In our continued search for the best pie to serve this Thanksgiving, I tested three different recipes from respected sources. For consistency and fairness, I used Libby's canned pumpkin and the same crust for each one. Two of the three recipes call for cooking the crust a little to avoid a soggy bottom crust - I did this for all three. Only one of the recipes provides a recipe for the crust.
Pie 1 came from the label on a can of Libby's pumpkin. It has few ingredients, but makes a great predictable pie. It is well spiced with a combination of cinnamon, ginger and cloves, and is recognizable, as one taster said, "This is the pumpkin pie I've been eating all my life." And he's right, it is. The only thing I changed was to cook the crust for 10 minutes with foil and pie weights and then remove this and cook another 5 to 10 minutes at 400 degrees F., and this is an adjustment I would recommend. I think we are so used to a soggy bottom crust on pumpkin pie, we don't even notice it. Even the pie on the label of Libby's has what appears to be a soggy bottom crust. But make one with a flaky crust and you can really tell the difference.
Pie 2 is America's Test Kitchen pumpkin and sweet potato pie. It uses heavy cream and whole milk in place of the typical evaporated milk and a combination of maple syrup, sugar and candied yams for sweetness. It uses slight amounts of cinnamon and nutmeg, but 2 tsps of grated fresh ginger for the spices. It also uses 3 large eggs plus 2 egg yolks. Lots of calories here, but we don't care - we're going for taste. The filling for this pie has 12 ingredients and cooks for 15 to 22 minutes on the stove top while the sous chef (The Hub) stirred constantly. It started as mild grumbling, but by the time the 22 minutes were over, he was so over this pie declaring he didn't care what it tasted like, it was too much work and went off to ice his shoulder.
Pie 3 is a pumpkin pie from Paula Deen and the Food Network. Paula uses cream cheese, half and half and butter for dairy. She cuts way back on the spices using only 1/2 tsp cinnamon and an optional 1/4 tsp ginger; she also adds some vanilla. I use pumpkin every single day so it wasn't a problem for me, but Paula calls for 2 cups of canned pumpkin, and a regular 15 oz can contains 1 3/4 cups. In order to follow the recipe exactly you have to open two cans of pumpkin and only use 1/4 cup from can two; I think the average cook would find this annoying.
How the testing worked: Four groups of four people each were given a plate with a small slice of each pie marked 1,2 and 3 and asked to rank them in order of taste. There was a group Sunday night, morning and afternoon on Monday and Tuesday morning. Talking was discouraged until the voting was done. The groups were kept deliberately small. The guy in the back of the picture with the TV, did not get pie.
On Sunday night: Libby 5 points, ATK 11 points, Paula 8 points
On Monday am: Libby 8 points, ATK 11 points, Paula 5 points
On Monday pm: Libby 9 points, ATK 7 points, Paula 8 points
On Tuesday am: Libby 12 points, ATK 4 points, Paula 8 points
For totals of Libby 34 points, America's Test Kitchen 33 points, Paula 29 points
An interesting point is that the Sunday night and Tuesday morning results were almost exactly the opposite for the Libby pie and the ATK pie and I think the spices were responsible. By Monday pm, tasters were commenting on the ATK pie, asking if that was lemon or orange peel or what exactly was the overpowering taste. So if you choose to make the ATK pie, you should probably serve it within 24 hours. While the Libby pie seem to get better with age and would benefit from being made in advance and stored in the frig. The Paula Deen pie has a cheesecake lean with its cream cheese. Tasters didn't vary over time with their ratings consistently giving it a two or three.