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. Suzanne R.

    Thanks, PJ – always good to have the reminders, no matter how many pumpkin pies one has baked! Another way to be sure to have an extra-tasty pie: make the filling 24 hours before baking and refrigerate – something I learned from a past KAF posting – this step allows the spices to develop. And use the pie crust scraps to make some cinnamon & sugar-dusted decorative “cookies” – if the pie cracks, lay those cookies over the crack just so, and guests will think the pie is perfect. Happy Thanksgiving!

    Reply
  2. d darko

    dont really agree with this. i underbaked my pies the past 2 years to around 170 and the consistency was a bit watery. even the pic you show, the consistency looks a bit loose and liquidy. it should look more like imgur.com/a/TGpPY ; this has a silky, cloudy texture while urs will still be good, but taste almost like mousse.

    you really want to get to 185 internal. this is the proper temp and will yield the proper custardy, substantial texture but still retain that silky feel.

    if you really want to reduce cracking, you have to bake at a super low temp, probably around 285 or lower for a VERY long time, probably about 1 1/2+ hours. the reason cracks occur is cause the outside bakes faster than the inside and it puffs up and causes cracking. going lower and slower will help with cooking both the inside and outside at a more equal rate.

    Reply
    1. Rebecca

      I looked at that picture you are talking about. It appears that the pie is cracked in at least 2 places. I never worried about cracks, I have a different problem. I overbake the filling and then the entire “side” crust falls away from it. So, I am going to try this suggested method today and try to fix that problem. One thing at a time I guess.

  3. sandy

    PJ is absolutely spot on about telling when your pumpkin pie is done by how it looks. I used to use the “insert knife one inch from edge and if it comes out clean it is done” method. It worked but it also left me with a slit in my beautiful no crack pie. But as PJ says looks are everything when it comes to seeing if the pie is done. A raised, slightly puffy, ring around the outside and a sunken soft looking center to me means a perfectly baked pumpkin pie. I use the 425 for 15 minutes and 350 for 45 minutes approach and put the pie three racks up from the bottom in my oven. I put a crust shield over the crust after the first 15 minutes. Thanks PJ. I love your pie baking posts.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Sandy, sounds like you have your method nailed — good! It can definitely be tricky, but once you figure out what works best for the recipe you use and your oven, you’re set. Thanks for your kind words – and Happy Thanksgiving! PJH@KAF

  4. Eugene Sedita

    PJ, I knew that this well thought out and tested recipe was yours. I’ve followed your advice for many years. Thanks for caring and explaining so well. Makes total sense to me and my experience over many years too.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Thaks, Eugene — I love being able to pass along all the many things I learn in the kitchen. As you indicate – experience is a great teacher! PJH@KAF

  5. Rebecca

    I have my pie in the oven right now. I talked to your hotline about how long to cook it and have my fingers crossed. Sigh, anxiety!!!

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Rebecca, be sure to let the pie cool completely at room temperature, then refrigerate it overnight. I think tomorrow morning you’ll be very happy. And remember — you can always cover cracks with whipped cream! 🙂 PJH@KAF

  6. Cheryl Dobbins

    I really love your posts, pj. Years ago I had a bakery in TULSA. I loved figuring out the science of baking when I would begin testing a recipe…I agree with you on the pumpkin pie.. I used a recipe from a book called “cook my darling daughter”.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Cheryl, thanks so much for connecting with us here. I love old cookbooks; looks like “Cook, My Darling Daughter” is still out there! Here it is on Etsy, if you need another copy. PJH@KAF

    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      That’s a tough one, Hollye; you have to refrigerate it, but refrigeration can make it sweat. First, let it cool completely; like, several hours, until it feels not the slightest bit warm. Then stick it in the fridge with a piece of wax paper or parchment laid across the top for protection, rather than wrapping it tightly in plastic. That might help – good luck! PJH@KAF

    2. Betsy

      Aww dang, I just put plastic wrap on mine before seeing this answer. My smooth and spicy pumpkin pie turned out beautiful though, so I’ll just have to be very careful when I remove the wrap tomorrow. Thanks for the terrific recipe and tips.

