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For the longest time, I thought I hated pumpkin pie. It wasn't one that my grandmother took an interest in making, so she never plied her superior baking skills for that particular flavor. That left it to my pie crust-phobic mother and her sisters to conjure up some form of it during the holidays. That usually meant gluey and overly sweet fillings, overcooked congealed textures and tricky, "alternative" crumb crusts that sogged under the weight of the custard.
But my first taste of great pumpkin pie (during a meal at an outstanding New York City restaurant) caused me to shed all previous notions of how pumpkin pie can taste. This one was creamy and perfectly spiced, with subtle sweetness standing back to allow the mellow pumpkin flavor and aroma to shine. More than a pie, it was an inspiration, and it turned my old opinion of pumpkin pie on its head.
Pumpkin pie is generally simple to make, but there are small steps that you can take to make a good thing great. I like to start with nice ingredients; a well-handled all-butter crust, pumpkin puree that I make myself (preferably from local Sugar Pumpkins), and a good brown sugar that will lend flavor as well as sweetness. The spices skew heavily on the ginger side, which I think best highlights the taste of the pumpkin.
When making the pie, I like to cook my filling on the stovetop prior to adding the eggs to avoid cracking in the oven, and I give it a lengthy turn in the food processor to ensure that it's as smooth and creamy as possible. To ensure that the bottom crust isn't too raw, I bake the pie a low rack in the oven on top of a pre-heated baking stone. When the pie is nearly done, I hover near the oven, ready to pull it at the first sign of puffing, lest it become over-cooked and rubbery.
My favorite way to eat this pie is when it's just barely warm and set, but it's wonderful chilled, right from the fridge for a Black Friday breakfast.
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About the author: Lauren Weisenthal has logged many hours working in restaurant kitchens and bakeries of Brooklyn and Manhattan. She is a graduate of the Artisan Bread Baking and Pastry Arts programs at the French Culinary Institute. You can follow her on Twitter at @evillagekitchen.