As far as fall desserts go, pumpkin pie takes the cake: it's a simple Thanksgiving classic showcasing the season's star flavor. And if you've never baked one before, you might be surprised to discover that they're actually fairly easy to assemble. With a standard dough mixture (flour, butter, shortening, salt, and water) and filling ingredients pumpkin puree, eggs, sugar, spices, and milk) all you need to do is dump, roll, whisk, and bake — no slicing, dicing, or fancy lattice work required. Yet, such a simple pie comes with a surplus of recipes. In our quest to find the best for baking this Turkey Day, we decided to test two pro takes from The Barefoot Contessa and The Pioneer Woman. Ina Garten and Ree Drummond not only host two of The Food Networks' most popular cooking shows, but they're also our go-to authorities on specialty treats. So, we scouted out their respective recipes and got down to testing whose pie held the winning pumpkin slice.
Full disclosure: I've never baked a pumpkin pie. I've also never made crust from scratch — I typically live by Ina's, "store-bought is just fine" mantra. But because both Drummond and (in this case) Garten called for a make-your-own crust situation, I gave homemade pie crust a try. Assembling dough from scratch was not as troublesome as anticipated, even without the recommended pastry cutter or food processor; I used my hands and made out just fine. Both crusts called for standard ingredients: flour, butter, salt, shortening, and water. However, where Drummond's called for an egg addition and more shortening, Garten's instead incorporated a small amount of sugar. With dueling doughs complete, I moved on to the filling.
Both mixtures called for similar proportions of pumpkin puree, eggs, sugar, and spices (including cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger), yet had a few notable differences. Drummond's filling had a simpler total of eight ingredients, while Garten's had 12. Drummond's pie, in addition to the standards above, called for an entire can of sweetened condensed milk as well as ground cloves — Garten's recipe called for a mixture of whole milk and heavy cream, with orange zest and a splash of dark rum. Once the fillings were whisked, it was oven time. And although each recipe required an oven temp of 350°F and cook time of 55-65 minutes, Garten's crust included an extra blind-bake step (which took about 15 minutes). Once that was completed, I poured both pumpkin mixtures into their respective pie pan homes before popping them into the preheated oven and awaiting the final tasting showdown.
The finished products smelled fantastic and slid easily out of the pan when sliced to serve. On first glance, Garten's pie had more of a classic pumpkin color with thinner crust. Drummond's on the other hand, looked much denser with a darker, caramel-y color. The Barefoot Contessa's tasted just as it appeared, like a classic pumpkin pie — not overly sweet or spicy with a stronger pumpkin flavor atop a buttery and flakey crust. But it was The Pioneer Woman who took us by surprise on the taste front. Although Drummond's called for fewer ingredients than Garten's overall, and also opted out of blind-baking, her finished pie tasted more complex. The filling was flavorful: sweet and dense from the can of condensed milk and spicier from the ground cloves. The crust was cookie-like: doughier from not being pre-baked and with a shortbread flavor from amping up the shortening addition. Each bite was a wow.
So who won the bake-off? If you love a classic pumpkin pie that favors natural pumpkin flavor over more sweetness and spice, then Ina Garten is your girl. Her pie, although a delicious take, called for subtler ingredient and instruction additions — like dark rum and orange zest, and blind-baking — that might be lost on certain palates and baking beginners. But if you're someone who's looking for an easy and impressive recipe to whip up for this year's holiday feast, then The Pioneer Woman is your woman. At the end of the bake-off, Drummond's recipe called for fewer (ingredients and steps) and did a bit more on both flavor and texture fronts — plus a can of sweetened condensed milk and plenty of shortening can pretty much mask any major baking blunder.