Here’s the Secret Ingredient for Perfect Pumpkin Pie

You can make a pumpkin pie from scratch that will have everyone asking, "How DID you do that?"

It’s about that time of year when pumpkin reigns over every food group. I’m looking for the best pumpkin beer, the best PSL and, of course, the best pumpkin desserts.

Aside from making sure you have the right baking tools for a perfect pie every time, the best way to make a homemade pumpkin pie stand out, is that little something extra.

I have the secret!

Why Spicy and Sweet Matter

To understand the secret ingredient, you need to know what makes a pumpkin dessert so special. It isn’t the orange gourd color, although that sure doesn’t hurt. It’s the perfect balance of spicy and sweet.

The usual blend of pumpkin pie spices is made from ginger, cloves, allspice, cinnamon and nutmeg. This spoonful of bold and flavorful spices has great depth of flavor. You’re used to them being cooled by sugar in most dishes; however, taste a sample straight and you’ll see that pumpkin spice has heat!

Don’t miss our recipe for homemade pumpkin spice mix.

The Secret Ingredient in My Pumpkin Pie

The best way to preserve the spiciness of pumpkin spice is with freshly cracked black pepper. It adds a robust bite to the traditional spice mix, which comes across subtly in each mouthful of pumpkin pie.

When making your next pumpkin dessert, add the same amount of black pepper as the recipe calls for cloves. If you’re timid about heat, add three quarters of the amount of the cloves. (But I bet you’ll wish you added the whole amount after your first taste.)

Don’t worry—your guests won’t call your pie “spicy.” There’s not enough pepper for that. If anything, they’ll ask, “Did you get super-fresh spices?”

This black pepper trick works like a charm with almost any pumpkin recipe. Try adding a pinch of pepper to our top 10 pumpkin pies or any of these ways to get your pumpkin spice fix. My favorite is adding a ⅛ teaspoon of freshly ground pepper to this copycat Starbucks pumpkin spice latte. It’s a perfect spicy-sweet way to start any fall morning.

Our Top 10 Pumpkin Pie Recipes
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Mandy Naglich
Mandy is a food and beverage writer with bylines at WNYC, Munchies, Mic and October. She's a Certified Cicerone and award-winning homebrewer living, writing and cooking in New York City.