In The Observer’s quest for the perfect pumpkin pie this Thanksgiving, we asked four of the area’s chefs to share their culinary tips for making this holiday favorite extra scrumptious.
The expert panel
Kathy Robinette, pastry chef, Café Baci
Francis Casciato, executive chef, Libby’s Café + Bar
James Plocharsky, pastry chef, Michael’s On East
Harry Christensen, owner, Harry’s Continental Kitchens
Plocharsky: “For making the best crust, bake on a pizza stone.”
Christensen: “I use Crisco when making homemade crust. For anyone who doesn’t have the time, frozen pie shells work great, too.”
Casciato: “I suggest keeping the crust very cold after it is rolled out. Don’t take it out of refrigeration until you are ready to fill it. This keeps the crust flaky.”
Robinette: “For the best crust, use butter and shortening — and cold water.”
Plocharsky: “Most recipes call for evaporated milk, but substitute that with heavy whipping cream. This will make the pie extra creamy and more silky.”
Christensen: “I love the spice of pumpkin pie — the great combination of nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice, ginger and cloves. My specialty is pumpkin chiffon pie with Drambuie — and I use fresh pumpkin meat and beat in egg yolks to make a meringue-like filling, so it’s very light.”
Casciato: “To prevent cracking after baking and to have a smooth custard texture, let the filling rest for about 20 minutes prior to pouring into the pastry. This allows the starch in the pumpkin to start to absorb excess liquid that may be present when eggs are used in the custard base.”
Robinette: “The key to the best filling is using fresh pumpkin.”
Plocharsky: “Use heavy whipping cream and find the one with the highest butter fat — the ideal would be 40% butter fat. It’s a little more expensive, but worth it. Also, some recipes call for powdered sugar, but I suggest only using regular granulated sugar, because powdered sugar contains 3% corn starch and that can ruin the whipped cream.”
Casciato: “Adding some fresh-grated nutmeg and a splash of Cognac to fresh whipped cream is a touch Libby used for her family baking during the holidays.”
Robinette: “My secret is to add Sambuca to the heavy whipping cream.”
Plocharsky: “Start baking at a high heat, and as the pie is baking, lower the heat 20 to 40 degrees every five minutes. This way does take just a little bit longer to bake, but because this is custard, this is the best way to bake it. When taking the pie out, it needs to cool slowly, so don’t rush to put it in the refrigerator — let it come to room temperature. It’s actually best to leave it out overnight before putting into refrigerator.”
Robinette: “The thing that makes pumpkin pie perfect is to add some TLC.”
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