Though you may long to mix things up with a Yelapa-Style Sweet Corn Pie, failing to serve pumpkin pie could lead to a (small) riot. The trick is to perk up the classics, without rendering them unrecognizable to less adventurous purists. This boozy, caramelized Pumpkin Tart does just that.
The tart, which was recently featured on Instagram as part of Milk Street Pie Week, is a more refined, complex, and grown-up take on the pumpkin pie. It’s lighter, fresher, and comes together in the food processor, making it downright breezy. Milk Street’s Rosie Gill does three things to amp up the flavor in this tart (and you should too).
Caramelize the pumpkin with brown sugar
To give the tart a deeper, darker sweetness and more intense pumpkin flavor, Rosie sautés a can of pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling) with dark brown sugar, to drive off excess moisture and caramelize everything.
Cloying, one-note sugar is transformed by heat. If you’ll allow me to get a little nerdy for a moment: Sucrose (the chemical name for table sugar) breaks down into fructose and sucrose, and water is driven off, leaving the two compounds to react with each other. From there, hundreds of new compounds form to create the complex, nutty-sweetness we associate with caramel, and your pumpkin tart filling is the better for it. It takes about 10 minutes, and all of two ingredients.
Swap spices for bourbon
This is a pumpkin tart, not a pumpkin spice tart. Rosie adds complexity by deglazing the pan with bourbon (or spiced rum, if you simply must have your cinnamon and nutmeg), making sure to scrape up all of those sugary browned bits. She then adds the bourbon to the pumpkin, infusing the filling with oaky notes of vanilla and a good bit of booze. The harsh bite of the alcohol mellows in the oven, for a filling that’s complex and deeply flavorful, but doesn’t overshadow the pumpkin.
Upgrade your dairy to crème fraîche
The standard pumpkin pie recipe—the one you often find on a can of pumpkin—is made with evaporated milk, which gives the filling body, but not a ton of flavor. Crème fraîche brings both. It’s luxuriously rich and thick, with a delightful lactic tang that canned milk can’t compete with. Add a few eggs, and you’ve got a stellar five-ingredient pumpkin pie filling, ready to be baked in Chris Kimball’s perfect Single-Crust Pie Dough.
Think outside the tart shell
Any filling that doesn’t make it into the tart shell can be baked off in ramekins, but there’s nothing stopping you from skipping the shell entirely and serving individual custards.
If you have leftover caramelized puree, great; it can be transformed into a spread. Mix it with with an equal amount of softened mascarpone or cream cheese in a blender or food processor (along with a pinch of salt), then spread it on a piece of buttered toast. It’s not exactly eating pie for breakfast, but it’s close.
For more Milk Street Pie Week content, check out the 12 Thanksgiving Pies That Will Upstage the Turkey; Watch Milk Street TV’s Rose Hattabaugh make a caramelized banana custard pie from Yelapa; Learn Chris’ rules for better apple pie; Make post-Thanksgiving hand pies with Stacey Mei Yan Fong; Feast your eyes on our gorgeous French Walnut Tart; And learn this game-changing tip for avoiding burnt pie crusts with Denise Marchessault.
Join the conversation on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Pinterest.
And if you're looking for more Milk Street, check out our livestream cooking classes with our favorite chefs, home cooks and friends for global recipes, cooking methods and more.