Pumpkin pies are trickier than they deserve to be. You’ve got a to keep an eagle’s eye on them as they cook.  A few too many minutes in the oven, and you’re chancing custard cracks.  They don’t show up right away either; it’s not until after you’ve let the pie cool for a bit on your counter that they make their ignoble appearance.  One minute, you’re looking at a shiny, smooth, buttery tan surface.  The next thing you know, it’s face of a geriatric bloodhound.

This pie was for national television, so room for error was zero.   It needed to not only look pretty – like “prop pie on a stove at an appliance store” pretty.  But at the same time, Wayne Brady and Jonathan Mangum were going to eat it on camera in front of 200 audience members.  So it needed to be the richest, most fragrant custard ever whipped up.  My reputation was at stake.

I decided to recruit my sister, Jodi, a baking master from whom I’ve learned much.  She introduced me to pie crust stencils.  Have you ever seen a pie dotted across the surface with adorable little elm tree leaves and thought to yourself, “A delightful, holiday touch!”  Well, good!  That’s what you’re supposed to think.

Custard pies are likely to crack at least a little bit.  You should not take it personally.  But you need to be prepared.  Leaf stencils can save the day!  You can buy them at any kitchenware store, and also at most larger art supply stores.  Or you can also just go into the yard, grab a leaf, set it on top the dough, and cut around it.

The browned butter in this recipe gives the pie a gentle hint of butterscotch that I think is perfect for autumn, for the Thanksgiving table, or when you need to make a good impression at the television show where you work.

Pop your leaves in separately, on a slightly greased, room temperature pan, at the same oven temperature you used for the pie.  Pull them out when they begin to puff in the middle and brown around the edges.  Baking time varies based on how big you’ve cut them and how many you have, so it’s best to just babysit them.  They don’t take long.

This pie recipe, and the segment from the “Let’s Make a Deal” Thanksgiving episode where it appeared, follows after the jump below.  I thought it all went quite well!  

Oh yeah, you get to see me too (until Youtube takes it down)!  Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Brown Butter Pumpkin Pie from Four and Twenty Blackbirds

  • 6 Tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons water
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 2/3 cups pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • a pinch of ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon molasses
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2/3 cup whole milk
  • 1/3 cup carrot juice

FOR THE CRUST: Pre-made 9-inch crust, or make an All-Butter Crust (partially pre-baked) from Four and Twenty Blackbirds.

EQUIPMENT: Heavy-Bottomed Skillet, Candy Thermometer (you can get around this one), Food Processor or Immersion Blender, Fine Mesh Sieve.

In a heavy-bottomed skillet, melt the butter over medium-low heat. The butter will begin to foam and turn golden brown, then nut brown. Whisk occasionally. When the butter is nut brown, immediately add the brown sugar, whisk and then carefully add the water to loosen. Bring this mixture to a boil and continue simmering until a candy thermometer reads 225°F. If you don’t have a candy thermometer, cook until the mixture is carmelized and stars to darken.

Remove the butter and sugar mixture from the heat and slowly add the heavy cream. The mixture should bubble rapidly. Allow to cool for at least 10 minutes. Add in the vanilla extract.

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350°F. Place the pre-baked pie shell on a rimmed baking sheet. In a separate bowl, lightly whisk the eggs and yolks together with the salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment, or in a large bowl using an immersion blender, blend the pumpkin puree with the allspice, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, molasses and the lemon juice until smooth.  With the machine running on low, stream the brown-butter butterscotch through the food processor’s feed tube and process until combined.  Stream in the egg mixture, followed by the milk and carrot juice; blend until smooth, stopping once or twice to scrape down the sides with a rubber scraper.

Strain the filling through a fine-mesh sieve into a separate bowl, pressing through with a rubber scraper.  Pour into the pre-baked pie shell.  Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 45 to 55 minutes, rotating 180 degrees when the edges start to set, 30 to 35 minutes through baking.  The pie is finished when the edges are set and puffed slightly and the center is no longer liquid but still quite wobbly. Don’t cook beyond this stage or the custard may separate.

Allow the pie to cool on a wire rack for 2-3 hours before serving.