We are back with our 25th bake from Claire Saffitz’s Dessert Person as we continue moving through the Pies and Tarts chapter. How have we already made it to recipe number 25??! Our bake this week is extremely non-seasonal, but that’s just one of the pitfalls of stubbornly deciding to bake the whole book in order. On this lovely June day, we bring you Claire’s Caramelized Honey Pumpkin Pie!
I’ve always had mixed emotions about pumpkin pie. As a purest and lover of traditions, I want to love pumpkin pie because it’s the quintessential Thanksgiving dessert. But every time it was offered to me after a delicious meal of turkey and stuffing (mad ups to my Mom for making the best stuffing ever), I would say yes and think I was excited, but then just be kind of disappointed? Once I got more into baking, I would ask my family if I could handle the Thanksgiving dessert, and would make pumpkin pie cheesecakes, pumpkin and cranberry pie…simply trying to retain the tradition but improve it. But it still felt wrong to me. I wanted to love pumpkin pie as much as I love fall and Thanksgiving stuffing (this is the most pathetic sob story and I apologize and will now move on).
All this to say, I felt a connection to Claire when in the intro to this recipe, she mentioned similar qualms with pumpkin pie and used this recipe as a chance to improve such a popular dessert. To balance out the typical sweetness of store-bought or traditional pumpkin pie recipes, Claire adds brown butter (um hello greatest thing in the world) and caramelized honey to deepen the flavours and add a nutty-ness to the pie. As soon as I read this I was on board and intrigued to see how this would change the pumpkin pie I have come to know and tolerate.
Every time we get to bake a pie and make pie dough, I feel more at ease than I usually am with these desserts. Pie is my favourite thing to bake and allows me to feel competent and not super sweaty and stressed the whole time (like I feel with every other bake we do). We got a chance to make Claire’s flaky pie dough recipe once again. I love how she combines cubes of butter with thin sheets of butter and how she encourages doing a letter fold before rolling out completely to achieve the flakiness. Genius. When I’ve made pie dough in my past, I usually refrigerate the dough in a circular mound which makes rolling it into a circle fairly simple; Claire on the other hand encourages you to refrigerate the dough in a thin square. Once I got ready to roll, I paused for a LONG time trying to figure out how to make this a circle. I called on my mathematically minded partner who yelled over some instructions that didn’t make sense so I just did my best and make a kind of circular thing? You then place your pie dough into your pie plate, press the dough firmly down to prevent shrinking and then crimp the sides. I really like Claire’s technique on how to do this (she even did a video of it on her YouTube channel). You use your thumb to create the intends which makes them larger than what I’ve typically done but I really like the shape it creates. The pie dough is covered then with aluminum foil and weighted down with pie weights. It bakes for about 25 minutes with the foil/weights on top, and then for another 20 minutes without to par-bake the crust. Claire warns for this step to lean on the side of over-baking the crust to a deeper golden brown because of the wet filling of this recipe. I found 20 minutes was perfect and I got such a beautiful golden colour and NO SHRINKAGE. I think this is my first time making pie ever where the dough did not shrink at all. Colour me impressed.
While the pie dough was cooling, I made the pumpkin pie filling. First you brown the butter and honestly nothing is more satisfying. I love watching butter brown and the smell once it’s done is so delicious. You add honey to the browned butter to stop the cooking process, mix them together, and then bring the mixture back to a boil to caramelize the honey. As it cooks, it releases such a beautiful, nutty flavour. You remove this from the stove, and slowly add in some heavy cream and set it aside. Then you make the custard base by whisking the eggs, brown sugar, pumpkin puree and spices. Once this is mixed, you whisk in your butter honey mixture, and voila, there’s your custard.
The mixture gets poured into the pie crust and then bakes in the oven until the sides are puffed and the centre wobbles. The time frame Claire gives is 45-60minutes, and I think I left mine in for about 65minutes or so because the centre still seemed too liquid until then. In order to prevent cracking, you left the pie fully cool in the oven before removing it. Now I made this pie right before I had to leave for a cottage weekend so I couldn’t let it FULLY cool in the oven, but even before removing it, it had already cracked. Thank goodness for whipped cream and its ability to hide mistakes.
This pie went on a journey. From the oven, my partner and I carefully placed it in our back seat and drove 2 hours with it to a cottage. Once we arrived, I softly whipped the cream and served it. First things first, this pie looks beautiful. The custard has such a deep, rich orange colour versus the artificial orange you get with some pumpkin pies, and the golden brown crust compliments it very well. Cutting the pie is also super satisfying as the knife easily goes through the custard and then faces some resistance to the flaky pie crust below. So 5 stars for aesthetics for sure. In terms of the taste, the pie crust was once again flaky, buttery and delicious.
