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Want to make the best pumpkin pie ever? Skip the recipe on the can

Addie Broyles
Rose Levy Beranbaum's pumpkin pie has a thin layer of pecans and gingersnaps on the bottom of the crust. [Contributed by Matthew Septimus]

As we learned in our Facebook livestream taste test last week, not all pumpkin pies are created equal.

We tasted six store-bought pies and one homemade pie to see if there was a noticeable difference in this most humble of traditional Thanksgiving desserts. It turns out that Randalls, Sprouts and Central Market make pumpkin pies that clearly stand out from those sold at H-E-B, Whole Foods and Wheatsville, and almost all of them were better than the pie that you'll get if you use the recipe off the back of a can of Libby's pureed pumpkin.

The problem with the Libby's recipe is not enough cinnamon and other spices. That classic recipe only calls for 1 3/4 teaspoon of spices in all, which made for a bland pie, especially when compared to the store-bought options. This recipe from Rose Levy Beranbaum has more than twice the amount of spices, specifically cinnamon and ginger. If you know you'll miss the taste of allspice and/or nutmeg, swap out some of the cinnamon or ginger for those spices, but try to keep the overall quantity of spices around 4 teaspoons.

The Libby's recipe calls for 2 eggs, compared to Beranbaum's 3 eggs, which is one reason why the Libby's pie didn't set as firmly as some of our tasters would have liked. With this recipe, you can also skip the can of evaporated milk and use milk and cream instead. Some pumpkin pie lovers might not want any vanilla extract in their filling, but it's a small quantity that brings together the pecans and gingersnaps that Beranbaum uses in the bottom of the crust to help prevent the crust from getting soggy. Her technique of using a baking stone (or baking sheet or upside-down cast-iron skillet) will also help cook the bottom of the pie without having to par-bake the crust.

To watch our pumpkin pie taste test, go to

Pumpkin Pie

This pie has an unusually silky texture and mellow flavor. The crisp bottom crust results from pressing in a fine layer of gingersnaps and ground pecans, which absorbs any excess liquid from the filling, and from baking the pie on a baking stone. You'll need a 9-inch standard pie plate, a baking stone or cookie sheet and a foil ring to protect the edges of the crust.

— Rose Levy Beranbaum

For the crust:

1 recipe dough for a 9-inch pie shell

4 (2-inch) gingersnaps

1/4 cup pecan halves

For the pumpkin filling:

3 large eggs

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2/3 cup milk

2/3 cup heavy cream

1 (14-ounce) can unsweetened pumpkin, preferably Libby’s

3/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar, preferably light muscovado

2 teaspoons ground ginger

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

Roll and cut the dough 12 to 13 inches in diameter, or large enough to line the bottom of the pie plate and extend 3/4 inch past the edge of the rim. Fit the dough into the pie plate. If necessary, trim the edge of the dough. Fold the dough under so that it is flush with the outer edge of the pie plate. Make a small decorative border. Cover the dough-lined pie plate with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature so that the dough is soft enough to be able to press in the cookie and nut crumbs.

Into a food processor, break the cookies into a few pieces. Add the pecans and process until finely ground. Sprinkle them over the bottom of the pie crust and, using your fingers and the back of a spoon, press them into the dough to coat the entire bottom, going about 1/2 inch up the sides. Refrigerate, lightly covered with plastic wrap, while you make the filling.

Put the eggs in a 1-cup measure with a spout, lightly whisk in the vanilla and cover with plastic wrap. Place the milk and cream in a 2-cup measure with a spout. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

Forty-five minutes or longer before baking, set an oven rack at the lowest level and place the baking stone or cookie sheet on it. Set the oven at 375 degrees.

In a small heavy saucepan, stir together the pumpkin, sugar, spices and salt. Over medium heat, bring the mixture to a sputtering simmer, stirring constantly. Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring constantly, for 3 to 5 minutes, until thick and shiny.

Scrape the mixture into a food processor and process for 1 minute. With the motor on, add the milk and cream, processing until incorporated. Scrape the sides of the work bowl. With the motor on, add the egg mixture in 3 parts, processing just to incorporate for about 5 seconds after each addition.

Pour the mixture into the pie shell. With a small offset spatula, smooth the surface to make it even. Refrigerate for 30 minutes to set the border.

Set the pie on the baking stone and bake for 30 minutes. For even baking, rotate the pie halfway around and cover with a foil ring to protect the edges. Continue baking for 20 to 30 minutes, or just until a knife inserted between the sides and center comes out almost clean. The filling will have puffed and the surface dulled except for the center. It will shake like jelly when moved. (This will happen before it has finished baking, so it cannot be used as a firm indication of doneness; but if it is too loose in consistency, you can be sure that it is not baked adequately.)

