Pumpkin pie is as much a symbol of Thanksgiving as the ubiquitous turkey, and perhaps even more anticipated. Its presence on the fall table is a direct connection to our heritage of American baking with indigenous foods.
Sure, you can buy pumpkin pie in every grocery store, but baking it from scratch results in a pie so vastly superior to store-bought that you’ll be ruined forever – and that’s a good thing. I’ve got a great recipe for you below, one whose filling and crust I’ve played with over many years until I got them just right. The recipe also includes an unusual and time-saving baking technique that will take at least 30 to 45 minutes off the pie’s time in the oven, plus it ensures the crust stays nice and crispy against the soft custard filling within.
I discussed the canned vs. fresh question in my last posting, so now it’s on to the other big pumpkin pie issue…pre-baked crust or raw? My vote: Always pre-baked.
I know the recipe on the back of the canned pumpkin tells you to use a raw pie crust, but this ain’t no frozen crust or evaporated milk filling. The problem with using a raw pie crust is that it simply absorbs the liquid filling, resulting in a pasty, doughy crust instead of a crisp, golden brown one. It does take more time to pre-bake the crust, but Thanksgiving is a special day -- a time when attention to detail and flavor is especially appreciated -- so why not make the best possible pie? Time, you might say. I agree that time in the kitchen can be at a premium on holidays, so I’ve got a few tips to help you get ahead on your pumpkin pie. (Intimidated by flaky pie dough? See the October 1st blog posting before you begin).
First, it doesn’t all have to be done on Thanksgiving day. The good news about pie crust is that the dough can be prepared up to 6 weeks in advance. In fact, I usually prepare most of my pie crusts for the entire holiday baking season on one day, about 6 weeks before Christmas. On that afternoon, I make a couple large batches of pie dough, divide them into individual pie shell portions, then flatten and chill each piece of dough for about 30 minutes. After a cup of tea, I roll each one out to a 12-inch circle and stack them up on a baking sheet, separating each circle by a sheet of parchment paper. I then double-wrap the entire sheet in plastic wrap – yes, it’s a lot of plastic, but the dry air blowing around the freezer can quickly ruin your efforts if the dough is not covered thoroughly. Then I pop the pan in the freezer and forget about it until I need to make pie. All I have to do then is remove the number of dough rounds needed (one for single-crust pie, such as pumpkin, and 2 for a double-crust pie, like apple), let them thaw at room temperature for 5 to 10 minutes, then fit them into the baking dish and turn my attention to the filling.
Sometimes, if I have room in my freezer, I even fit a few of the rolled out circles into pie pans in advance, flute the edges, wrap each pie pan in plastic and freeze. This makes for even easier pie-making on a future day, since all I need to do is throw one or more of them into the oven.
You can pre-bake the pie crust to a golden brown color several days in advance of Thanksgiving (for more information on pre-baking, see the recipe below, or page 175 of The Art and Soul of Baking). Store, covered with plastic, at room temperature until the day you need the crust. You’ll need to finish baking the custard portion of the pie on the day you serve it. Luckily, this is quick and easy using the technique outlined in the recipe below. Basically, you warm up the custard on the stove top, until it’s hot and steaming (about 150 F.) – be careful not to boil it or you’ll have pumpkin-flavored scrambled eggs. While you’re heating the custard, you heat the pre-baked shell in the oven. When the custard is ready, you pour it into the hot pie shell and return the whole thing to the oven. It bakes in no time, and the crust stays crisp. It sounds crazy, but works beautifully. If you want a few visual cues, check out the video of me making pumpkin pie on Amazon.com, or for a longer, more detail-oriented version of the video, visit AndrewsMcMeel.com (the publisher of my new book). Enjoy the pie!More The Pumpkin Pie Conundrum ideas and recipes follow after the jump
FLAKY PIE DOUGH
Makes 1 (9- or 10-inch) pie shell
Many bakers are so intimidated by the idea of making flaky pie crust that they either settle for the prepared dough from the grocery store or don’t make pie at all. But, like all baking, pie crust is quite straightforward once you know how the ingredients work together. Take a deep breath and follow the steps below for a beautifully crisp, golden brown, flaky pie crust. This recipe doesn’t call for shortening, as the flavor, aroma, and color of an all-butter crust can’t be beat. The drawback to butter is that it can soften quickly at room temperature, which is why it’s best to use the food processor to ensure great results every time.