Now for the custard…I will say, it was less sweet and less gummy then other pumpkin pies I have. The custard was super smooth and had just the right amount of sweetness. But I didn’t really feel like I got a huge sense of the brown butter and the honey, and I think that’s just because pumpkin and all the typical spices (nutmeg, ginger, cloves), are fairly overpowering flavours and kind of overtook everything else. If I made it again, I would maybe add a bit more honey, and put less of the spices in. This pie didn’t blow me away, but I will say that it was better than any other pumpkin pie that I’ve had. I’ll give it 4 stars!
Does anything scream summer more than a beautifully custardy, warm spice-filled pumpkin pie?! I am all for the argument that “pumpkin spice” flavoured things should be enjoyed all year long, but there was something about making this pie in 25-degree weather (that’s Celsius for all our confused American friends) in shorts and a t-shirt while the sun beamed in to my kitchen, looking out at my patio garden, that just felt off to me. Today also happens to be my 34th birthday (oy…) and while I do enjoy a slice of pumpkin pie with tons of whipped cream post-Turkey dinner, it is far from my favourite dessert, so wouldn’t have been my first choice of birthday week bake.
All that aside, the experience of baking this pie was pretty straightforward and a lot of fun. This recipe called once again for Claire’s Flaky All-Butter Pie Dough, which I previously dubbed the all-time best pie dough recipe ever when we made it for the Plum Galette a couple of weeks ago. I stand by that statement. I also noticed this time around that, with two rounds of pie dough and a round of Rough Puff under my belt, I am getting a lot quicker and more comfortable working with buttery doughs. I found I had to check the book less, doubted myself less, and just generally worked a lot faster to bring it all together. Win!
I made the dough and parbaked my crust the night before. Claire mentions in the recipe that if you’re using the crust for a custard-filled pie (like this one), you should err on baking longer until you get a deep golden brown to avoid the dreaded “soggy bottom.” Anyone who’s a fan of the Great British Bake-Off (or the equally delightful Canadian version, previously hosted by true Canadian legend and all-around adorable human Dan Levy) knows there is absolutely nothing more shameful than a soggy bottom. So I kept that crust in the oven a good 15-20 minutes longer than it called for in the book. I may have gone a bit far, but more on that later.
The next morning, I got to work on the custard filling. This was super simple to make. Adding that special flare that every Saffitz recipe seems to have, you start off browning butter (there is nothing better than brown butter) and then adding in honey and heavy cream to create what is basically a honey caramel. It smelled AMAZING – sweet, nutty, delicious. While that mixture sits, you whip together eggs, brown sugar, pumpkin puree, and all the warm spices (your standard blend of ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and the extra little twist of all-spice). Slowly stream the honey and brown butter caramel into the pumpkin mixture, and you have your custard. It gets poured into the cooled pie crust, and the whole thing bakes for about an hour. Similar to the Goat Cheese Cake, the pie needs to fully cool in the oven with the door slightly propped open so that the filling can properly set. I topped the pie with some freshly whipped cream and grated nutmeg.
The combination of the honey and brown butter caramel and the quantities of warm spices means that you end up with a filling that is so much richer not only in flavour but in colour as well. I was so pleasantly surprised to pull the pie out of the oven to see this deeply golden, almost amber brown instead of the brighter orange colour you’re used to seeing for a pumpkin pie. There was also so much more depth of flavour—not straight up “pumpkin” or “sweet” but something that definitely still read as fall vibes while also being nuttier, slightly caramel-y, and perfectly balanced. The custard was so smooth and rich in the best way.
Back to that pie crust: I think I definitely took it a tad too far in the parbake. While I did avoid the soggy bottom (yay) I did find it a bit tough to cut through. There’s crispy, and then there’s just straight-up rock solid. I do think, though, that less time in the oven would have absolutely meant soggy pie, so I don’t know which is worse. It’s a difficult balance to achieve and I haven’t quite mastered it yet.
It’s no surprise that this is one of the best pumpkin pies I’ve had. It wouldn’t be the first thing I go to grab (especially after last week’s epic Apple Tart), but if I had to choose between this and other pumpkin pie recipes, I’d choose this one every time. After trying a slice, I put the rest in the freezer because something about passing around pieces of pumpkin pie to friends and family in June felt bizarre to me, so I’m hoping it will hold up well for Thanksgiving. Will report back. I give this bake 4 stars!
Next week, we’ll be making the Apple and Concord Grape Crumble Pie. See you then!