The Real Reason Your Pumpkin Pie Is Cracking

Every fall, pumpkin pie reemerges from its hibernation to become one of the season's most popular sweet treats. According to Cision PR Newswire, the spiced dish is the most sought-after Thanksgiving dessert, with 36% of American adults preferring the orange-hued autumnal staple over any other pie, including pecan and apple. That's a landslide win — and an understandable one, given the heavenly scent that inevitably takes over the kitchen when there's a pumpkin pie in the oven.

Many pumpkin pie recipes require very little effort. Canned pumpkin is widely available, which saves you the time it takes to cut and roast a pumpkin yourself. However, there is one major truth when it comes to baking a good pumpkin pie: It's hard to get it absolutely perfect. If you're like most amateur bakers, you've probably noticed that many of your pies come out of the oven without a completely smooth top. Rather, they're lined with small cracks. Though this result can be frustrating, it's also preventable thanks to five quick tips.

Pumpkin pie will crack when it's overbaked

There is a simple explanation for those pesky cracks that often appear on your pumpkin pie: It's overbaked, according to the King Arthur Baking Company. More specifically, the eggs in the filling are to blame for those annoying imperfections. Eggs are properly cooked at 160 degrees Fahrenheit, but the moment they go above that temperature, they become overly firm and cause the surface of your pie to break. This can even occur after you remove the pie from the oven, as residual heat can continue to cook the eggs. 

The best way to avoid screwing up your pumpkin pie, then, is to control the time and temperature. First, use a high-quality recipe, since it's likely been tested many times. Second, make sure your oven temperature is accurate, and let it preheat completely. Third, bake the pie on a lower oven rack, since this crisps up the bottom without overbaking the top. The fourth and fifth tips work in tandem: Use a thermometer to accurately determine when your pie is cooked — it should be 160 degrees Fahrenheit in the center. Finally, become familiar with the appearance of a smooth, immaculate, perfectly baked pie. King Arthur says a pie that has solid edges with a Jell-O-like center is likely ready to be removed from the oven, since it will cook to completion in the minutes after you take it out.