Saturday, October 20

My take on Pumpkin Pie

Good grief, can you believe it's almost November! Yikes. Would somebody please tell me where October went? I swear school was just staring a few days ago. 

Today all I'm doing is tackling one thing

Pumpkin Pie


My version of pumpkin pie.

And really we're tackling a bunch of stuff because I never do things the easy way!

A few years ago, I decided to make a truly homemade pumpkin pie, the kind that starts out with a pumpkin and ends up something yummy and special. The first year, I made three, because I wanted to try out different pumpkins. 

I sampled the Rouge
(sometimes also called the "Cinderella's Carriage" Pumpkin
this is a lovely and large French Heirloom squash

the Cheese (yes, really, that's what it's called, just look at it:)

a beautiful creamy skinned variety from New England with 
an unbeatable reputation in the kitchen

and the Jarrahdale
because...well, it's BLUE! (the flesh is a bright yellowy orange, but 
who could resist the pretty blue skin? I'd bought one the year before
for a Jack o' Lantern, and it was by far the lantern that got the most 
comments from passersby. 

The Jarrahdale is an heirloom winter squash from New Zealand.

When I first decided to experiment to find "the perfect pumpkin", I had to visit a farmer's market, but more and more, I'm seeing these varieties popping up in regular grocery stores. Certainly most fruit and veggie shops will carry them.

So here's what I decided, after sampling all three varieties: 

  • I found the rouge to be a tad stringy, and the flavor okay
    but not spectacular

  • The cheese was a bit bland for my taste (or at least my recipe)

  • The jarrahdale, had the best flavor and the texture is perfect

Jarrahdale Pumpkins:

The flesh is bright, sweet, full of flavor, and it's fairly easy to work with. Whenever I have a recipe that calls for pumpkin, I use this one...okay, as long as I can then go and make six other things that call for pumpkin, because jarrahdales are kinda big. But the neat thing about pumpkins is that there are SO many things you can make with them! Pumpkin bread, pumpkin cookies, pumpkin pie, pumpkin soup, pumpkin stuffed ravioli (one of my faves), pumpkin gnocci, even pumpkin cupcakes. (I'm making pumpkin cupcakes stuffed with vanilla cream cheese and frosted with chocolate frosting to the Haunted Tea in Bay Port--mostly because I knew I wanted to do homemade pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving and I would have LOTS of pumpkin left over! But the beauty of the starting point of this recipe is that once you roast your pumpkin, you can freeze it and use it later. And yes, chocolate and pumpkin go really well together. I didn't believe it either, the first time I saw a recipe for pumpkin cookies w/ chocolate chips, but I gave it a shot and YUM!)

Okay, so no matter what you're making, you're going to be starting with this (usually) honking huge squash. First things first: turn your oven to 325 (F) and let it preheat. You'll also need a couple of cookie sheets (although baking pans work just fine too), a little olive oil, brown sugar, balsamic vinegar, (both optional, but YUM!), and some tin foil. (Even if I know I'm going to be using this pumpkin in both sweet and savory dishes, I use a little sugar and vinegar to bring out the flavor). 

Cut it into manageable sized chunks (for some people that's halves, for me that's either quarters or eights) and scoop out the seeds. I always wash these and roast them. Pumpkin seeds are an amazing snack (my husband loves them) and they're really good for you. In fact, squash in general is really healthy. (I'm not a big squash fan, except for pumpkins, but on the rare occasions when I do make squash something--because I can't abide the taste of it all by itself, but it makes a great soup--I also roast the seeds of whatever kind of squash I'm using. They're all as tasty and good for you as pumpkin seeds). 
So now you've got the chunks of pumpkin from which the seeds have been removed. I've read a ton of different methods for roasting pumpkin and probably they all work just fine and some are even simpler, but this is what I do.

Arrange the pumpkin chunks on the baking sheets, skin-side DOWN (skin on metal). Very lightly drizzle olive oil (other oils would be fine for this, EVO is the staple in my kitchen--that's extra virgin olive oil, the greener the better), a little bit of balsamic vinegar (really it has got to be balsamic--and only a little tiny sprinkle), and brown sugar (again, a very little bit is all you need here). If you knew without a doubt that the only thing you'd be using this for were savory foods (pumpkin ravioli filling, pumpkin soup, etc.) I would also add fresh minced garlic. But since I'm usually roasting pumpkin with multiple recipes in mind, I skip the garlic (I mean really, garlic pie? I don't think so).

