Here is the thing about pumpkin pie. Compared to its crust-bound kin, the difference between a serviceable version and a great one isn't that big. That pumpkin custard is pretty bulletproof, and tastes just fine with canned filling. Scared of pie dough? Honestly I don't think many people expect a pumpkin pie's crust to be that good; storebought or an easy gingersnap crust certainly does the trick.
But here is the other thing about pumpkin pie: a great one turns heads. You think you know what pumpkin tastes like until you roast one and make your own purée. You start asking: where's that bomb of familiar, bland spices to cover up canned pumpkin's equally bland, ruddy flavor?
That's the working theory behind our pumpkin pie recipes: better squash, better crust, and smarter flavoring. But which will you go for: the classic or the newfangled?
In our Classic Pumpkin Pie recipe, you can use canned pumpkin purée, but we really suggest you make your own (it freezes beautifully, so you can make it ahead). Then you add sweetened condensed milk for an incredible dairy creaminess, and a spice mix heavy on ground ginger to perk up the squash. It's lighter than your typical pumpkin pie but with deep squash and spice flavors.
This year, though, I'm taking a crack at something different: pumpkin pie, yes, but one that's even more smooth than the original. In her Extra Smooth Pumpkin Pie, Lauren Wieisenthal swaps out condensed milk for cream cheese, which brings less liquid to the custard (for a less soggy crust) and an even creamier texture. The cheese's subtle tanginess is a nice bonus. She also makes a baking choice I really respect: subbing out molasses-y brown sugar for the cleaner flavor of white. Doing so keeps the focus entirely on the squash for a pie that tastes more like pumpkin and less like an autumn cliché.
No matter which way you go, though, you're guaranteed a pumpkin pie that doesn't even need a scoop of ice cream on top.