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I made pumpkin pie using 3 celebrity-chef recipes, and the worst was from a baking legend

INSIDER logo INSIDER 24/11/2021 insider@insider.com (Paige Bennett)
a woman sitting at a table with a plate of food: A slice of each celebrity-chef pumpkin pie. Paige Bennett for Insider © Paige Bennett for Insider A slice of each celebrity-chef pumpkin pie. Paige Bennett for Insider
  • I made pumpkin pies using recipes from Dominique Ansel, Alton Brown, and Bobby Flay.
  • My favorite recipe was Flay's because it was easy to follow and its whipped cream was delicious.
  • Ansel's recipe was a disaster to make, and the pie tasted quite bland.

When it comes to fall comfort foods, nothing takes the cake quite like a slice of homemade pumpkin pie.

Celebrity chefs certainly feel the same way, which is why so many have their own pumpkin-pie recipes.

To find out which are worth trying, I tested pumpkin-pie recipes from Bobby Flay, Dominique Ansel, and Alton Brown.

Read on to see how the pies turned out.

Flay's signature pumpkin-pie recipe has many steps

a plate of food and a cup of coffee: The ingredients for Bobby Flay's pumpkin pie. Paige Bennett © Paige Bennett for Insider The ingredients for Bobby Flay's pumpkin pie. Paige Bennett

Though he's known as a grill master, Flay can throw down when it comes to pies.

His recipe on the Food Network's website has several steps, but it seemed easy to organize and measure all the ingredients in advance.

The recipe also called for homemade bourbon-maple whipped cream, which sounded tasty. To make it, I needed grade-B syrup — but I learned that it no longer exists. So I stuck with grade A.

The pie came together easily and smelled delicious

Since I measured everything in advance, making the filling was as simple as pouring and whisking the ingredients together, then straining it for a super-smooth center.

a pan of food on a plate: Mixing the ingredients was easy. Paige Bennett for Insider © Paige Bennett for Insider Mixing the ingredients was easy. Paige Bennett for Insider

The only hiccup I had was that I don't own a food processor. I used a small blender/food-chopper that didn't quite work as well.

That made it tricky to integrate the melted butter with the crushed graham cracker.

a close up of a metal pan on a stove top oven: The graham-cracker crust had to bake. Paige Bennett © Paige Bennett for Insider The graham-cracker crust had to bake. Paige Bennett

Overall, the hands-on part was quick and easy. After baking for 10 minutes, my crust was set and ready to be filled.

The recipe produced far more filling than I needed, so I froze the leftovers for a future pie.

a piece of cake on a plate: The crust wasn't perfect, but it held the filling just fine. Paige Bennett © Paige Bennett for Insider The crust wasn't perfect, but it held the filling just fine. Paige Bennett

I baked the pie for about 90 minutes. It came out golden, with a flawless top — no cracks here!

The whipped cream and the pie went together perfectly

a cake sitting on top of a pan on a table: Flay's pie looked perfect once it cooled. Paige Bennett © Paige Bennett for Insider Flay's pie looked perfect once it cooled. Paige Bennett

I was impressed with how well the pie held its shape as I cut into it. Though the crust along the bottom was probably thicker than it should've been, I was happy it didn't crumble and fall apart.

The whipped cream alone was incredibly delicious. I could taste every element: the cream, the vanilla, the bourbon, and the maple syrup.

As for the pie, the filling had a light pumpkin flavor with a nice balance of sweetness and spice. With the whipped cream, the dessert had the perfect balance of vanilla, maple syrup, warm pumpkin, and spices.

a piece of cake sitting on top of a table: Flay's pie looked smooth and delicious. Paige Bennett for Insider © Paige Bennett for Insider Flay's pie looked smooth and delicious. Paige Bennett for Insider

The graham-cracker crust was fine, but I wished it were crunchier — I was disappointed by its slightly soggy bottom.

The edges were crisp, but they weren't as flavorful as I would've liked.

Ansel's pumpkin-pie recipe is heavy on the ginger and calls for a dough crust

a bunch of food sitting on a table: Mixing the ingredients was easy. Paige Bennett for Insider © Paige Bennett for Insider Mixing the ingredients was easy. Paige Bennett for Insider

I followed a recipe that the famous pastry chef and inventor of the cronut shared with InStyle.

My first concern was how much ginger — fresh and ground — it called for. I like ginger, but I don't love it in large quantities.

I was also expecting the pie to have a pretty rich center, since this recipe requires a lot of egg yolks for the filling.

For the crust, I had to battle with the dough

Since it involved making a dough-based crust, this recipe required a lot of steps. I'd recommend making this the day before if you need it for a certain occasion.

It took me a long time to grate the fresh ginger for the crust, so I ended up cutting the amount to about 1 1/2 tablespoons from 2 tablespoons.

After I mixed the crust ingredients and let it chill, it was time to roll. I cut the dough and put aside one half, which I originally planned to freeze for later.

water next to the ocean: The dough was incredibly difficult to roll. Paige Bennett for Insider © Paige Bennett for Insider The dough was incredibly difficult to roll. Paige Bennett for Insider

But rolling the dough was a disaster. My first half kept sticking to the rolling pin and the surface even though I had put flour on them and my hands before I started.

I got frustrated and scrapped this half, thankful to still have the second half. I kept this dough loosely wrapped in plastic wrap to help prevent it from sticking to the rolling pin.

This worked somewhat well — until I had to peel the dough from the plastic wrap and it fell apart.

I wrangled the dough as best as I could and draped it over my pie dish. It didn't quite fit, so I did my best to patch it together.

a piece of cake sitting on top of a wooden cutting board: The dough didn't fit nicely in the pan. Paige Bennett for Insider © Paige Bennett for Insider The dough didn't fit nicely in the pan. Paige Bennett for Insider

Next was the blind bake — when you bake a pie crust before filling it — which made me nervous because of how delicate the dough was. I used parchment paper and dry rice to weigh down the crust as it baked.

