How to keep pumpkin pie from cracking: timing is everything

Isn’t it irritating when you’re having a baking problem and, for the life of you, can’t figure out what’s happening? Sunken yeast bread, dull-crusted brownies, cookies that spread into a puddle… sigh. At this time of year, if you’re like many of the bakers who call our Baker’s Hotline, how to keep pumpkin pie from cracking is probably right up there near the top of your “GRRRRR” list.

Thankfully, a pristine pumpkin pie, its top smooth as a secluded pond at daybreak, is well within your reach. Farewell, Grand Canyon-like fissures in the pie’s center — or that slash at the edge, a solitary afterthought appearing as the pie cools.

The answer to your cracked pumpkin pie? Timing. Pulling your pie out of the oven within its optimum baking window — fully baked, but not overbaked — will prevent any cracks, and leave you smiling a Cheshire-cat grin of satisfaction.

How do you know when your pumpkin pie is perfectly baked?

You’ll need a trusted recipe, an accurate oven thermometer, and experience.

How to keep pumpkin pie from cracking via @kingarthurflour

This pie was just starting to crack around the edges when I took it out of the oven.

First of all, why does pumpkin pie crack? Because it’s been baked too long. The eggs are what thickens the filling; as they heat up, they coagulate and turn what started out as thick liquid into a creamy, semi-solid filling.

Eggs start to coagulate (turn solid) at 160°F (which is how they thicken the filling); but the longer they cook, the more they tighten up. Those cracks you see in your pie are the result of overcooked eggs, eggs that have tightened up so much, in an uneven way, that they’ve created fissures in the filling. Usually you’ll notice cracks around the edge of the pie first, which makes sense; the edges cook more quickly than the interior.

Sometimes you peer into the oven and see that your pie has already cracked. But sometimes you take a beautiful pie out of the oven only to see it crack as it cools. What’s going on? The eggs continue to cook thanks to the filling’s residual heat, and can still “crack” your pumpkin pie — even though it’s no longer in the oven.

There are several precautionary measures you can take to keep pumpkin pie from cracking, all related to not overcooking the filling.

How do you keep pumpkin pie from cracking? Take it out of the oven before you think it's done. Click To Tweet

1. Use a quality recipe

First, and this is a simple one, find a good pumpkin pie recipe and follow it. Experienced recipe developers make a recipe over and over again before putting it out there in public; if your recipe says your pie will be done after 45 minutes, take it out — even though you think it looks underdone.

=How to keep pumpkin pie from cracking via @kingarthurflour

2. Bake at the correct temperature

Make sure your oven is accurate and fully preheated. The best recipe in the world won’t work well if your oven is 50° cooler than it should be. Most ovens tell you they’re fully preheated well before they actually are, so get yourself an independent oven thermometer (or two, just to be sure), and use it.

How to keep pumpkin pie from cracking via @kingarthurflour

3. Bake on a lower oven rack

You want a fully browned bottom crust, right? Yet you don’t want your filling to overcook. Placing your pies toward the bottom of the oven close to the floor, rather than in the center or up top, will help accomplish both of those goals.

How to keep pumpkin pie from cracking via @kingarthurflour

4. Use a thermometer to gauge doneness — but only at first

Until you’re a seasoned enough pumpkin-pie baker that you can gauge doneness by sight, it helps to use a digital thermometer. Your goal is pie whose center temperature is at least 160°F. This one’s a bit overbaked, though not enough to make it crack; I usually shoot for 170°F in the center.

The one problem with using a thermometer is that while you potentially prevent unsightly cracks in the pie’s surface, you end up with equally unsightly holes or divots. And those holes can actually encourage cracking. So I advise using a thermometer only until you’ve nailed what a perfectly baked pie looks like.

In the meantime, while you’re still in thermometer/learning mode, a strategically placed dollop of whipped cream works wonders on both holes and cracks.

How to keep pumpkin pie from cracking via @kingarthurflour

See the slightly domed edges, and the slightly sunken center area within? Despite the center appearing soft, this pie is fully baked.

5. Know what perfectly baked pumpkin pie looks like

The easiest and best way to ensure pumpkin pie success is to recognize when your pie is fully baked (but not overbaked) by sight; that’s where experience comes in.

Remember, your pumpkin pie will continue to bake once it’s out of the oven, so you have to take it out before it looks done.

The fully baked pumpkin pie will look slightly domed and solid around the edges; and a bit sunken and soft in the center: not sloshing like liquid, but jiggling like Jell-O. And I don’t mean just a nickel-sized area in the very center; I mean a good 4″ center ring of what looks like not-quite-baked filling. Note: If you’re baking in a stoneware/ceramic pan, which holds the heat long after the pie’s out of the oven, the center ring can be slightly larger.  

Trust me, at first you’re going to have to force yourself, kicking and screaming, to take that pumpkin pie out of the oven when its center isn’t set. Just do it; put it on the counter and walk away. Once it’s fully cooled (and that takes several hours at least), the edges will have settled and the center will look firm.

