Kabocha Squash Crème Fraîche Pie (Photography by Iain Bagwell)

The great pumpkin pie smackdown started with a sign beside the Winter Luxury pumpkin at my Palo Alto, CA farmers’ market. “The best pie pumpkin you’ll ever eat!” it promised. I had to know: Would it make an even better pie than the dense, earthy kabocha I’d fallen in love with while testing the Kabocha Squash Crème Fraîche Pie recipe for the November Sunset? Beauties at other stalls—a ribbed, slate green Jarradahdale and a cheery orange Sugar Pie—looked promising, too. Well, there was nothing for it but to put them all to a taste test along with the kabocha. I used canned pumpkin as a standard.

The pumpkin pie contenders in the Sunset Test Kitchen, from back left: Winter Luxury, Jarradahdale, Sugar Pie, Kabocha squash, and Farmer’s Market brand canned pumpkin. Photo by Elaine Johnson

I fired up our ovens and baked 5 versions of the crème fraîche pie, adding the recipe’s dreamy gingersnap layer to each one.

Voting for our favorites

Fortunately, when there’s heavy lifting to be done, the Sunset staff pulls their weight. Here’s what our tasters had to say.

Canned pumpkin. “Most familiar for flavor.” “Not too sweet, but has a canned flavor.” “Squash-like; reminds me of baby food, in a good way.” Score: 2.4 out of 5.

Sugar Pie pumpkin. “Sweet and clean tasting.” “Least earthy.” “Yummy but not as flavorful as others.” Score: 2.9 out of 5.

Jarradahdale pumpkin. “Mild caramel notes; mellow.” “A little too sweet.” “Reminds me of a pie my grandmother made.” Score: 3.1 out of 5.

Kabocha squash. “Very slightly earthy but sweet.” “Creamy, almost nutty and sweet.” “Feel like it has the most complex flavor.” Score: 3.5 out of 5.

Winter Luxury pumpkin. “Whoa. The texture is luxury. Silky.” “Most well balanced.” “Fantastic texture; like the nuanced flavor.” Score: 4.7 out of 5

What we learned

Our test kitchen manager, Angela Brassinga, summed up our findings. “This is my favorite” [the Winter Luxury]. “But all the fillings range from good to great. In other words, if I couldn’t find this squash I would still make this pie. The crème fraîche and gingersnap layer really make it special. For me with a CSA box, I love that I can use any of these squash because I never know what will show up!”

How to roast a pumpkin for pie

Have a special pumpkin you’d like to try this year? Just follow the directions in the Kabocha Squash Crème Fraîche Pie recipe for roasting and puréeing it, and swap it into this pie or any favorite recipe. 

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