16 Celebrity Chef Tips For The Best Pumpkin Pie

Samuelsson, Child, and Ramsay
Samuelsson, Child, and Ramsay - Static Media / Shutterstock / Getty

When it comes to pumpkin pie, everyone has differing ideas about what makes one worthy of being called "the best." Some insist on whipped cream, while others prefer their pie unadorned. There are those who enjoy canned pumpkins, while some won't touch the dessert if it doesn't contain fresh pumpkins. The bakers of all these pumpkin pies have their own rules, too, and celebrity chefs are no exception. These pros have baked a lot of pies, and they have strong opinions about how to make one.

Because every chef's recipe is completely individual, how do you decide whose pumpkin pie tips to use — especially when some of them contradict each other? The answer is to first consider your own favorite pumpkin pie recipe and consider what could elevate it to be even better. If you particularly love the cooking style of one of these celebrity chefs, then take heed of what they have to suggest. One or more of these tips are exactly what you need to make your own best pie ever.

Read more: 30 Types Of Cake, Explained

Alton Brown: Roast Your Own Pumpkin

Baked pumpkin slices
Baked pumpkin slices - Zoranm/Getty Images

Alton Brown didn't become a James Beard Award winner by taking shortcuts, so it stands to reason that his tips for making pumpkin pie involve taking a bit more time. Brown's pumpkin pie bypasses the canned goods aisle in favor of the pumpkin patch. The "Good Eats" host roasts his own pumpkin and then purees it in the blender, where it can be stored in the refrigerator until pie-making day. The fresh pumpkin results in a pie that's season-perfect.

Brown's own pie recipe has a few more tweaks that make it different from the standard pumpkin pie, and there are various types of pumpkins you can use. So, if you want to switch up your dessert beyond making fresh-roasted pumpkin, try making a cookie-based pie crust with crushed gingersnaps, brown sugar, and butter. The gingery flavor adds a nice bite to contrast with your creamy pumpkin filling. The good news is that you can make the pie a few days ahead, so you won't have to perform all the labor on Thanksgiving Day.

Gordon Ramsay: Bake Your Top Crust Separately

Homemade pie crust
Homemade pie crust - Rjgrant/Getty Images

If you've ever tried to make a double-crust pie, you already know how tricky it can be. The top crust is often done before the filling is fully cooked, resulting in an overcooked top or an undercooked middle (sometimes both). At holiday time, folks who like to construct beautiful lattice tops or leaf-decorated crusts for their pumpkin pie have to worry about their baking artistry turning to cinders.

Gordon Ramsay's tip for avoiding burnt pie crust is quite a genius solution. The chef suggests baking your top crust separately from the pie on a baking sheet, then putting it on top of the pie after the pie is cooked. The beauty of this hack is that even if your pie crust burns, you can just make another one. Those who prefer elaborate top crusts for their pumpkin pie don't have to fear failure with this brilliant hack. For extra security, just go ahead and make two top crusts at once and use the one that's prettiest after baking.

Marcus Samuelsson: Season With Garam Masala

garam masala seasoning
garam masala seasoning - asmiphotoshop/Shutterstock

Born in Ethiopia, Swedish-American chef Marcus Samuelsson's cooking has always incorporated flavors from multiple cultures, creating a new cuisine out of old traditions. His pumpkin pie is inspired by the cuisine of India and uses seasonings that could upgrade any classic pumpkin recipe. His trick? Samuelsson uses garam masala to add flavor to his pumpkin, eschewing the classic American pumpkin pie spice in favor of one with a spicier bite (via The New York Times Cooking.

The Indian spice blend works so well with traditional pumpkin pie because it already shares some of the components of the typical recipe, namely cinnamon and cloves. Garam masala has more warm components to kick the flavor of the pumpkin into overdrive, such as black pepper, star anise, and cardamom. Garam masala blends differ from family to family (and chef to chef), but they all pack a heady, aromatic taste. For a more personalized pie, try a homemade garam masala recipe instead of buying it at the grocery.

