The evolution of a pumpkin pie

I began making pumpkin pies many years ago because they're a great seasonal pie and they're part of one of my favorite holidays, Thanksgiving. I began with the Betty Crocker recipe because that's what I had, but over the years I kept a note card, adjusting the amounts of each of the sugars and spices until I'd achieved a flavor I really liked.

That note card eventually became a spreadsheet that I'll share below, and that has since morphed into a software widget that you can use.

On this page I'll show you how to make a nice-looking pumpkin pie from scratch (i.e. with a pumpkin, not canned pumpkin), and how to decorate the crust.

Ingredient list


The essential ingredient, of course, is the flesh of the pumpkin, a squash on the sweeter side. You can buy this pre-cooked and mashed in cans, but I prefer to prepare it from sweet cooking pumpkins, much as you might prepare mashed potatoes. The steps will be shown below. Because you won't know precisely how much mashed pumpkin you'll end up with, the recipe and calculator below are based on whatever volume of pumpkin (in cups) you end up with.

I've also read about a baking method, where clean pumpkin halves are baked in an oven until they're soft enough to mash, but I haven't tried that. It might have the effect of not leaching out some of the pumpkin goodness into boiling water. Worth considering.


The basic spices that make up a classic pumpkin pie are

  • cinnamon
  • nutmeg
  • ginger
  • & cloves.

Sweeteners & stiffeners

Pumpkin filling also includes sugars (I use raw granulated sugar and dark brown sugar), evaporated milk and a few eggs to get the filling to congeal.


for the crust you'll need some unbleached white flour, some good salted butter and a smidgen of cold water. I don't usually use pastry flour. It seems too fussy and I rarely get good results with it. No need to sift, either.

Preparing the pumpkin

Look for small "sweet" cooking pumpkins with dark orange flesh. Avoid the big pithy, pale jack-o-lantern pumpkins. Remove the stem, cut the pumpkin in half and scoop out the stringy bits inside. Scrape down past these to the lighter squash. Cut the halves carefully into wedges that you'll peel.

Pro tip: Use a large knife, holding the handle in your palm while pinching the heel of the blade between your thumb and forefinger. This will give you a lot of control. These pieces are stiff and you can really make a big mistake if you're not careful.

Slice the pumpkin into wedges that are small enough to peel with a paring knife or potato peeler. Be careful with your knife here. Don't cut blindly.

Everything is cleaned and sliced. These pumpkins were a little stringier than the ones I usually use, but it's OK.

Pare off the outer rind carefully. I like to use a cheap little parer that I keep sharp with some 600-grit wet/dry sandpaper.

Cut into small chunks and boil them until you can easily cut through softened pieces with a butter knife.

You can use a hand masher, which will leave some larger bits of pumpkin in the pie - a more rustic feel. I like to put the pumpkin in a food processor and get a good puree going.

Measure your pumpkin to the nearest ¼ cup. Enter that amount into the calculator below to get the ingredient amounts that go with it.

You can set aside your pumpkin at this point. This is also where you could just pour and measure pumpkin from cans. Your call. I like to see the whole process from garden to pie.


The ingredients of the crust are

  • 1-1/2 cups of unbleached white four
  • 1 stick of cold sea-salted butter (I use Kates sea-salted butter*)
  • 3-6 Tbsp. cold water (need not be ice water)

*That was when I lived in Boston. Now on the west coast I use Kerrygold salted pure Irish butter.


Combine the crust ingredients into a glass bowl: 1-1/2 cups of unbleached white flour and a stick of salted butter. The salt in the butter is about all you need to make the crust have a nice flavor. If you use unsalted butter, be sure to add about 1 tsp. of salt. Sea salt, which is a mix of many edible salts, is always tastier.

Cut the butter into 1 cm pieces and add to the flour.

Now use a pastry blender to mix in the butter. This can be a long process. It can take 300 or more strokes and you need to make sure you get all the way down to the bottom of the bowl on each. This is absolutely what makes a great, flaky crust. Roll up your sleeves and get going.

A fully blended crust is fairly doughy. You can feel the cutter moving through the flour/butter mix like it's moving through clay, not powdery flour, and you're getting pieces the size of peas and beans holding together. How long this takes and just what consistency you'll end up with depends a lot on the humidity of the day. Summer crusts are faster; winter flour is drier.