Give your pumpkin seeds a wash and put them onto another tray with a little olive oil, garlic powder (optional) and a dash of salt.

Cover the pumpkin chunks lightly with tin foil--this is just to keep them from scorching (holding in the heat does improve the roast, however), it doesn't have to be a tight seal. Put them in the oven for about an hour (I start checking them after about forty five minutes; you're looking for a soft squash that you can easily slide a knife all the way into). Put your pan of pumpkin seeds in at the same time. The seeds will be done right around the forty five minute mark, so it's a good time to check on the pumpkin, anyway. Oh, and prepare for a house that smells amazing!

When the pumpkin flesh is soft, pull it and let it sit until it's totally cool. (Usually, I roast my pumpkin the night before I'm planning on doing anything with it; it's easy, but it IS a time consuming process). By the way, I really do advocate roasting to bring out the most in a pumpkin's flavor. After the pieces cool, you can peel the skin right off, no special equipment needed.

At this point, you can either puree the whole thing in a food processor/blender (or just get out an old fashioned potato masher and have at it that way--which can be GREAT stress relief)--or you can freeze it as chunks. I usually puree it and freeze in cup sized portions to make my life easier down the road. (Always use freezer bags and get all of the air out; air causes freezer burn). I don't usually bother dating my pumpkin when I freeze it because it's not like I've got that much going into the freezer at once. I'll use it all before I buy another one.

So, story time again:

The same year I decided to do homemade pumpkin pie from scratch, I had a revelation  I had it right in the middle of baking. Thankfully, I was prepping my pies the night before rather than the morning of Thanksgiving, so I had time to do a quick Google search and send hubby to the store... at nine o'clock at night. On the day before Thanksgiving. No, he wasn't amused.

But there I was, elbow deep in pumpkin guts (because I hadn't roasted my pumpkin the night before, I'd done it just then) and Grandma's recipe at the ready. Now, my grandmother was a great cook. But I was only ever "meh" on pumpkin pie. Once you topped it with a pound of Cool Whip, it was great, but by itself. Meh.

I opened up the can of evaporated milk. Don't ask me why I ended up tasting it, but the moment it hit the tip of my tongue it hit me: this stuff is AWFUL!  (Okay, okay, maybe you don't agree, my husband actually likes it). But NO WAY was I putting THAT in with these freshly baked and pureed pumpkins I'd been slaving over the last hour (remember, I'm doing three kinds of pumpkins because I want to compare flavor). Well, what can I substitute? What do I like? I like cream (minds out of the gutters folks!!)

Off to the store hubby went for heavy whipping cream (you know, the liquid stuff with a kazillion calories). But... wait... it's still missing something. I thought back to this really amazing pumpkin pie I'd had one at some restaurant. I don't recall which one, but the server talked me into it and it was so light and so fluffy and what made it that way...oh. Duh. I know exactly what made it that way. So off hubby goes again for ricotta cheese (because at that hour there was no way he'd be able to get mascarpone cheese, which is what I've used every year thereafter). And ricotta WILL work, but I really love mascarpone.

So what this really is is something between a cheese cake and a pumpkin pie, but without the insane density of either. It's a little time intensive, but it's also something you can prep the night before, stick in the fridge and pull out in the morning to bake.

Ingredients (makes 1 pie, but can be easily doubled depending on a) how many guests you're expecting and b) how much leftovers you want/don't want.)

  • 1 1/2 c. pumpkin puree
  • 1 c. mascarpone (or ricotta) cheese
  • 1 c. heavy whipping cream 
  • 4 egg yolks (beaten)
  • 1/2 c. packed, light brown sugar 
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

if you like a sweeter pie, you can up it to
2/3 c. --remember, you can always add
you can't take away!)

these are VERY subjective
I love cinnamon.
My husband loves ginger.
We both like a spicy pie.

  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 3/4  teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground anise

My grandmother thought nutmeg tasted like soap; I like it. She used a dash, I use a fair amount. She never used cloves, anise, or allspice at all. I love all three (allspice the most).  Follow your own taste buds when deciding what kinds of spices you like in your pie (and how much). I know a lot of people don't like ginger in their pie at all.