Set the pie on a wire rack and cool for at least 1 hour before cutting. Serve at room temperature. Store in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. Remove to room temperature 30 minutes to 1 hour before serving. Serves 6 to 8.

— From "Rose's Baking Basics: 100 Essential Recipes, With More Than 600 Step-by-Step Photos" by Rose Levy Beranbaum (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $35)

Cream Cheese Pie Crust

This is my favorite pie crust for many reasons. It is the most flavorful and the most tender but sturdy enough to transfer to a pie plate or tart pan, or to make lattice strips that don't break. It is also wonderfully flaky. The food processor is the easiest way to mix the dough because it is faster, the dough gets handled less and it stays more chilled, but if you work quickly, the hand method will produce a crust that will be slightly flakier. With both methods, be sure to keep the ingredients very cold to maintain flakiness. If you have any extra dough, you can bake decorative cutouts of leaves or cut out shapes with a cookie cutter. Bake the cutouts on a parchment-lined cookie sheet in a 375-degree oven for about 10 minutes or until lightly brown. Transfer the cutouts to a wire rack and cool completely before placing on the pie. You can use these to cover up any cracks that form in the pie filling while baking.

Rose Levy Beranbaum

6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, cold

1 1/4 cups (lightly spooned into the cup and leveled off) pastry flour or bleached all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

1/8 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 cup full-fat cream cheese, cold

1 1/2 tablespoons heavy cream, cold

1 1/2 teaspoons cider vinegar, cold

Cut the butter into 1/2-inch cubes. Wrap it in plastic wrap and freeze for at least 30 minutes, until frozen solid. Into a gallon-size resealable freezer bag, place the flour, salt and baking powder. Freeze for at least 30 minutes.

Empty the flour mixture into the food processor. Set the bag aside. Cut the cream cheese into 3 or 4 pieces and add it to the flour. Process for about 20 seconds, or until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the frozen butter cubes and pulse until none of the butter is larger than the size of a pea. Toss with a fork to see it better. Remove the cover and evenly pour on the cream and vinegar. Pulse until most of the butter is the size of small peas. The mixture will be in particles and will not hold together unless pinched. Spoon the mixture into the freezer bag, but leave it open.

Use the heel of your hand and your knuckles to knead and press the mixture from the outside of the bag, alternating sides, until most of it holds together in one piece. Empty the dough onto a large sheet of plastic wrap. Use the plastic wrap to finish kneading the dough just until it feels slightly stretchy when pulled. Use your hands and the plastic wrap to shape the dough into a rough disc. Use a rolling pin to flatten it and your hands to press in the edges, which tend to crack, to make them smooth. There should be thin flakes of butter throughout the dough. If there are any large pieces of butter, spared them using the heel of your hand.

Flatten the dough into a 6- or 7-inch disc, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 45 minutes or up to 2 days.

The ideal temperature for rolling dough is 60 degrees, which is the temperature of a very cold air-conditioned room, so remove the dough from the fridge and prepare your countertop and rolling pin.

To prevent the dough from sticking to the surface or the rolling pin, you can use a pastry mat or two large sheets of plastic wrap, or a pastry cloth rubbed with flour. If using plastic wrap, 2 or 3 times during rolling, flip the dough over, lift off the plastic wrap to prevent it from creasing into the dough and dust the dough lightly with flour if needed. I like to use Wondra flour for dusting, as its particles work like tiny ball bearings. You can use a nonstick rolling pin or a wooden rolling pin dusted with flour or with a knitted pastry sleeve slipped onto the rolling pin and rubbed with flour. At this temperature, the dough is malleable enough to roll without cracking but cool enough to keep the butter from softening.

For a standard 9-inch pie plate, cut a 12- or 13-inch-diameter disc of dough for the bottom crust. Fold the dough in half and transfer to the pie plate. Avoid stretching the dough or it will shrink back on baking. For a rustic crust, simply press the dough down with your fingers. Or crimp the dough with your fingers, pressing the dough between your thumb and index finger of one hand into the tip of the index finger of your other hand to create a fluted edge. If the dough softens, either refrigerate it until firm or dip your fingers in flour.

I like to make a checkerboard design for the border. Use a small sharp knife to make 3/4-inch slashes evenly around the border. Then gently turn in every other dough flap. The flaps will pop up a little to form a ruffled effect. Alternatively, for a more distinct checkerboard effect, press in every other dough flap so that they touch the surface of the pie.

— From "Rose's Baking Basics: 100 Essential Recipes, With More Than 600 Step-by-Step Photos" by Rose Levy Beranbaum (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $35)