Now begin adding water to the crust, 1 Tbsp. at a time, tossing thoroughly with a fork in between each addition. Use a tossing motion, working the fork to the bottom of the bowl. You're not trying to stick the four together. Let it do that on its own as you add more water.

As you add water and toss, the dough will stick together and become difficult to move around with the fork. 4-6 Tbsp. of water is common in summer, with more usually needed in winter.

Form (press and slap) 1/2 of the dough into a ball and place on a floured piece of light canvas or a floured smooth dish towel.

You can do quite a bit of flattening of the dough using just the palm or heel of your hand. Slap in the edges as they crack to reform them. Try to keep the edges neat until you're just about at the size you want.

I like to use a tapered roller without an axle. I've used a wine bottle though. Any clean cylindrical object will do. Roll from the center in all directions, then roll in secants around the outside of the crust to finish.

Here's the rolled out crust. It's big enough that those rough edges, formed in the final flattening strokes with the roller, will be trimmed off.

Test the crust for fit to your dish. For a pumpkin pie I like a shallower dish. The small Pyrex ones are good for this. Metal dishes don't have the heat capacity you'll need for even cooking.

Here is a recap of how to roll the dough. When I say "slap in the sides," I mean to kind of karate chop the sides with the heel of your hand when cracks appear after rolling. They always do, but you can help keep more of a circle if you do this when they're small.

With a hand under the canvas/towel under the crust, just flip the dish over to place the bottom crust in the pie dish.

Push the crust into the dish, then trim the edges with a sharp knife. That wrinkle on the left is fine.

Decorating the rim

You can go with a classic scalloped rim, but with just a little extra effort, you can make your pie look much better. Pies are usually for a special occasion, anyway.

Here are some of the designs you can make.

I like to cut veins in any leaves I cut out with a cookie cutter, just to give a little more detail.

Here is a video, one of many available, with some good crust-edge ideas.

Calculator & recipe

Enter the number of level cups of packed, mashed pumpkin. Hit calculate to refresh the ingredient list.


The amounts are going to come out in tenths of a teaspoon or egg. I don't mean for you to measure that closely. Just use the calculated amounts as a guide and round using your smaller measuring devices and your eye. Cooking is still more art than science. For half of an egg, you might just use the white of one egg. Use large eggs. The teaspoon values are meant to be packed, level teaspoons.

Ingredient Amount Unit
Pumpkin 0.00 cups
Cinnamon 0.00 tsp
Nutmeg 0.00 tsp
Ginger 0.00 tsp
Cloves 0.00 tsp
White sugar 0.00 cups
Brown sugar 0.00 cups
Eggs 0.00 each
Condensed milk 0.00 12 oz. can

Original spreadsheet

Here is a copy of my original spreadsheet if you'd rather use it. Click the image to download a .pdf copy of the original full recipe.

Making the filling

Combine the sugars and spices in a separate bowl, and mix them to uniformity. Then add the spices to the cooked, mashed pumpkin and stir again.

In a separate bowl, crack the eggs (whole). I like to do this in a separate bowl because once I cracked a rotten egg into a nice big batch of filling. Lost the whole thing.*

Add the evaporated milk, and stir to a uniform mixture. Finally, add the eggs, breaking the yolks and whisking just to make a uniform slurry before adding them. We're not trying to whip the eggs here; don't be too aggressive.

Mix everything together until you get a nice uniform consistency. A spoon is fine for this. Heavier pumpkin particles will settle as you let the mixture sit, so stir it up before ladling or pouring into pies.

You can refrigerate and store your filling at this point for use later. Keep it covered and use it within a week or so.

*Update: I've done that twice now. Fool me twice ...

Filling and baking

The filling won't expand all that much when you bake your pie, so you'll need to fill it to within about 4 mm or 1/8 of an inch from the top, or just below where your crust decorations stick out.

Here is a decorated crust. I've glazed the leaf rim with egg white to give it a little sheen and structure during baking.

I have a bunch of cookie cutters. This one cuts and punches the vein pattern into the leaves in one step. Pretty cool.

Bake at about 350˚F (180˚C) for about an hour, but certainly until a toothpick inserted carefully into the center of the filling comes out clean. That way the custard has set up.

Remove from the oven and cool. Enjoy. People say this pie has a nice smooth taste without being overwhelming in any of the spice departments.

Here is a closeup of two of the edges I do regularly. The veins in the leaves of the nearer one were cut by hand with a knife. Do it a lot and you'll get fast at it.

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