Ina Garten: Blind Bake Your Crust

Unbaked pie crust
Unbaked pie crust - rom_olik/Shutterstock

Soggy crusts are one of the worst things that can happen to a pumpkin pie. No matter how perfect the filling, no one will remember it when it's supported by a wet, doughy bottom. Ina Garten has the solution, and she's built it into her personal recipe for pumpkin pie. The Barefoot Contessa starts off by blind-baking the bottom crust. That means she pops the dough into the oven for about 15 minutes for pre-baking.

Cooking the bottom crust before filling it with wet ingredients keeps the filling from seeping into the dough, which keeps it from cooking properly. Blind baking ensures a bottom crust that retains its crispness and is better able to support the pie. Ina suggests covering the dough with a piece of parchment before blind baking, then adding dried beans to weigh down the paper and keep the dough from puffing. (Bonus tip: you can use this hack for any pie with a custard-like filling.)

Giada De Laurentiis: Make It Creamy With Mascarpone

Pumpkin pie with whipped cream
Pumpkin pie with whipped cream - Dny59/Getty Images

Italian-American chef Giada De Laurentiis knows how to bring Italian flavor to the table, and she's even found a way to bring it to the Thanksgiving dessert table with her pumpkin pie. De Laurentiis's pumpkin pie recipe calls for both whipped cream cheese and mascarpone cheese in the pumpkin pie, making the already-creamy dessert even more decadent and rich (via Giadzy). The resulting pie has a texture that's almost as luxurious as a cheesecake but is still firmly in pumpkin pie territory.

Don't be afraid of using mascarpone in your pie. The soft Italian cheese is made from whole cream and tastes like a slightly sweeter version of cream cheese, so you won't be adding any weird flavors to your pumpkin pie. Because the rest of the ingredients are traditional, folks will be wondering what your secret is, and they probably won't guess that it's cheese. They'll simply exclaim over the silky texture and ask for a second slice.

Wolfgang Puck: Balance The Sweetness With Cranberries

Pumpkins, cranberries, and spices
Pumpkins, cranberries, and spices - Fotokris/Getty Images

Chef Wolfgang Puck's roots are in Austria, so pumpkin pie was new to him when he first came to the United States. As a lover of contrasts when it comes to food flavors, Puck didn't care for the unrelenting sweetness of the pie. Puck believed that pumpkin pie needed something to break the monotony of the flavor, and he found the solution in cranberries. The sharp, tart taste of cranberries is a perfect foil for the sweet, creamy pumpkin filling.

Per the Twin Cities Pioneer Press, Puck's own pumpkin pie recipe uses a homemade cranberry marmalade, which is spread on top of the bottom crust before adding the filling, giving the pie a layer of complexity. You can follow his recipe or add a commercial cranberry relish or marmalade to your own. If you're reluctant to switch up your pie too much, you could always serve cranberry marmalade on the side as a topping so guests can control their own level of sweetness.

Jamie Oliver: Swap The Pumpkin For Butternut Squash

Butternut squash in pile
Butternut squash in pile - Alicia G. Monedero/Shutterstock

You might argue that Jamie Oliver's pumpkin pie trick isn't a pumpkin pie tip at all — and you would be technically correct. Oliver likes to swap the pumpkin for butternut squash because it's easier for him to source in his native England, and it tastes just as delicious. Even if pumpkin is available in your area, you might also consider using butternut squash because it's a bit easier to work with and a little less unwieldy.

Most diners won't be able to tell the difference, though the butternut squash is often a prettier shade of orange than pumpkin (which can sometimes have a brownish tint after roasting). For extra flavor, Oliver likes to drizzle maple syrup over the squash before roasting, which adds a bit of additional sweetness and flavor to the resulting pie. He also suggests roasting the seeds along with the squash and using them to garnish the pie, which is a tip you could use with pumpkin, too.

Julia Child: Add Liquor For A Kick

Whiskey and cinnamon sticks
Whiskey and cinnamon sticks - Svittlana/Getty Images

No one cooked like Julia Child, and even after her passing, she remains one of the most beloved chefs in American history. Child's pumpkin pie recipe was one she credited to her Aunt Helen, and it stands out from other pumpkin pie recipes in several ways. Just for starters, Child's recipe includes beaten egg whites folded into the pumpkin filling, giving the whole pie a fluffy texture that's more akin to a chiffon pie.

