JWU Recipes: Foolproof Pumpkin Pie

Before she was old enough to apply to Johnson & Wales for college — or even get a bakery job at her local small-town Pennsylvania supermarket — Alexandria Milano '21 was learning to make the perfect buttercream under the critical eyes of a professional. The deal was simple: In the evenings between juggling her high school homework and part-time job at the market, Alex would bring unfrosted cakes to the home of a woman who worked in the store’s bakery. Frosting, piping bags and tips, and an offset spatula spread across the kitchen table, she’d learn how to decorate cakes. “When I was done, she’d run a business card around the side, and if it got frosting on it at all, I’d have to do it again,” Alex remembers. “That trained me for JWU.”

Alex says she choose JWU because it offered a world-class culinary school, wrapped in a more traditional college experience. She majored in Baking & Pastry Arts, where she mastered cake decoration, practiced sugar art, and, of course, learned how to make a great pie. Now, one semester away from graduation, she says, “I can’t see myself going anywhere else.”

Alex Milano portrait with cakeA big part of a Johnson & Wales education is putting your education to work. Alex is now interning at a local vegan bakery, Celebrated, where she is expanding her knowledge of food chemistry, recipe development, and even food styling for professional photoshoots. Looking back on all she’s accomplished over the past four years, Alex says, “I’m happy with my portfolio. I’m proud of what I’ve done, and it’s worth all the hard work.” She plans on applying to graduate school and pursuing a master’s in teaching with a concentration in culinary arts education. Her strong desire to learn has now turned into a desire to teach.

Here, she shares a classic recipe for pumpkin pie that relies on techniques she learned in class at JWU. The all-butter crust is rich but manages to share the spotlight with the velvety smooth, classic filling. Some pumpkin pies are gummy or all fluff; this one is not. Plus, its subtle sweetness allows the warm spices to shine.

Once you master the pie crust, Alex suggests trying it with other fillings. She likes apple, where she has learned that a mixture of green and red varieties balance the pectin and set the filling.

Foolproof Pumpkin Pie

Makes: 1 (8-inch) pie

Don’t let pie dough scraps go to waste — use them to decorate your pie. Cut them into fun shapes, brush with an egg wash mixture (1 egg, 1 tablespoon milk, and a pinch of sugar), and bake for 10 minutes at 350 degrees.

For the pie crust:
2¾ cups pastry flour (340 grams)
2 tablespoons sugar (28 grams)
½ tablespoon salt (7 grams)
1 cup butter, cut into cubes and chilled (227 grams)
About ½ cup water, ice cold (113 grams, or as needed)

For the pumpkin filling:
½ cup milk (4 ounces)
½ cup heavy cream (4 ounces)
⅔ cup light brown sugar (5 ounces)
⅓ cup light corn syrup (2 ounces)
2 eggs
1½ cup canned pure pumpkin puree
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
Pinch of ground ginger
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Whipped topping, if desired

  1. For the pie crust, whisk together flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl.
  2. Using your hands or a pastry blender, cut the butter into the flour until dough begins to clump together and form a sandy texture.
  3. Add a splash of cold water to dough, and mix until it just begins to stick together. Add remaining water, a few tablespoons at a time, until it just begins to form a cohesive dough; do not overwork.
  4. Cut into two even rounds. Use immediately, or wrap loosely in plastic and refrigerate. (If refrigerated, let dough sit on counter for 20 minutes before using.)
  5. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Roll out dough into a 12-inch round on a lightly floured surface; fit into an 8-inch pie pan and trim edges.
  6. For the pumpkin filling, combine all 9 ingredients in a medium bowl and mix with an immersion blender; pour into prepared pie shell and place on a sheet pan.
  7. Bake at 425 degrees in the middle of the oven for 15 minutes; lower oven temperature and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until center of filling is set. Cool for at least an hour, and serve with whipped topping, if desired.

pumpkin pie with whipped cream

Three Pro Tips for a Perfect Pie

  1. Cold ingredients make a difference. Using chilled butter and ice water will keep the butter from melting when mixed, ensuring a flaky crust.
  2. Blend, don’t hand mix, the filling. Using an immersion blender for the filling not only makes zippy work of mixing but, more important, it prevents the top from cracking. Alex discovered this tip one day when she couldn’t find her whisk.
  3. Learn the basics, then make it your own. While there are hard-and-fast rules you can’t break (see tip on cold butter above), you can — and should — experiment in the kitchen. Alex suggests taking out a bit of flour from the dough recipe and substituting cocoa powder for a chocolate-flavored crust. You can also vary the spices in the filling and use different extracts to change up the flavor.

collage of advice for pies

Must-Have Pie Gadget

When asked what piece of pie-making equipment she can’t live without, Alex’s answer was surprising: pie crust cutters. “They are the best investment,” she said. To use, simply place the cutter over scrap dough, press the spring, and voila — instant bakery-level decoration! Find similar sets at local crafts stores, online retailers, and specialty culinary stores.

Pie dough shapes on sheet pan

Want to Learn More?

If you’re thinking about taking your interest in the culinary arts to the next level, find out more today about JWU’s world-renowned culinary programs.