pumpkin chiffon pie

one 9- to 10-inch pie    |   
Prep Time:
2 hours

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pumpkin chiffon pie

Last year, in the time of normal Thanksgiving, my friend Victoria made a pumpkin chiffon pie for me. It was light and fluffy and spoon-licking good, and for a year I’ve been thinking about that pie. Apparently, she was, too, because over the weekend I got an email saying she’d made me another one to photograph and share on Tuesday Recipe. How amazing is that?

Chiffon pie is like a cold soufflé, but not as hard to make: you lighten the filling with egg whites then spoon it into a prebaked shell and slather it with cream. Some recipes use a gingersnap crust, but Victoria uses a pie shell. You can make your own pastry, or buy it, or forgo it: the filling can also be chilled in ramekins for a gluten-free dessert (depending on which size shell you use, you might have some overflow to put in ramekins anyway).  

Victoria is from a family of great cooks and restaurateurs, and she told me this recipe came from her maternal grandmother, Angela Piano, who was born in Italy and arrived in San Francisco a few weeks after the 1906 earthquake. What a time to get here! Well, if Nonna Angela survived that and went on to make this pie for decades, we can survive a socially distant Thanksgiving this year. With a little help from friends like Victoria.

3 eggs, separated
1 cup sugar, split into ½-cup portions
1-1/4 cups canned pumpkin (from a 15-oz can)
2/3 cup whole milk
1/2 teaspoon each ground ginger, nutmeg, and cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 packet Knox gelatin
1/4 cup cold water
fully baked 9- to 10-inch pie shell (homemade or purchased)

2 cups whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 to 2 tablespoons sugar, optional
1 orange

In a metal bowl or the top of a double boiler, whisk egg yolks lightly then whisk in 1/2 cup of the sugar, pumpkin, milk, spices and salt. Place over a pan of simmering water and cook, stirring often with a wooden spoon, until custard is thick enough to coat back of spoon when you run a finger through it, 8 to 10 minutes (or more, depending on your pan). Remove from heat (if you made custard in the top of a double boiler, transfer it to a bowl at this point).

In a small bowl or measuring cup, sprinkle gelatin over ¼ cup cold water and let soften for a few minutes. Stir softened gelatin into hot custard until well blended. Cover custard with plastic wrap and set aside on counter or in the refrigerator to cool (this will speed things up).

When custard is cool, beat egg whites until soft peaks form, then slowly beat in the remaining 1/2 cup sugar until you have glossy peaks. Gently fold whipped egg whites into the custard until well blended. Turn mixture into a baked pie shell and chill until set, at least 2 hours or up to 2 days (spoon any extra filling into ramekins and chill as well).

To serve, make topping: beat cream with vanilla and, if desired, sugar to taste. Spread over top of pie. Grate orange peel with a microplane zester and sprinkle zest over the top of pie.