The recipe also includes molasses, which helps impart a sweet smokiness, but there's another ingredient that home cooks can easily use in their own pie recipes to give a secret kick to the flavor: liquor. Child's Aunt Helen's pumpkin pie recipe uses three tablespoons of bourbon whiskey or dark rum added right into the pumpkin mixture. It's not enough alcohol to make the pie taste overly like liquor, but just enough to enhance the flavor with its warm, nutty taste. Keep the rest of the bottle on hand for folks to add to their after-dinner coffee.

Alex Guarnascheli: Use Sour Cream To Enhance Flavor

Pumpkin pie slices
Pumpkin pie slices - MariaKovaleva/Shutterstock

Supermarket Stakeout host and Iron Chef Alex Guarnaschelli loves to bring out the flavors in fresh, local ingredients. She's got an unusual way to add flavor to your holiday pumpkin pie this year. Chef Alex Guarnaschelli adds a full cup of sour cream to the pumpkin mixture before mixing. She says the tang from the sour cream helps illuminate the spices in the pie. Her recipe must be a good one because the chef reports making it all through the fall and not just for holidays.

Don't skimp on the sour cream, and try to resist using a low-fat variety. For the best flavor, use a whole cup of real, full-fat sour cream. (If you're trying to cut back on rich desserts, then make yourself a smaller slice.) Like Jamie Oliver, Chef Guarnaschelli thinks butternut squash is a perfectly good substitute for pumpkin in your pie, and she even suggests combining it with kabocha squash.

Rocco Di Spirito: Lighten It Up With A Phyllo Crust

Phyllo dough on floured table
Phyllo dough on floured table - Brebca/Getty Images

Chef Rocco DiSpirito is known for his fusion style of cooking, so it's no surprise that he has come up with an exciting new twist on the classic pumpkin pie. The star of "The Restaurant" uses sheets of phyllo dough to form the crust,giving the pie a lightly crisp and crunchy base. There's no need to wear yourself out making the dough, as frozen sheets of phyllo are available in almost any grocery. (Just allow time for them to thaw.)

DiSpirito notes that most of the fat and calories of pumpkin pie reside in the crust, so using phyllo is also a way to lighten up the whole pie without sacrificing flavor. The chef likes to make his pie even lighter with ingredients like Greek yogurt and stevia, but there's no reason you can't combine a phyllo crust with your favorite classic pumpkin pie recipe. You might try it with your other seasonal pies, too.

Andrew Zimmern: Make Individual Hand Pies

Golden brown hand pies
Golden brown hand pies - Veselovaelena/Getty Images

Chef Andrew Zimmern has always cared about the young people in his audience, with many of his books aimed directly at kids (such as "Andrew Zimmern's Field Guide to Exceptionally Weird, Wild, Wonderful Foods"). As such, Andrew Zimmern's pumpkin pie recipe should appeal not only to kids but to the kids inside of us all. He likes to make individual hand pies for Thanksgiving, so each guest has their own pie.

Hand pies are great for children because they don't have to sit still at the table with a fork and a plate and can take their dessert with them into the backyard. Adults like them just as much, and they're a blessing to the cook because they can easily be made ahead and frozen for baking later. They're also easy to wrap up and send home with guests as leftovers. No need to worry about the top getting stuck to the plastic wrap or foil, as the sticky parts are safely inside the crust.

Theo Michaels: Dust Your Tin With Cocoa Powder

Cocoa beans and powder
Cocoa beans and powder - Fcafotodigital/Getty Images

TV chef, cookbook author, and BBC "Masterchef" finalist Theo Michaels has a pretty nifty trick for taming the sweetness of pumpkin pie. While some people don't mind overly sweet desserts, balancing the sugariness with a bit of contrasting flavor makes for a more enjoyable dessert across the board. There's no need to go crazy — a simple and subtle addition can make all the difference. For Michaels, the necessary ingredient is cocoa powder.