When I pulled the crust out and removed the rice, most of my dough came up with it.

I scraped some of the paper off and mended the crust as best as I could, but this was turning out to be a disaster.

a cake sitting on top of a metal pan: Eventually I patched the dough together enough to form a crust. Paige Bennett for Insider © Paige Bennett for Insider Eventually I patched the dough together enough to form a crust. Paige Bennett for Insider

I pressed on and added the filling to the crust anyway. Then it was ready to bake.

a piece of cake sitting on top of a pan: Fortunately, the filling seemed pretty creamy. Paige Bennett for Insider © Paige Bennett for Insider Fortunately, the filling seemed pretty creamy. Paige Bennett for Insider

The pie took about 20 minutes longer to bake than the recipe's maximum estimated time of 35 minutes.

For all the trouble, the pie ended up rather bland

a piece of cake sitting on top of a metal rack: The pie I made with Ansel's recipe was OK. Paige Bennett for Insider © Paige Bennett for Insider The pie I made with Ansel's recipe was OK. Paige Bennett for Insider

The pie looked OK coming out of the oven. The crust didn't have a perfectly pinched edge, but at this point I was glad it came together at all.

The filling mushroomed above the crust while it was in the oven, then dropped near the end of baking, which led to several cracks around the pie.

I thought that this pie would hold its shape the best of all three recipes because it had a dough crust, but it fell apart when I cut a slice. The bottom crust was thicker on one side and slightly soggy.

a piece of cake on a plate: The crust wasn't great. Paige Bennett for Insider © Paige Bennett for Insider The crust wasn't great. Paige Bennett for Insider

The pumpkin layer tasted strongly of pumpkin — I would've loved more sweetness and a bit more spice for a better flavor.

The texture was super smooth thanks to the yolks. Fortunately, the ginger didn't overpower the flavor of the pie. But I wished the crust had more flavor.

For convenience, I swapped fresh pumpkin for canned in Brown's recipe

a plate of food on a table: The ingredients for Alton Brown's pie. Paige Bennett for Insider © Paige Bennett for Insider The ingredients for Alton Brown's pie. Paige Bennett for Insider

Brown's recipe on the Food Network's website requires baking a fresh pumpkin to make homemade pumpkin purée. Short on time and not a fan of pumpkin guts, I skipped this and used canned pumpkin purée.

I was surprised to see that this recipe didn't call for cinnamon, unlike any pumpkin pie I've ever made (or eaten). I hoped the nutmeg would make up for it.

Of the 3 recipes, Brown's was the easiest to follow

The pie's gingersnap crust was similar to Flay's graham-cracker one. Without a food processor, it couldn't come together as well as it should, but it still looked fine and smelled even better.

a glass cup on a table: For the crust, I used a small appliance to grind the cookies. Paige Bennett for Insider © Paige Bennett for Insider For the crust, I used a small appliance to grind the cookies. Paige Bennett for Insider

I pressed it into a pie dish and baked it for about 10 minutes.

Without fresh pumpkin, the filling was easy to make. I warmed the pumpkin purée and half-and-half along with nutmeg and salt on the stove, then whisked this mixture in a bowl with brown sugar and eggs.

I let the filling and the crust cool for 15 minutes, then combined them and baked my pie for 45 minutes.

a plate of food on a table: The filling for Brown's pie was light orange. Paige Bennett for Insider © Paige Bennett for Insider The filling for Brown's pie was light orange. Paige Bennett for Insider

There were no mishaps here; the process was straightforward and quick. Obviously, if I had made the pumpkin purée from scratch, it would've taken much longer.

I loved the flavor of the gingersnap crust

a chocolate cake sitting on top of a pan on a table: Brown's pie was looking pretty good. Paige Bennett for Insider © Paige Bennett for Insider Brown's pie was looking pretty good. Paige Bennett for Insider

After baking the pie, I noticed it had a bit of liquid pooling on the surface. Otherwise, the surface was blemish-free.

The sturdy crust held everything in place as I removed a slice from the pan.

The clear definition between crust and pumpkin in each slice made for a really nice presentation.

The filling could've used a bit more spice — cinnamon, perhaps — but it was still delicious. The pumpkin flavor came through and was sweet.

a close up of a piece of cake: Brown's pie sliced quite evenly. Paige Bennett for Insider © Paige Bennett for Insider Brown's pie sliced quite evenly. Paige Bennett for Insider

The ginger flavor in the crust came through in every bite. It was slightly soggier than I had hoped, even along the edges, but I was worried that much longer in the oven would've resulted in a burnt crust.

I'd definitely make Flay's recipe again, especially the whipped cream

a pot filled with cake: Brown's pie (front), Flay's pie (back), and Ansel's pie (right). Paige Bennett for Insider © Paige Bennett for Insider Brown's pie (front), Flay's pie (back), and Ansel's pie (right). Paige Bennett for Insider

I loved the filling and whipped cream from Flay's recipe, and overall the pie was simple to put together. The only thing I would change is making the crust more flavorful, perhaps by adding spices.

Brown's crust was delicious, and the filling's texture was perfect. With a food processor, I think I could get the crust to have a better texture. This recipe resulted in a pie that looked as good on Instagram as it did in real life.

Truthfully, I would love to try Flay's filling and whipped cream with Brown's gingersnap crust for the ultimate pumpkin pie.

Unfortunately, I can't see myself attempting Ansel's recipe again.

Click to check out the other celebrity-chef recipes we've put head-to-head so far.

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