Savvy hosts know the value of planning in advance, especially during the holiday season. Take it from Brendan Smith, executive chef for Constellation Culinary Group. As a professional caterer, Smith is no stranger to cooking for a crowd—even his family gatherings can include more than 50 people. “Getting stuff done ahead of time is critical for having a good holiday dinner,” says Smith, essential for ensuring everything is ready to be served at the same time.
Fortunately, pumpkin pie (much like its twin, sweet potato pie, and their nutty counterpart, pecan pie) is one of many Thanksgiving desserts that take well to freezing, partly due to the high fat content in both the crust and the filling, which slows the formation of ice crystals. (This goes for both store-bought and homemade pumpkin pie.) Of course, a pie fresh out of the oven (and slightly cooled) will be technically best, but freezing pumpkin pie is definitely doable—as long as it’s done with care.
The key is to prevent crystallization. Any ice crystals that form in your pie will melt when thawed, creating sogginess and compromising the flavor and texture of your dessert.
According to Smith, this means cooling the baked pie completely before transferring it to the freezer and minimizing the time it takes to freeze. He stresses you should do all you can to keep your freezer door closed while the pumpkin pie freezes. JB Royer, owner of Royers Top Round Café in Round Top, Texas, with wife Jamie-Len, agrees. Their business has been freezing and shipping pies for 35 years—typically about 10,000 in November and December alone.
Snag step-by-step tips from these pros—then go ahead and make your pumpkin pie now for a head start to Thanksgiving.
BA’s Best Pumpkin PieRick Martinez
How to freeze pumpkin pie:
1. Bake it in a disposable aluminum pan.
Since it’s much thinner than a ceramic or nonstick pie dish, a disposable aluminum pie pan lets your pie cool down and freeze faster after baking, helping prevent ice crystals. Don’t worry about aesthetics—you can always transfer your dessert to a guest-worthy vessel before serving.
If your pumpkin pie recipe calls for a glass or ceramic pie plate, set the aluminum tin into the appropriate dish to maintain proper cooking procedure. If your recipe calls for metal, placing the disposable pan on a rimmed baking sheet will be sufficient.
2. Cool the pie completely.
Once you pull your pumpkin pie from the oven, set it on a wire rack and walk away. Be patient; cooling a pumpkin pie can take up to three hours. The step allows steam to escape before you cover it and transfer it to the freezer. Trapped condensation would render a wrapped pie soggy and lead to icy spots that would wreak havoc on your pie’s flavor and texture. When the bottom of the pan no longer feels warm to the touch, you can proceed.
3. Protect your pie.
Once your pumpkin pie is thoroughly cooled, wrap it all around, including the tin, with at least three layers of plastic wrap. Wrap tightly to minimize any trapped air, taking care not to mar the top of the pie. Royer uses shrink wrap when shipping, but that might be impractical for someone freezing a couple of pumpkin pies at home. Instead, follow the plastic with a layer of aluminum foil or an airtight container, like a resealable freezer bag, for extra precaution. Not only will this fight freezer burn, but it will also keep ambient freezer smells from penetrating your pie. Stored well, a pumpkin pie can sit in the freezer for up to 3 months.
Two tips for perfectly thawed pumpkin pie:
Thaw your pie slowly.
The day before serving, remove any wrappings and let the frozen pumpkin pie thaw in the fridge, uncovered, for 12–24 hours. Don’t try to rush things by defrosting your pie at room temperature, which would increase the risk of a soggy crust. The more gradual the thawing process, the better.
Finish it with heat.
You could simply set the thawed pie out at room temperature for 1–2 hours before serving, but it’ll be better with a little heat. A microwave works fine for reheating a single slice (heat on high for 10-second intervals until just warmed through).
When reheating a whole pie, Royer recommends placing it in the oven at a low temperature for about 30 minutes to render the filling “warm and gooey.” The method benefits the pie crust, too, drying out excess moisture and re-crisping those flaky layers. Here’s his rule of thumb for a seamless finish: “Just before you sit down to eat, set the oven to 225° and slide in the room-temperature pie.” When it’s time for dessert, your perfect pumpkin pie will be waiting.
Head this way for more of our best Thanksgiving desserts →
Originally Appeared on Bon Appétit