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Ice Water, Yams, and Silken Tofu: Valley Chefs Share Their Secrets For Making A Great Pumpkin Pie

Valley chefs share their secrets to making the perfect pumpkin pie.
Valley chefs share their secrets to making the perfect pumpkin pie. Tetra Images/Getty Images
The turkey may be the official star of the Thanksgiving table, but when it comes down to it, everyone manages to save room for the finale: a slice of pumpkin pie.

It’s such a hallmark of the holiday that the pie sparked its own spice blend that finds its way into muffins, cupcakes and, of course, lattes. There’s nothing wrong with heading to your favorite bakeshop to procure the meal’s sweet ending. Yet, there’s something about a homemade version that waxes culinary comfort and nostalgia.

If that’s the route you’re taking and could use some guidance, three Valley chefs are here to share their secrets to a classic pumpkin pie.

It's All About The Crust

Whether you opt for pre-made dough or take on the task of making it from scratch, the crust deserves to be addressed first. Adrian De Leon, the culinary director and dessert creator for Tarbell's, prefers making his own in order to have control of the pie from start to finish. However, an uncooked store-bought frozen or chilled variety has its benefits, especially for newbies.

“Pre-mades are good for consistency. They’re always going to be the same. It depends on what people like and the time they have to put into the pie, but I have nothing against them for sure,” De Leon says.

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Partially baking the crust before filling and using an electric mixer to whisk the filling are among the steps SugarJamThe Southern Kitchen founder Dana Dumas takes when making her pumpkin pies, like this one.
SugarJam, The Southern Kitchen
For either version, De Leon suggests pricking the raw dough in the pie plate and par-baking it before filling so everything gets properly cooked through.

“If you don’t partially bake your crust and pour filling on it, it’s not going to completely cook and it gets soggy and not flaky,” he says.

For from-scratch recipes, he recommends working with the dough as cold as possible by keeping it chilled in the fridge until you’re ready to roll it out. This helps ensure the end result is as flaky as possible, he says.

Dana Dumas, founder of SugarJam The Southern Kitchen, agrees that temperature is key. In addition to using very cold unsalted butter and shortening, and chilled flour, she keeps a bowl of ice water on the counter and dips her hands into it as she works.

“Butter can melt very quickly, which softens the dough and makes it very glutenous. I chill my hands so I don’t heat it up,” Dumas says. “You want to work very quickly with it and line it into the pie tin.”

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Dana Dumas, owner of SugarJam The Southern Kitchen.
Melissa Fossom

Filling Facts

When it comes to the filling, Dumas notices that at-home cooks often don’t whisk the mixture enough, allowing it to remain in a thicker, puree form. But thinner is better, she says.

“If it’s their first time, they don’t realize how liquidy the filling will become. But it’s not a mistake. Especially for a pumpkin pie, that’s how it’s supposed to work,” Dumas says.

Dumas recommends using either a handheld or a large Kitchen Aid-style electric mixer to create the agitation needed for a good filling, rather than whisking by hand.

When it comes to seasoning, achieving a good balance can be tricky. Some under season, not realizing that pumpkin needs a boost to taste like what we’ve all grown to love as a traditional pumpkin pie. Or, they go overboard.

Tarbell's dessert expert De Leon says the key to finding the perfect balance is tasting the filling along the way before it hits the oven.

“Often, people overuse the spices and put a lot of nutmeg in it. Those are very strong flavors,” De Leon says of the usual warming spices that also include the likes of cinnamon and clove. “Just make sure you're tasting it. You can always add but you can never take it out.”

In addition to different crust options and spice blends, there are also choices to make on the type of pumpkin in your pie. You can use canned pumpkin puree or roast your own pumpkin, peel and seed it and then puree it in the food processor. When going the canned route, be sure it’s pumpkin puree and not pumpkin pie filling, which is made with other spices and seasonings, some of which you may not need. Plain pumpkin puree puts the flavor options back into the cook's hands.

When roasting fresh ingredients, Dumas prefers sugar pumpkins for her family’s pies. De Leon likes to incorporate other members of the squash family into the mix, like butternut squash, sweet potatoes, or yams.

“It will still be a pumpkin pie but with a little more complexity in flavor and texture as well,” De Leon says.

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The Vegan Taste makes weekly deliveries of prepackaged meals.
Niki D'Andrea

Pie for All

Craving a vegan version? Jason Wyrick, the executive chef of The Vegan Taste, offers easy substitutions to the recipe of your choice to please the plant-based diners at your table. And it starts with a surprising secret: silken tofu. Unlike the style that comes packed in water, this is packaged in a box and its super soft texture mimics that of an egg-based filling.

“Puree it up with maple syrup, spices, and pumpkin puree. The tofu will act just like a custard,” Wyrick says.

For those who plan to make their own crust from scratch, substitute a high-quality plant-based butter or shortening. Wyrick recommends Miyoko's and Spectrum brands, explaining that these can be used as a one-to-one ratio to dairy butter and traditional shortening. He also recommends chilling the butter or shortening ahead of time.

While some of the plant-based ingredients' jobs are to mimic their dairy counterparts, Wyrick loves to kick his pies up a notch and that goes for the pumpkin renditions as well. He does this by adding a splash of adobo sauce from a can of chiles in adobo.

“It complements the spices in the pie and adds a little zing to your dessert,” he says.

Whichever route you choose, whether that be store-bought crust and canned filling, or a unique tofu and chile pie, the chefs agree, it's best to bake your pie ahead of time. Let it cool and wrap it tightly in plastic to prevent other aromas and flavors from getting into the pie, and then place it in the fridge ready for the big day. Bottom line, don’t be intimidated by the process.

“Have fun, don't be afraid, and play with it,” De Leon says.
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Georgann Yara is a freelance writer and former newspaper reporter who's also a proud equal opportunity eater. She loves all things Arizona, including the professional sports teams that continue to break her heart. Food, cocktails and cats dominate her IG.
Contact: Georgann Yara

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