Too many pumpkin pies have soggy crusts that never fully brown. To avoid this, recipes often call for blind baking your crust. That is, baking the empty crust before the filling is added. This gives the crust time to firm up and brown, time it typically doesn’t get if the faster cooking filling is added first.
But now we have a better way! Get out that baking steel or stone you use for pizza.
Baking a filled pie on a stone or steel not only guarantees a golden crust, it also speeds up baking.
It’s a technique we first tried in the crust for our Deep-Dish Quiche, where the heat from the steel (or stone) browned the bottom of the crust without requiring any pre-baking. We wondered if they same approach would work for our favorite Thanksgiving pie.
We tested three varieties of pie crust: Frozen pre-formed pie crust baked in a disposable foil pan; unrolled refrigerator crust baked in a basic metal 9-inch pan; and homemade pie crust (the same recipe for our Deep-Dish Quiche) baked in both a disposable foil pan and in a basic metal 9-inch pan.
And for each variation, we baked two identical pies, one on a baking steel (or stone) and one straight on the oven rack.
Compared to pies baked directly on the rack, all of the pies baked on the steel (or stone) came out with sturdier crusts and nice browning on the bottom. The pies baked on the steel also finished—the crust was browned and the custard was set—an average of 15 minutes faster than those baked on the rack.
This works because the steel (or stone) conducts heat more efficiently to the pan than the air and rack. It is important to remember that the steel (or stone) must be properly heated before adding the pie, usually at a higher temperature than what the recipe calls for. Also, don’t use glass or porcelain cooking pans.
The one thing blind baking does better is sealing the crust before the wet custard filling is added. This helps prevent the custard from soaking into the crust before it sets during baking. But we found this was offset by the better browning and time savings. So whether you’re making your own crust or using store-bought, a steel (or stone) will guarantee speedier, golden results. Now, as for making sure the filling isn’t cloyingly sweet... (We’ve got a plan for that, too.)