(NEXSTAR) — You followed all the directions from the recipe. You preheated the oven. You blind-baked the crust. Your fingers are stained orange from making your own pumpkin puree from scratch.

And what do you have to show for it? A fresh, lovingly baked pie … with a big ugly crack running down the center.

It doesn’t have to be this way. There’s a secret to baking a crack-free pumpkin pie, and Briana Carson cracked that code long ago.  

Carson, the owner of Crave Pie Studio in Duluth, Georgia, has been whipping up pumpkin pies — and apple pies and pecan pies and strawberry rhubarb pies, etc. — for over a decade. But there was once a time when Carson was just a student, learning the perils and pitfalls of baking a pumpkin pie for her own family and friends in the rush before Thanksgiving.

“If you only make one pie a year, at Thanksgiving, when they’re already a million things going on, it’s going to be stressful and intimidating,” said Carson, whose Crave Pie Studio is currently listed as one of Thrillist’s top 25 pie shops in the country.

Luckily, Carson says there’s a simple way to avoid a cracked-pie catastrophe: Don’t overbake it.

“For a custard like that, you want it to bake on a lower temperature,” says Carson, who bakes her pumpkin pies at 325 degrees F. (Convection ovens may require an even lower temperature, she says.) “You don’t want anything higher than that. Not on a delicate pie.”

Don’t be so strict about the baking times, either. If your pie is looking close to done, it’s time to take it out of the oven — no matter what the recipe says.

“You can go by the time on a recipe, but don’t let that be the last, the definitive indicator,” Carson said. “You need to look for the telltale signs that the pie is ready to come out. That means the edges should look firm, and the very, very center of it might be jiggly, but not sloshy. … After you take it out of the oven, that residual heat is going to continue to cook it.”

Once it cools, the top of the pie should look smooth, luscious, and free of splits, cracks or crevices. And even if it isn’t, you can always mask it with whipped cream. (Carson likes to blend hers with mascarpone for a “silkier, richer” topping.)

“I would just encourage people to try [baking pies] more often, and cook with the season,” Carson suggested for anyone still seeking pie perfection. “Maybe a sweet potato pie or whatever fresh fruit is from your region. You’ll get the hang of it.

“When it comes down to it, they don’t say it’s ‘easy as pie’ for no reason,” she said.