How to keep pumpkin pie from cracking via @kingarthurflour

OK, it’s time for dessert; your guests eagerly await your beautiful pumpkin pie. Bring it to the table amid oohs and ahs. Cut a slice; you’ll see a wonderfully creamy interior. Pass the plates. Take a bite: the filling is firm, but still moist as can be. Pumpkin pie perfection!

And the whipped cream? It’s strictly a garnish, not crack camouflage.

Now go forth and bake a picture-perfect pumpkin pie!

OK, since I’ve told you my pumpkin pie secrets how about you revealing yours? Is there some special ingredient or technique that makes your pumpkin pie special? Please share in comments, below.

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!

comments

  1. Marjie

    I know this is an older post, but I’m glad I found it.

    I’m adjusting my pull temperature to 170 F. I was pulling the pie from the oven at 175. I still got the occasional crack, but I thought perhaps it’s because I use glass pie pans. I’m thinking glass or ceramic (even with a 25 degree oven temp adjustment) might continue to cook your pie longer than a metal pan once removed from the oven.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      We think you’re completely right, Marjie. We’ve recently heard from one of our test kitchen bakers that if you add a small about (1/2 teaspoon) of olive oil to your pumpkin pie filling, it also can help prevent cracking. It keeps the proteins from binding tightly and cracking during the end of the bake time. It’s worth giving it a try the next time you bake pumpkin pie! Kye@KAF

  2. Dee diSomma

    This year, I read several new recipes, for pie crust, and for apple pie, and I read several blog-posts from the ThermoWorks blog. I learned some very useful things:
    1) Both new pie crust recipes called for pre-baking the crusts blind, but only to a pale golden color, and one of them had a novel set-up for blind baking: they use granulated sugar as the weight. You line the chilled crust with a 16” square of foil and fill it to the top (almost) with granulated sugar, which you use later in whatever recipe you want. Bake about 20 minutes, remove foil and sugar, and bake the crust another 10 minutes, until pale golden. The idea of using sugar as “pie weights” is brilliant! We all have sugar on hand and you just “borrow” it, since you can reuse it!
    2) On the ThermoWorks blog, they talked about the cracks in pumpkin pie and how to prevent cracks. Bottom line — pull the pie when the center is 170 degrees F. Pretty much the same advice you gave.

    I tried both methods and they work. And this year’s pies were silky smooth. We think they were the smoothest pies we’ve ever made. As for a good recipe, I use my family’s traditional recipe which goes back to the mid Nineteenth Century. It makes damned good pumpkin pies!!!

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Dee, thanks so much for sharing this Thermoworks information here. I read their post as well; it was highly informative. Glad it all worked out for you and your 19th-century recipe! PJH@KAF

  3. Charlene P. Augustyn

    I just wanted to share an experience I had with my pumpkin pies this Thanksgiving. I had a marathon baking day, before Thanksgiving, making my 4 apple pies first & then made my 2 pumpkin pies next. I did not realize the time & I had to leave, but my pumpkin pies were not done. My friend called & I was telling her my situation & she said that that had happened to her once, & she turned the oven off, did not open the door & left her house. When she returned, the pies were done, no cracks & the oven was still warm. I did as she recommended, was gone for one hour or so, & my pies were done, NO Cracks, & I was thrilled. I got to thinking, after reading all the comments, would it make sense to do this when you are baking the pies, at some point, to turn the oven off & let them slowly finish cookin/baking that way? I would be interested in your comments. Thanks

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Charlene, this is a technique that we sometimes use when baking cheesecakes. You’re right in thinking that the low and slow finish of the bake promotes a velvety texture and prevents over-baking. The risk with this technique is that you commit to turning the oven off at some point in the middle of the bake, and it’s not always clear when is the exact right time to do this. You can do your best to guess when the edges look like they’re starting to set (but the center is still soft), and turn the oven off. Hope for the best, and come back an hour later to see how it looks. This is a technique where practice certainly helps make it easier. Kye@KAF

  4. Deborah Hobbs

    I don’t care nearly as much about a cracking top as I do about the soggy bottom crust. I tried blind baking the crust one year and it was so stuck to the pie plate it was difficult to serve and it didn’t really taste as good. Also, my crust fell down from the sides of the dish while baking, no matter what I put into it. Any ideas about how to prevent the soggy crust? I am wondering if a baking stone in the oven will help this. Anyone ever tried that? My apple pies always come out with a crispy bottom crust. Is this just the nature of a custard pie?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Deborah, you can achieve a nicely browned bottom crust even when baking a custard pie. Check out the tips highlighted in this article on our blog for ideas about techniques you might want to try. Even though we use an apple pie in the post, the tips still will work to brown the bottom of a pumpkin pie, too. Baking on a baking stone is a great idea, especially if you have a metal pie pan. For tips about how to prevent the sides of your crust from slumping, take a look at this article about blind baking. Good luck! Kye@KAF

  5. Bev

    I solved the pumpkin pie crack this year by sculpting a maple leaf from the pie crust scraps and baking it on a scrap of aluminum in my convection toaster oven. When my pumpkin pie produced it’s usual center crack I just plopped my maple leaf patch over the center crack and Wa-la…no more crack.

    Reply

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