Stop Using the Wrong Kind of Crust for Your Pumpkin Pie

Slate's Culture Blog
Nov. 19 2012 5:02 PM

You’re Doing It Wrong: Pumpkin Pie

Thanksgiving Pumpkin Pie With Gingersnap Crust.
Thanksgiving pumpkin pie with gingersnap crust.

Photo by Juliana Jiménez Jaramillo for Slate

In the week leading up to Thanksgiving, Brow Beat will be providing all the essential recipes you need to celebrate the holiday with culinary aplomb. See also our previous entries on sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce.

L.V. Anderson L.V. Anderson

L.V. Anderson is a Slate assistant editor. She edits Slate's food and drink sections and writes Brow Beat's recipe column, You're Doing It Wrong. 

We expect pumpkin pie to do the near-impossible on Thanksgiving: to whet our appetites after we have already stuffed ourselves to the gills with rich, sweet, starchy fare. It's like asking some solo act to entertain and inspire an audience after Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band have played a 3-hour opening set.

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Traditional pumpkin pie (i.e., the recipe found on the Libby’s label) rises to this challenge fairly well. The filling is smooth and creamy, demanding very little from our teeth and jaws, and its mixed spices are a welcome novelty after a mostly spiceless meal. There is one problem with this customary squash dessert, however: the crust.

I have already explicated my belief that the main virtue of conventional pie crust—the flaky, unleavened pastry of flour, butter, and water also known as re—is architectural, not gustatory. In this case, however, pâte brisée’s structural merits don’t even come close to making up for its lack of flavor. Voluntarily eating a bland slab of flour and butter after a lavish Thanksgiving feast is nothing short of madness (even when that bland slab contains a delightful pumpkin filling).

No, Thanksgiving pie calls for a crust that provides flavor bang for its calorie buck. Luckily, such a crust is easy to make—even easier than traditional pie crust, in fact, since it requires no rolling out. I refer to gingersnap crust, which incorporates all the flavor of the cookies from which it’s made into a crumbly, buttery foundation for pie. (Other dry cookies can be used in crust, too—graham crackers and Oreos are perhaps the most common—but zesty gingersnaps are the obvious match for pumpkin pie filling, which already has ground ginger in it.) Gingersnap crust isn’t as solid a construction material as pâte brisée, but this doesn’t matter with pumpkin pie, since its custardy filling is already quite cohesive. And cookie crust’s delicate texture means that each bite of pie practically dissolves on your tongue—never the case with traditional, concrete-like pie crust.

Making gingersnap crust requires only store-bought gingersnaps, some melted butter, and a spoonful each of sugar and flour. The easiest way to assemble it is in a food processor, but if you don’t have one, a decent blender should be up to the task of pulverizing your cookies. (If you take the blender route, though, you’ll have to stir in the other ingredients by hand.) Before baking, the crumb mixture should resemble damp (not sopping) sand. Pack it into the bottom and sides of your pie pan as densely and evenly as you can, but don’t kill yourself trying to make it perfect. Gingersnap crust will never look as smooth and pristine as pâte brisée, but it will taste good enough that even your most replete guest will probably polish off an entire slice.

Pumpkin Pie With Gingersnap Crust
Yield: 8 to 12 servings
Time: 1¼ to 1½ hours, mostly unattended

¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter
8 ounces gingersnaps (about 3 cups)
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
¾ cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
2 large eggs
One 15-ounce can pumpkin purée
¾ cup half-and-half
1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon salt
Pinch ground nutmeg
Pinch ground allspice
Pinch ground cloves

1. Heat the oven to 350°F. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over low heat (or in a small bowl in the microwave). Break up the gingersnaps slightly; put them in a food processor and pulse until they are finely ground. Add the butter, flour, and 1 tablespoon of the sugar. Pulse a few times to combine. Press the gingersnap mixture evenly into the bottom and sides of a 9-inch pie pan, and bake for 5 minutes.

2. Beat the eggs in a large bowl. Whisk in the remaining ¾ cup sugar and the pumpkin, half-and-half, cinnamon, ginger, salt, nutmeg, allspice, and cloves. Transfer the pumpkin mixture to the crust, and bake at 350°F until a knife inserted into the center of the pie comes out clean, about 1 hour. (The center of the pie will not be completely firm.) Cool thoroughly. Serve at room temperature, or cover with foil or plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to a day before serving. (Store leftover pumpkin pie covered with foil or plastic wrap in the refrigerator for up to several days.)

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