    3. PJ Hamel, post author

      And you can always carefully blot the liquid up with a paper towel – that’s what I do when this happens. Hope your pie was yummy! PJH@KAF

    4. Jane Thomas

      I place a paper towel across the top of the pie before wrapping with plastic wrap. The towel should be large enough that it does not touch the top of the pie. It will absorb the moisture instead of the plastic wrap.

  7. Charlotte Groves

    I prefer pies that are fully baked, and therefore cracked. I’ve baked slightly less cook pies, that don’t crack; they still taste good, but not my preference. My family gobbles them up either way.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Charlotte, it’s true, we each get to make our own choices when it comes to baking; and it sounds like your family is 100% behind your efforts! Thanks for connecting here — PJH@KAF

  8. Paula

    I think it helps also to take notes from past successes. With my oven, two pies on the bottom rack, 15 mins at 425, then 50 mins at 350, come out perfect. No peeking allowed. No pecan pie sneaking a ride on the top rack. I try to keep my process consistent.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Paula, you’re absolutely right. There’s no single right way to go anything when it comes to baking; you have to tweak everything to your ingredients, kitchen, oven, etc. Thanks for reminding us all. PJH@KAF

  9. Beth

    Hi PJ – I as many others have had problems with cracks in my pumpkin pies and am here to see how to stop this. As someone else posted, my crust falls away from my filling when the pie is cut and placed on a plate. Do you know why this happens?

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Beth, that’s another issue, and one I’m not sure how to counteract. The filling is shrinking overall due to the egg protein contracting, and that shrinkage, even if there’s not enough to crack the pie, is still enough to pull it away ever so slightly from its crust — just enough for the crust to detach itself once the pie is on the plate. I wonder if brushing the inner crust with egg white or sprinkling it with sugar, either one of which would then ostensibly become “glue-like” as the pie bakes/cools, would help? PJH

  10. LISA EAGER

    THE SAME CRACKING THING APPLIES TO THE DREADFUL,HORRIBLE CRACKED CHEESE CAKE.I ALWAYS PLACE MINE IN AN OLD ROASTER PAN OF WATER THAT COMES HALF WAY UP THE SIDES,A BAINMARIE OR WATER BATH. THAT KEEPS THE BAKING TEMPERATURE LOWER ON THE OUTSIDE OF THE SPRING FORM PAN THUS THE OUTSIDE DOES NOT COOK AS FAST AS THE SLOWER BAKING INSIDE. AS THE INSIDE BAKES IT CONTRACTS THE SAME AS THE FASTER BAKING OUTSIDE. IF THE OUTSIDE IS STUCK THE INSIDE DOES PULL CRACKS ACROSS THE REST OF THE TOP OF YOUR CAKE. OVER BAKING NOT ONLY MAKES YOUR CHEESE CAKE GRAINY BUT UGLY. A NICE SWEET SOUR CREAM TOPPING WILL NOT HELP, IT USUALLY SINKS INTO THE CRACKS. YOU CAN HIDE THE UGLY CRACKS. A CANNED PIE FILLING DUMPED OVER TOP OF THIS BOO BOO NORMALLY WORKS WELL TO HIDE IT ALL. HUGS, LISA

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Thanks for sharing your advice here, Lisa — it’s always a help to hear from those who’ve faced any particular baking conundrum and figured it out. 🙂 PJH

  11. Maggie Thomas

    I found a pumpkin pie recipe years ago that I love. It has several different ingredients added that set it apart: one is apricot jam spread on the partially pre-cooked crust before adding pumpkin filling- I use simply fruit, about 1/3 cup- it goes surprisingly well with the pumpkin; the other is the crust is made with flour, powdered sugar and butter- it tastes amazing, but it is really delicate and difficult to control.
    I love your recipes and advice, PJH, and glad to find out why my most recent pies cracked (We’ve moved since the last time I made one, and my oven is completely different than my old one)

    Reply
  12. Doris Steele

    Who care if a pumpkin pie cracks!!! I don’t remember mine cracking but everyone who has tasted them raves about them. I don’t care if it isn’t up to picture perfect; as long as it’s done and tastes great, that’s all most care about. I do want to take the hint to let the filling sit overnight in the frig to let the spices come to their full taste but remember; it’s not as much about the looks as the taste. Hugs to all.