For the crust:

  • 1 c. flour
  • 2 Tablespoons ground cinnamon
  • 1Tablespoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground anise
  • 3 Tablespoons (give or take) cold water

  • 1/2  c. butter (real butter!!)
           room temp., but NOT soft
Pie crust is a tricky thing. It takes a little patience, but it's a wonderful art to master.
Sift together the dry ingredients into a bowl,
then "cut" in the butter. Better yet, use a pie crust tool:

to buy one click
(or check out your local cooking/
bakeware shop)

What you'll have in your bowl full of lumps of butter and spicy flour. That's what you want!
For the next step, I switch to my mixer (actually, I cut the butter and flour/spices together in the mixing bowl and then simply pop it onto the machine and attache the BREAD HOOK)

If you don't have a mixer and bread hook, you'll have to do this the old fashioned way. Add the cold water to the mix and give it a quick stir; you don't want to blend it, you want to make the mixture moist enough to work with. If you have mixer and bread hook, all you do next is turn it on and let it go for a few seconds. Otherwise, you'll have to turn the dough out onto a non stick surface (floured cutting board or wax paper) and knead it by hand. No big deal, but yours truly is quite lazy! I love my bread hook! (It's also fun for playing pirates with!!)

Even with the bread hook, you'll still have to roll your pie crust out on that non stick surface. I like using wax paper because it makes getting it into the pan so much easier (you don't pick up the crust, you pick up the waxed paper, still very carefully... okay, details. I put the pie pan on top of the crust, upside down, then just flip. Carefully).

If you want to get really fancy, you can hold back a little bit of crust and get out some cookie cutters (I have leaf and pumpkin shaped ones). I like the top of the crust with autumn leaf shaped bits of pie crust and usually put a couple of pumpkin shaped pieces of pie crust in the middle.

And yes, you really do want to make your crust first. Make it and set it aside (in the fridge if the kitchen is hot).

Now, back to the guts of the pie.
Clean out your mixing bowl (or use a hand mixer or a spoon and some elbow grease) and whip the cream lightly (not to stiff peaks, you just want it fluffy)

In another bowl, combine the rest of the ingredients.
Slowly fold in the pie/cheese/spice/sugar/vanilla mix into the fluffy cream.
Pour it into the pie crust. Decorate if with cut out shapes if you want.
If the pie pan looks a little over full, you can set it atop a clean cookie sheet to ensure that any overflow doesn't hit the oven (messy! stinky! catches fire!!)

Bake at 425 (F) for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350 (F) and bake for another 40-50 minutes.
Let cool for at least an hour before serving. (Best plan: put the pie into the oven as soon as you pull the turkey out. By the time everyone is sitting down to dinner, it should be about time to turn down the oven temp. By the time you're done eating, it's time to pull the pie. This gives folks a time to let dinner digest before diving into dessert!)

Whew. What a recipe, huh? But if you're out to impress your in-laws, this should pretty much knock their socks right off! (And his mother said you couldn't cook your way out of a wet paper bag. Ha!  ;-)

Want to make it ever sweeter?

Serve your pie with homemade ice cream; you will need an ice cream maker. Follow the instructions on the maker for basic prep (i.e., you'll need to freeze the bowl thing overnight). Make the mix the night before, chill it, and when you put the pie into the oven, set up the machine on the counter to mix the ice cream.

this is mine...well, a commercial image of the one I own
buy link HERE

The mix:

  • 1 2/3 c. heavy whipping cream
  • 1 2/3 c. whole milk
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 2 Tablespoons REAL vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
    (for regular vanilla ice cream, use white sugar)

get fancy:

  • 1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • and/or 2 teaspoons ground ginger

I'm basically lazy. I've improvised this from the original method. Whisk together the milk and sugar until sugar is dissolved. Whisk in the egg yolks and vanilla (and spices as desired), and heat very slowly over a low heat, stirring CONSTANTLY until hot but NOT boiling. Remove from heat. I like to give it just a few minutes to cool before adding in the cream. Let cool down completely before attempting to make ice cream.


(here's some music for when you're chasing your kids...or mate... around the kitchen with that bread hook playing Pirates!

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