check out these alternative fall desserts.