    Reply
  13. Doug Coombs

    My recipe, inherited from my mom, is similar to yours above, except that I add 1 Tbs of molasses (blackstrap preferred) and 1 1/2 Tbs of dark rum, and skip the cloves. Yumm!

    Reply
  14. MaryAnn

    Interesting pie instructions. Pumpkin looks yummy but bottom of crust looks uncooked. I see a raw layer touching the pumpkin.

    Reply
  15. robert rogalinski

    What are your thoughts regarding the cracking of biscotti as they bake? This is a new problem for wife who has baked biscotti for many years without any problem.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Cracking biscotti isn’t an unusual occurrence; it happens with recipes that produce a drier dough. We don’t typically mind small cracks (they can always be covered up with drizzled chocolate!), but if it’s something that’s bothering the baker, he or she can try adding 1-2 tablespoons of milk to the dough. It will be a bit trickier to shape initially, but it should solve the cracking problem. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

  16. Marilyn

    I blind bake the crust before filling and bake the filled pie at a lower temperature for a longer time. No soggy crusts even after a couple of days if the pie lasts that long!

    Reply
  17. rprp

    this isn’t about cracking. personally, I don’t care about cracks but do care about overbaking. the solution is to watch carefully and pull out the pie when it is still slightly loose (the knife comes out with a little pasty, not liquidy, pumpkin on it.) My comment is about freezing a pumpkin pie. I have always read, and heard, from experts, all saying that it shouldn’t be done; a custard, which is what the filling is, does not responde well to freezing and thawing. Always accepted that as face value, with a nagging question in the back of my mind: frozen pumpkin pies are a big product at the supermarket. This year, my pies came out perfect, so I stole a small wedge, wrapped it well and froze it. Next morning took it out, let it thaw. it was perfect and delicious. The custard didn’t separate at all. Not sure why, but next year, my pumpkin pies get made ahead and frozen.

    Reply
    1. Donna Rodio

      I always bake my pies the weekend before thanksgiving – one pumpkin, one sweet potato and one pecan. Let cool completely, cover with plastic wrap, then foil over the tops and into the freezer. I take them out to thaw on the counter in the morning for about 2 hours and then into the frig. They are perfect and delicious. I always cook the pies for the minimum suggested time and I don’t remember them cracking.

    2. Jean

      I’ve been the family’s pie baker for 42 years. I have always made my pumpkin (and pecan) pies ahead of the holidays and frozen them. And they have NEVER separated from the crust. After the pies have cooled, I place then on a level shelf in the freezer. The next day, I place them in a ziplock bag and using a straw, I suck out the air to essentially make them vacuum-packed. When day to serve arrives, I unzip and allow the pies to thaw in the car as we travel, or set on counter to thaw at home. Wonderful every time, this Thanksgiving was no exception. All 5 pies were gone befor the weekend arrived.

  18. Mary Abbott

    My ‘secret’ to a better pumpkin pie isn’t a secret at all. All my family ‘bakers’ make the same recipe that was handed down from our mother. She used the recipe on the back of the large pumpkin puree can!!! BUT adds one more egg. So instead of 4 eggs, we add 5 to make the two pies! I’ve altered her recipe to make the filling a little fluffier…for the 2 pies, it calls for 3 1/3 cups of evaporated milk….I pour in one can of evaporated milk into a larger measuring container, then fill the remainder with heavy cream, up to the 3 1/3 line. I, too, have had mine crack, but you know….none of my family seems to care. It is still delicious with Cool Whip or sweetened whipped cream–and is all eaten in a flash. Enjoy.

    Reply
  19. 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
  20. 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

  21. 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

  22. 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

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