- 1 stick (4 ounces) cold unsalted
- butter, cut into ½-inch pieces
- 3 to 4 tablespoons cold water
- 1¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1½ teaspoons sugar (omit for a savory crust)
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- Place the butter pieces in a bowl or on a plate and freeze for at least 20 minutes. Refrigerate the water in a small measuring cup until needed.
- Mix the dough: Place the flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of the food processor. Process for 10 seconds to blend the ingredients. Add the frozen butter pieces and pulse 6 to 10 times (in 1-second bursts), until the butter and flour mixture looks like crushed crackers and peas.
- Immediately transfer the butter-flour mixture to the large bowl. Sprinkle a tablespoon of the cold water over the mixture and “fluff” it in, then add another, and another, until 3 tablespoons have been added. Continue to fluff and stir 10 or 12 times. It will not be a cohesive dough at this point but a bowl of shaggy crumbs and clumps of dough. Before bringing the dough together, you need to test it for the correct moisture content. Take a handful of the mixture and squeeze firmly. Open your hand. If the clump falls apart and looks dry, remove any large, moist clumps from the bowl then add more water, one teaspoon at a time, sprinkling it over the top of the mixture and immediately stirring or mixing it in. Test again before adding any more water. Repeat, if needed. The dough is done when it holds together (even if a few small pieces fall off). If the butter feels soft and squishy, refrigerate before continuing. If the butter is still cold and firm, continue to the next step. (Note: Adding the liquid may also be done on low speed in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment—add three-fourths of the liquid, test for moistness, then add the remaining liquid if needed.)
- Knead and chill the dough: Turn the dough onto a work surface and knead gently 3 to 6 times. If it won’t come together and looks very dry, return it to the bowl and add another teaspoon or two of water (one at a time), mixing in as above, and try again. Flatten the dough into a 6- or 7-inch disk, wrap in plastic or parchment paper, and refrigerate for 30 minutes. This allows time for the dough to hydrate fully and for the butter to firm up again.
- Roll the dough: If the dough has been refrigerated for more than 30 minutes, it may be very firm and hard and will crack if you try to roll it. Let it sit on the counter for 10 to 15 minutes until it is malleable but still cold. Dust your work surface generously with flour and set the disk on the flour. Dust the top with flour. Roll, turning the dough, until you’ve got a 14- to 15-inch circle about ¹⁄8 inch thick. If at any point the dough becomes warm and sticky, gently fold it into quarters, unfold it onto a baking sheet and refrigerate for 15 minutes, or until the butter is firm again.
- If a crack or hole forms while rolling, brush any flour away and patch the area according to the instructions above.
- Transfer the dough: Fold the dough circle into quarters, brushing off any excess flour as you fold. Put the point of the folded dough in the center of the pie pan, tart pan, or baking sheet and unfold the dough, lifting it slightly as necessary to ease it into the crevices of the pan. Do not stretch or pull the dough, which can cause thin spots, holes, and/or shrinkage during baking.
- Trim the dough: Use a pair of kitchen scissors to trim the dough so it overhangs the edge of the pan by 1 inch. Fold the overhanging dough under itself around the pan edge, then crimp or form a decorative border. Chill for 30 minutes before baking.
Storing: The dough can be wrapped in plastic and refrigerated for up to 2 days, or double-wrapped in plastic, slipped into a freezer bag, and frozen for up to 1 month.
Great Pumpkin Pie
Makes 1 (10-inch) regular pie or 1 (9-inch) deep-dish pie, serving 10 to 12
Thanksgiving just may be everyone’s favorite holiday. After all, what’s better than a day completely devoted to a delicious feast shared by family and friends, all giving thanks for their blessings? This recipe takes an American classic to celebration status with a careful blend of spices and heavy cream, outshining the stale spice mix and evaporated milk of less enchanting recipes. Ever notice how spices clump up and don’t blend well when added to a custard? The trick is to blend them first with the eggs, whose fat helps the clumps disperse evenly, before adding any liquid to the custard mixture.
