Everyone loves a good pie. This can generally go without saying. After all, there are countless different kinds of pies that people all across the country, and even around the world, appreciate making.
There are pies for just about every occasion as well. Some people enjoy replacing a traditional birthday cake with a birthday pie. There are pies for the holidays, and then there are pies that are simply a good homemade meal at the end of the day.
One of the most common examples of a holiday pie is the pumpkin pie in the United States. Commonly, this pie is served around the Thanksgiving holiday season and sometimes even during the Christmas season as well.
Typically made with pumpkin, these pies can also be made with other variants of winter squash that produce a similar flavor.
When baking these pies, there are any number of issues that can occur, even when using a store-bought pumpkin pie filling. One of the most common problems that people tend to have with their pies is that the filling simply isn’t thick enough to enjoy the taste of it.
When working with store-bought filling, it can be hard to think about what one can do to make it better.
Thankfully, there are more than a few different ways that one can work on thickening a pie’s filling. In fact, because pies are such a popular dessert all around the world, there are actually quite a few solutions to thickening pie filling.
The main thing that you will need to figure out is which pie thickener is going to work best with pumpkin pie specifically.
However, before you can get to determining which pie thickener will work with your pumpkin pie, it will help you out tremendously to understand what pie thickeners are, what role they play, and what the difference is between the various types of thickeners.
What Are Pie Thickeners, and How Do They Work?
Pie thickeners is an umbrella term given to a number of different ingredients that are commonly used to help remedy runny pie filling, or pie fillings that do not meet one’s preference for thickness.
Typically, pie thickeners will fall under the family of flours and starches. The most common thickeners that people use are flour, cornstarch, and arrowroot.
It is important to keep in mind that, although these thickeners all produce the same effect of thickening a pie’s filling, they work in different manners. This means that you will want to use different thickeners depending on what the filling of your pie is if you want the best results to come out of it.
For instance, starches work in a particular manner compared to flour. When starch is heated up in the oven, alongside the other ingredients of a pie, it begins to swell up and absorb some water molecules.
Below a certain temperature, starch molecules have a rigid structure and they are hard to break; however, when they reach that certain temperature, the starch’s structure will begin to separate, creating a net of bonded starch and water.
This “net” will then prevent the movement of those water molecules. When the water molecules cannot move around as freely as they would like, they will end up moving much slower.
This slow-moving mixture will have a much thicker appearance and taste, and the sauce will also begin to become a little bit clearer as it turns from a mixture of starch and pie filling into a meshwork that is held together by the trapped water molecules in the starch.
Flours work in a similar manner, helping to thicken pie fillings, as do other variants of starch. However, because they all have different properties in them (as they are made from separate ingredients), different starches and flours will be more or less effective than others at thickening certain pie filling material.
The next step will be to determine which thickener you should be using and how much of it.
What to Do with Pumpkin Pie?
Pumpkin pies are a bit different than traditional fruit pies. After all, pumpkin puree never really becomes “clearer” when thickened, as most fruit pies do. Because of this, the way that you will go about thickening the pie will be slightly different.
You will generally want to include some degree of cornstarch in your recipe. Cornstarch offers the proper properties to thicken the pie enough and give it a firm texture so it doesn’t fall apart as you cut into it.
Cornstarch also works the best with the thick and heavy pumpkin puree that is commonly used in most pumpkin pies.
However, there are other things you can do with pumpkin pie to thicken it. Pumpkin pie is a very unique pie in the sense that it doesn’t really resemble traditional pies that you can find anywhere else.
With that in mind, it also has some unique solutions for giving it a firmer, less liquid texture.
Fixing Your Pumpkin Pie
One of the most common things that people will do to fix their pumpkin pies is add eggs. Pumpkin pie filling, whether it was canned or not, is much more akin to a custard than it is to any other pie filling.
Because of this, just as you would add more egg to thicken a custard properly, you will want to add more eggs to your pie to help it maintain its shape. More specifically, it is the egg yolk that helps with the shape the most, if you don’t want to waste any egg whites.
Using fresh or canned pumpkin also makes a massive difference. Fresh pumpkins contain far more liquid in them than the canned store-bought purees do.
If you are using fresh pumpkins and you try to make pumpkin pie the same way you would if you were using the canned puree, then you are not going to have a good time.
With fresh pumpkins, you are going to need to do a lot more straining than you would otherwise. You may even need to cook off some of the excess liquid that comes from a pumpkin, if yours is particularly juicy.
Doing both of these things before you bake the pumpkin into the pie will help it retain a firmer texture, although you still may need to help the pumpkin pie along to have it keep its firm shape.
No matter what, when you try these different methods, you can rest assured knowing that your holiday pie is going to turn out just right by the time you pull it out of an oven and prepare to serve it to your family.
Sarah is the founder of Baking Kneads, LLC, a blog sharing guides, tips, and recipes for those learning how to bake. Growing up as the daughter of a baker, she spent much of her childhood learning the basics in a local bakery.