5 Best Pumpkins for Baking

5 Best Pumpkins for Baking

This might be slightly presumptuous, but it’s safe to say that we all know someone who has a fantastic pumpkin pie recipe. The kind that makes the pie’s life expectancy short and sweet and has us craving for more. The recipes that offer such gifts to our tastebuds often vary with the amount of nutmeg or cinnamon that goes into them, but there’s another way to change the taste of our pumpkin bread, pumpkin pie, and everything else under the autumn sun. It’s not all that difficult—it simply involves changing the variety of pumpkin we are using.

I’d wager that the vast majority of pumpkin pies are made with a common variety called Sugar Pie. These are easy-to-access, bowling ball-sized pumpkins that show up in the grocery stores a couple of months before Halloween rolls around. When you buy those, you’re buying the standard taste of the pumpkin pie that comes in a box. Don’t get me wrong, they’re pretty okay, but let’s explore the other options that are out there—the kind that can make a big difference in the kitchen as pie filling and any other baked goods you might be planning on cooking up.

I should point out that damn near any pumpkin or squash can be used for making a pumpkin pie, but having said that, your basic carving pumpkin is going to leave a lot to be desired if you try to make its insides into a pie filling. Generally speaking, the smaller the pumpkin variety is, the more flavor it’s going to have. Of course, there will be exceptions, but this is the general rule. Keep that in mind when you’re shopping around for a good pumpkin to make into a pie worthy of dishing out for friends and family.

Winter Luxury

Let this list start with my absolute favorite for any baked goods recipe that calls for pumpkin. This variety, which generally weighs anywhere from 4 to 6 pounds (I’ve seen monsters weighing upward of 10 though), looks like your standard pie pumpkin, except it appears to have been coated in something akin to icing sugar or flour. From the aesthetic of it alone, it’s an appealing gourd.

As far as taste goes, this pumpkin has what I can only describe as a much more condensed pumpkin flavor, with a savouriness that standard pie pumpkins lack. You might be asking yourself “if it’s such a superior pumpkin to the standard sugar pie, why isn’t it sold in grocery stores across North America in mass quantities?” Well, that brings us to the Winter Luxury’s downfall—they have a fairly short shelf life. Three weeks is about as good as it gets for these pumpkins, so plan to use them inside that time span after purchase.

Orange Smoothie

If there were an award for best-tasting pie pumpkin with an exceptional shelf life and wonderful decorative features, this pumpkin would win year after year. If stored in a cool, dark, and dry place, this pumpkin will last up to 6 months after harvest.

Though typically used for dishes like soups, it excels as a pie pumpkin as well. If you’ve got your hands on a few of them, try using it to make things like pumpkin bread and filling for pumpkin pie butter tarts. If you’ve never had them, they’re worth the trouble to make.

Rouge Vit d’Etampes

Quite the name, right? These ones are often better known as Cinderella Pumpkins, and when you hear that, the image that your mind conjures is most likely pretty accurate of what the pumpkin actually looks like. These pumpkins admittedly have a creamier texture to their flesh, but they’re absolutely suited to the purpose of pie filling.

Here’s the thing though—these pumpkins can get big. How big? A twenty-pound Cinderella pumpkin is not exactly out of the ordinary. When it comes to using something that’s of such a size, you’re dealing with a lot of leftover pie filling.

With that being said, you’re dealing with a pumpkin that is born and raised for things that don’t actually involve being made into a pie. Being a classic winter squash, these pumpkins will last up to 6 months or more when properly cured after being cut from the vine. While I highly recommend this variety for use as pie, mostly because if you cut one open, it has a sweet flavourful aroma similar to melon with that down-home pumpkin taste, you’re also dealing with an extremely visually pleasing squash that makes a great autumn decoration prior to being turned into a fantastic pie. This squash is, by all accounts, a solid 8 out of 10 on the pie pumpkin charts.

Musquee De Provence

This is a heavy-weight pumpkin whose historic popularity resides in the heart of France, even though they are originally thought to have a genetic history stemming from South America. A big, flat pumpkin that almost resembles a 20-pound wheel of cheese, its uniqueness actually lies inside the squash rather than its cosmetic look. When cut open, it smells as sweet as a melon. When you look at one of these delicious pumpkins, picture an oversized standard Sugar Pie variety, because the actual taste is almost (but not quite) the same.

As with a lot of heirloom pumpkin varieties, you can expect an exceptional shelf life with this particular variety of roughly 9 months. That’s a general statement though, I’ve kept them for over a year and still cooked with them. As long as they’re stored in a cool, dark place, and the pumpkin itself has no blemishes on the skin, they’ll keep for a long time without any effects on the taste itself.

Grey Ghost

This one is more of a winter squash than anything else, but I couldn’t make a list of great pumpkins to use for baking and not include this one. When you see one of these, you’ll never forget it. They’re a weird, subtle blueish-grey fruit with widely ribbed sections and a stem that looks like it might be made from 40-year-old cedar limbs. They weigh an average of roughly 10 pounds, but if conditions are right, they can reach the 20-pound mark. This is a cultivar that stores well, especially for being a hybrid variety, with a shelf life averaging 4 to 6 months if stored properly.

Once you cut one of these open, you’re really in for a treat. The inside flesh has thick seeds that, just on their own, are delicious when baked. The taste of the meat inside is very sweet, very rich, and very thick—so much so that it would be next to impossible to carve one of these into a jack o’ lantern.

It’s a breed that excels if you roast the whole thing all day long at a low heat and then cut it into sections. Once you’ve reached that point, it will make getting the flesh off the skin that much easier. It took me a little while to learn how to properly work with one of these, but once I got the hang of it, working with this squash became far easier. I know this is about pumpkins worthy of baking with, but the Grey Ghost is really spectacular for pumpkin soup, too.

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