- 1 recipe Flaky Pie or Tart Dough (see above), prepared through Step 8
- 3 large eggs
- 1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
- ¾ teaspoon ground ginger
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg (about 20 grates on a whole nutmeg)
- ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
- ¼ teaspoon ground allspice
- ¹⁄8 teaspoon salt
- 1½ cups (12 ounces) heavy whipping cream
- ½ cup (4 ounces) firmly packed
- light brown sugar
- ¼ cup (1¾ ounces) granulated sugar
- 2 cups (16 ounces) canned pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)
- Softly Whipped Cream, for serving
- Bake the shell: Preheat the oven to 375°F and position an oven rack in the bottom third. Line the chilled pie shell with heavy-duty foil, pressing the foil firmly and smoothly into the crevices of the pan. Fill the pan with pie weights (pie weights can be ceramic or steel weights from a cookware store, which last forever, or you can use dried beans or rice from your cupboard, which will need to be replaced when they start to smell funky). Make sure the weights reach up the sides to the rim of the pan (the center does not need to be filled quite as full). Bake the shell for 20 to 22 minutes, until the foil comes away from the dough easily (if it doesn’t, then bake another 5 to 6 minutes and check again). Remove the pan from the oven, close the oven door, and lift out the foil and weights from the shell; set them aside to cool. Return the pan to the oven to continue baking the shell for about 10 minutes, then remove the pan from the oven, close the oven door, and check to see if any cracks have formed. If you see a crack, very gently smear a tiny bit of reserved dough over the crack to patch it (page 171)—you need only enough to seal the opening. Return the pan to the oven and bake 10 to 15 minutes longer, until the crust is a nice golden brown all over. Transfer to a rack and cool slightly. Lower the oven temperature to 350°F.
- While the pie crust is baking, make the filling: Whisk the eggs in the large bowl to break them up. Add the cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, allspice, and salt and whisk well to blend evenly. Whisk in the cream, brown sugar, and granulated sugar and blend well. Strain the mixture through the strainer into the medium saucepan, pressing on the strainer with the spatula to push through any lumps of brown sugar. Add the pumpkin puree and whisk until the custard mixture is thoroughly blended. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly with the spatula and scraping all over the bottom of the pan to prevent the eggs from scrambling, for 7 to 9 minutes, until the mixture feels lightly thickened and registers 150°F on an instant-read thermometer. Do not let the mixture scramble or you’ll have to begin again. Remove from the heat.
- If the pie crust has cooled, reheat it in the oven for 5 minutes. Scrape the hot custard into the hot pie shell and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the custard is set. Test by tapping the side of the pie pan—the center of the pie should look firm and move as one piece (professionals call this the Jell-O jiggle). Transfer the pie to a rack and cool completely, about 2 hours.
- To serve, slice the pie with a thin and sharp knife and use a pie server to transfer each slice to a plate. Serve with whipped cream.
Storing: Store at room temperature for up to 8 hours. For longer storage, cover with plastic and refrigerate. Remove the pie from the refrigerator 1 hour before serving. Pumpkin pie is best the first or second day, as the crust begins to soften over time. It will keep, covered with plastic wrap, in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
Getting Ahead: The pie crust can be rolled, fitted into the pie pan, and trimmed up to 2 days before baking the pie and refrigerated, or it may be frozen for up to 1 month. The crust can be baked up to 3 days in advance and stored, wrapped in plastic, at room temperature. The ingredients for the custard can be combined 1 day in advance and kept, airtight, in the refrigerator. Do not warm the custard on the stovetop until just before you bake it.
Tools of the Trade:
- Emile Henry® Pie Plates
- Ateco Natural Boar Bristle Round Pastry Brushes
- French_style Rolling Pin
- Rolling Pin
- Ceramic Pie Weights
Recipes and Photos are reprinted with permission from Andrews McMeel Publishing, LLC. The Art and Soul of Baking © copyright 2008 by Sur La Table, Inc.