Sunday, November 13, 2011

Pumpkin Pie Throwdown!

Fall is by far my favorite season. I love sweater weather, I love simmering pots of stew and soup on the stove, I love the firey bright orange and red leaves outside, and above all, I love pumpkin!

I can't get enough of all things pumpkin. Pumpkin breads, pumpkin cheesecake, pumpkin cupcakes, pumpkin ice cream, pumpkin lattes ... I could go on forever! But it all started with the original: good ol' pumpkin pie. As a kid, pumpkin pie was a once or twice a year treat. An aunt would bring it to our house for Thanksgiving and I might be lucky enough to snag a slice at Christmas, but anything pumpkin was noticeably absent the rest of the year.

Not so in my house now. The first leaves haven't even fallen from the trees before I pump up the pumpkin baking. So when Bill set out to bake a from-scratch pumpkin pie a few weeks ago, I was all for it. It came about when we got our hands on Alton Brown's latest Good Eats cookbook. As often happens when you place a new cookbook in Bill's hands, he put his mind to one of the most involved recipes. And as often happens when Bill succeeds in the kitchen, my competetive spirit kicked in.

I suggested we go head to head and instantly began strategizing. Bill stuck with Alton's recipe and I sought out the most delicious recipe I could find from Martha Stewart. While it took Bill one carving pumpkin, two pies, four pie pumpkins, and dozens of gingersnaps to get it right, his final entry in this throwdown was quite good. It was so good, in fact, that I was a little fearful of how my own pie would fare.

Bill and I knew we couldn't objectively judge our own pies, so I decided to take two slices to one of the only people I know who loves pumpkin as much as I do: my boss, Molly. I should have been completely confident that I had this competition in the bag, but when Bill and I did our own taste test the night before we were both surprised to find that we couldn't decide between the two. Our pies were so different, and both so good. But in the end, Molly described Bill's as "pumpkin purist," which put him on top. Mine had a touch more spice than a traditional pumpkin pie, which I loved, but I can understand that it doesn't suit everybody's taste.

So take your pick: Bill's pumpkin purist pie, or my super spicey slice. I'd make either one again!

Jen's Martha Stewart Pumpkin Pie
For Shortbread Crust
4 tablespoons butter, softened
3 tablespoons sugar
1 egg yolk
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt

For Filling
1 1/2 cups fresh pumpkin puree
1 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon allspice
2 eggs, lightly beaten

To make crust, stir together butter and sugar in a medium bowl. Stir in yolk. Add flour and salt, and stir until mixture is dry and crumbly. Press dough into bottom and up sides of a 9-inch pie dish. Freeze until firm, about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Bake, rotating halfway through, until crust turns golden brown, 20 to 22 minutes. Let cool in dish on a wire rack.

To make pumpkin puree, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut several slits in pumpkin with a sharp paring knife. Place pumpkin (Martha calls for one about 1 1/2 lbs.) in a baking dish and pour about 1 inch of water in the bottom of the dish. Bake until skin is easily pierced and inside is soft, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

While pumpkin is still warm, rip off stem, peel off skin, and scoop out seeds. Place pumpkin in food processor and puree until smooth. Set aside.

To make filling, whisk together pumpkin, heavy cream, sugar, vanilla, salt, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, and eggs in a large bowl. Pour filling into prepared pie crust.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place pie dish on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake, rotating halfway through, until filling is just set and slightly puffed but still a bit wobbly, about 65 to 70 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely. Serve chilled, topped with whipped cream.

Bill's Alton Brown Pumpkin Pie
For Gingersnap Crust
6 oz. gingersnap cookies
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon ginger
1 oz. butter

For Filling
16 oz. fresh pumpkin puree
1 cup half and half
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 egg yolk

To make pumpkin puree, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Slice a small piece of skin off one side of the pumpkin so when laid on its side the pumpkin won't roll. Remove stem and split pumpkin in half from top to bottom. Scoop out the seeds and fiber.

Sprinkle flesh with salt and lay the halves, flesh side down, on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Roast 30 to 45 or until a paring knife can be easily inserted and removed from the pumpkin. Test in several places to ensure doneness.

Remove sheet pan to a wire rack and cool pumpkin for 1 hour. Using a large spoon, remove roasted flesh of pumpkin from skin and transfer to a food processor. Process 3 to 4 minutes, until very smooth.

To make crust, combine gingersnaps, brown sugar, and ginger in a food processor. Process until cookies are fine crumbs. Drizzle butter into crumb mixture. Pulse 8 to 10 times to combine.

Press gingersnap mixture into bottom and up sides of a 9-inch pie dish. Place on a sheet pan and bake 10 to 12 minutes, until lightly browned. Cool crust at least 10 minutes before filling.

To make filling, bring pumpkin puree to a simmer in a saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, 2 to 3 minutes, or until slightly thickened. Add half and half, nutmeg, and salt. Stir and return to a simmer. Remove from heat and cool 10 minutes.

Whisk brown sugar, eggs, and egg yolk in a large bowl. Add pumpkin mixture and whisk until thoroughly combined. Pour filling into warm pie crust and bake on same sheet pan 45 to 50 minutes, until the center jiggles slightly but sides of filling are set. Cool on a wire rack at least 2 hours before slicing.


  1. They both look way, way too good to choose between! I think this needs to be taken to a pro stage... get some celebrity chefs to judge this showdown ;)

  2. I think that is an excellent idea! I was to challenge Bill to a Thanksgiving showdown, Iron Chef style. I'm pretty sure I could take him down. And you should be the judge!