Toward a more perfect union, pumpkin pie division | Bleader

Toward a more perfect union, pumpkin pie division


1 comment

Theres a pie in here somewhere . . .
  • Rene Schwietzke
  • There's a pie in here somewhere . . .
Thanksgiving cooks are such insufferable didacts: prepare this turkey, they'll tell you—heritage, brined—and these sides (brussels sprouts, creamed), cooked this way (deep-frying also permissible). Recently on Buzzfeed Sam Sifton, whose Thanksgiving cookbook somebody should surely be thinking about buying for me for Christmas, though at that point it will either come one month late or 11 months early, laid down six inviolable holiday rules—for instance, "The only trouble that should ever present itself when the subject comes to mashed potatoes and Thanksgiving is should someone demand that garlic or basil be added to the mix. Your response to this heresy should be brief and unequivocal: NO." Forgive the abrasive tone and watch Sifton's video—it's wonderful. But then consider: Are you tired of being bossed around? We all have different tastes, different gustatory preferences, different dietary needs. Do you seek a more fluid—a more forgiving—approach to American's tastiest holiday?

Great, then find your own fucking website. Because I am about to tell you how to make the world's finest pumpkin pie.

To be sure, I'm coming at this from a school of thought skeptical of classical pumpkin pie, whose muddy texture and boundary-pushing sweetness I've long been suspicious of. Classic pumpkin pie comprises ingredients each respectable in its own right, but the pie gestalt tends to be too too—too saccharine, too heavy. What pumpkin pie needs is to lighten up a little, which you will accomplish with the help of just a bit more heavy cream: pumpkin cream pie.

This recipe is stolen almost whole-hog from Martha Stewart, but it has evolved in a couple crucial ways.

The crust:

Actually the crust I'm stealing from myself. Martha prefers a gingersnap crust, and you can find her recipe here; when possible I eschew gingersnap for classic salty, buttery pie crust. This is from a recipe I posted a few months back:

1¼ c all-purpose flour
½ t salt
½ t sugar
4 oz butter, cold, cut into little pieces

Mix the dry ingredients. Dump in the butter and, using your fingers, work it into the flour mixture. Most recipes describe the ideal outcome here as "coarse meal"-like: the fat should be well integrated into the flour, but some larger pieces should remain. (They're what makes the crust flaky. So, for that matter, does shortening—you could substitute maybe an ounce of Crisco for an ounce of butter, if you want.) Sprinkle about 3 T cold water over it and mix nimbly with your fingers or a fork—the dough should start sticking to itself. Add more water, a little at a time, as needed. Form the dough into a ball and refrigerate for an hour.

Get a pie tin. Use a paper towel to spread a little oil onto the bottom of it (or use one of those spray cans, if you're fancy); toss in a little flour too. Roll the dough and put it into the pan. Crimp the edges.

Refrigerate for about 20 minutes.

OK, then: Put the pie shell in the freezer. Heat the oven to about 375 degrees. When the oven's ready, line the shell with parchment paper and weigh it with something that won't cook: dry beans or rice, or coins, or cherry pits. Bake it like this for maybe 20 minutes, until it looks more or less done. Take the weighted parchment out, pierce the bottom of the shell with a fork a few times, and bake five or ten more minutes, until the bottom is just starting to brown. That's your pie shell. (Bonus tip: while the shell's still hot you can brush it with an egg white or some chocolate shavings; both, when they cool, will create a seal to keep the crust from sogging underneath its filling.)

The filling:

The filling is Martha's with one crucial addition: some cream that you'll whip and fold into the filling. You'll find this to produce a light and ethereal effect.

½ cup sugar
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Pinch of ground cloves
¼ cup cornstarch
4 large egg yolks

Whisk together the above till all ingredients are moistened, then continue whisking until the mixture has lightened in color. Meanwhile, in a saucepan on the stove, heat, at about medium-high:

2 c whole milk

When the milk is about scalding, pour about half of it slowly into the sugar mixture, whisking constantly. Dump all of it back into the saucepan and put it back on the stove, at medium heat or a little hotter. Don't stop stirring or whisking or otherwise agitating. Cook till the mixture thickens. Turn up the heat a bit at the end and, stirring constantly, let it bubble a little. This cooks off the starchy flavor.

Because you'll no doubt have read ahead to the end of this recipe before endeavoring to begin it (that's rule number one!), you'll already have waiting in yet another bowl:

1 ¼ c pumpkin pureee (from a 15-ounce can)
1 T unsalted butter
½ vanilla extract

Plus maybe a tablespoon of bourbon or rum, if that's your thing. Pour the hot, thickened mixture through a fine sieve over the pumpkin, butter, and vanilla. Stir until the butter is melted and the mixture is uniform, then set in the fridge to chill for a while. Stir it every now and then.

When the pumpkin pie filling is at about room temperature or maybe a little cooler—not fully set, in any event—whip about half a cup of heavy cream to medium-stiff peaks (you want it as close to the consistency of the cooled filling as you can get, but err on the side of under- rather than overwhipping). Fold half the whipped cream, very carefully, into the filling, folding to incorporate; then fold in the other half, being very gentle about it all but making sure that the mixture ends up uniform. Cover with plastic wrap (which you should press against the top of the filling; this'll prevent a skin from forming on it) and cool completely.

When everything is cool, scoop the filling into the crust and smooth the top. Whip about 1¼ c heavy cream, with about 3 T sugar, to medium peaks. Spoon it onto the filling, and chill the pie till you're ready to serve it.