After forming the crust for his pumpkin pie, Theo Michaels dusts the dough with a bit of cocoa powder before baking. The bitterness of the cocoa serves to cut the sweetness of the pie without adding a noticeable chocolate taste to the pumpkin filling. (Be sure and use unsweetened cocoa powder, or you'll have the opposite of the intended effect.) Michaels also adds a few grinds of black pepper to his pumpkin pie seasonings, bringing them into the realm of a spicy garam masala blend.

Buddy Valastro: Don't Forget The Salt

Fresh baked pumpkin pie
Fresh baked pumpkin pie - Drbouz/Getty Images

"Cake Boss" star Buddy Valastro knows a thing or two about baking, so he has some pretty strong opinions about how to make pumpkin pie. According to Valastro, the seasonings and spices are the most important part of the process. The six different spices he uses, and the amount he uses, are part of a secret he learned from his own father. The spices he includes are cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, mace, and allspice.

The most important ingredient in a pumpkin pie, per Buddy Valastro's recipe, is a seasoning and not a spice. The crucial ingredient is salt because it intensifies all of the other flavors. Salt is easy to forget when putting together your pumpkin pie spices because most people think of it as a savory ingredient, but its importance as a flavor enhancer should not be ignored. Just as you wouldn't leave out the sugar in your pumpkin pie, don't forget the salt, either.

Michael Symon: Sweeten With Maple Syrup

Bottle of maple syrup
Bottle of maple syrup - Maridav/Getty Images

Chef Michael Symon's pumpkin pie recipe might raise some eyebrows when you first hear about it, but keep an open mind because the Iron Chef knows what he is talking about. What's so controversial about his pie? Well, some folks balk at the fact that a recipe published in Symon's book, "Fix It With Food" contains no granulated sugar whatsoever. Don't worry, though. Symon's pumpkin pie is plenty sweet, and it has plenty of pumpkin flavor, to boot. In fact, the combination of ingredients celebrates the pumpkin instead of covering up its charms.

The secret is in the maple syrup, which imparts an autumnal flavor that's perfect for the season and adds plenty of sweetness, too. Symon's recipe uses half of a cup of maple syrup, along with full-fat coconut milk and spices, to make a delicious pie that suits the holiday. Use real maple syrup for the best flavor, as artificially flavored versions just don't have the same appeal.

Claire Saffitz: Brown Your Butter

Browned butter in a skillet
Browned butter in a skillet - Candice Bell/Getty Images

YouTube star, chef, and former Bon Appétit contributing editor Claire Saffitz revealed her pumpkin pie secrets in "Dessert Person," and while the recipe is mostly traditional, she elevates it in some notable ways. Most importantly, Saffitz makes the pie more special by using browned butter in her pumpkin filling. Beginning with unsalted butter, she browns the butter in a pan until it is golden before combining it with the honey she uses to sweeten the pumpkin pie.

Browned butter gives a deeper, nuttier flavor to the pie, but Saffitz says that warming the dairy also helps your filling to cook. With any dessert dish, browning the butter is a way to gain more flavor from regular butter, so it's a worthwhile step to elevate a dish, especially when you want things to be more special for the holiday table. Just be careful not to burn your butter!

Gale Gand: Zest A Tangerine For Added Aroma

Pumpkin pie slice
Pumpkin pie slice - Sysuikina Olga/Shutterstock

Acclaimed pastry chef Gale Gand knows that aromatics play a big part in our enjoyment of a dish, so her tangerine-scented pumpkin pie makes full use of our sense of smell. The pie is studded throughout with tangerine zest, and not just a little. Gand's sumptuous pumpkin pie uses the zest from four whole tangerines to flavor and scent the pie for an ultimate sensory experience.

The tangerine zest is a beautiful citrusy foil to the creamy pumpkin, brightening up the flavor considerably. A bonus is that the tangerine zest fills the whole house with a pleasant aroma while it's baking. No tangerines on hand? You can use orange zest instead to bring a similar flavor and scent to your next pumpkin pie. (You can use any leftover zest to scent your sugar in a sealed container. Use it later to serve with hot tea.)

Read the original article on Tasting Table.