Fear Conquered: Pumpkin Pie
“You can try,” Boyfriend Javelin says dubiously. “But I really don’t like pumpkin pie much.”
“How can you not like pumpkin pie?” I ask. A little bit irritably. Because I already know the answer. Crazy people don’t like pumpkin pie.
“I don’t know,” Boyfriend Javelin says. “There’s always something strange about the flavor. Or maybe it’s the texture.”
“It’s just pumpkin with spices like ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon,” I protest. Boyfriend Javelin loves cinnamon. And he likes ginger. And nutmeg. He likes to crack jokes referencing Mihn from King of the Hill: “Needs more nutmeg!”
“I don’t know,” Boyfriend Javelin goes on. He’s getting his back up. He’s standing taller, shoulders back, starting to glare at me. “It must be one of those spices then. Or maybe it’s the pumpkin.”
“But have you ever had real pumpkin pie?” I ask petulantly. “Besides that store-bought crap.” Store-bought is always crap. Even if it’s not, that’s my default go-to word for it. I’m prejudiced against store-bought - but then you already knew that.
“Probably,” Boyfriend Javelin snaps. “I think Grandma used to make hers.”
“But did she used the canned stuff?” I insist, even more petulantly. I almost called it canned crap. But I catch myself just in time.
“I don’t KNOW!” he barks back. Now he’s really glaring and his face is turning a little pinkish. “Probably,” he admits a moment later.
I smirk triumphantly. Triumphant because he’s never tasted real pumpkin pie. Well, real, as in pumpkin pie made at home with pumpkin that’s not from a can. Although neither of us knows if he will be able to swallow a bite of this “real” pumpkin pie that has yet to be made. But I still feel triumphant. “Well,” I say with great authority, “Pumpkin pie made from a can is going to taste VERY different than pie made with fresh pumpkin.” I have nothing to back up this statement. It may not even be true.
But it felt like the truth. Because canned beets taste nothing like fresh beets and canned green beans taste nothing like fresh green beans and canned tomatoes really don’t taste like fresh tomatoes. So why should canned pumpkin taste the same as fresh? It’s simply not logical, my dear Spock.
But I have nothing to back up this logical conclusion. I’ve never tasted canned pumpkin and I’ve never tested my pie recipe with canned pumpkin. And I had zero evidence of a difference in taste during my momentous triumph with Boyfriend Javelin - nary a pie made and already spouting logic as fact.
Yet Boyfriend Javelin doesn’t press for facts. “Fine,” he says. “But I still may not like it.”
Skip forward. I roast the pumpkin, I roast the butternut squash, I murmur reassurances to myself. Fresh is better. Homemade is better. Only crazy people don’t like pumpkin pie. I go crazy with spices. I start with fresh nutmeg and crystalized ginger. I use vanilla bean. I add cardamom and cloves. And ditch canned sweetened condensed milk and use mascarpone cream cheese. And I murmur more reassurances to myself. He’ll love homemade pastry crust. He’ll love mascarpone. He’ll love all the spices.
Pie is baked and cooled. The apartment smells incredible. Boyfriend Javelin grudgingly admits it smells good. More reassurances. Of course it smells good. Only crazy people don’t love pumpkin pie.
Pie is chilled, whipped cream is made, first slice is plated. And handed to Boyfriend Javelin. “It’s not bad,” he says. He takes another bite. “It’s definitely better than what I’ve had in the past.” Another bite. “It’s still not my favorite.”
I roll my eyes at him and try my slice. Perfect. Except for some of the spices. And maybe the pie wouldn’t have overflowed the crust if I’d scaled back on some of the pumpkin and butternut squash. But it’s still delicious. “I think it’s good,” I persist. “What don’t you like about it?”
“It is good,” he says. His back is starting to get up again. “I’m just saying it’s not my favorite.”
“But do you think the spices are ok?” I ask. I’m already readjusting the spices in my mind. More nutmeg. Less cardamom. Less cloves.
“I think the spices are pretty good,” Boyfriend Javelin says slowly. “And I’m glad you used some butternut squash. You could probably use more. But then I don’t really like pumpkin pie.”
I sigh. “Ok,” I say. “So it’s not bad, then?” Crazy boyfriend not liking pumpkin pie.
“No, it’s pretty good,” he says. Then he winks at me. “Needs more nutmeg.”
I glare, but we both know I don’t mean it.
More tweaks, more sampling. More tweaks. I send pies with him to share with co-workers. I take pies to my in-laws. I add more nutmeg. I add cognac. I decide to use just a food processor instead of involving a stand mixer. I change the baking times. More sampling.
“Needs more nutmeg,” Boyfriend Javelin says. It’s a year later, he hasn’t even tasted his first bite. He grins at me and I chuckle. He tastes the bite and nods his head from side to side. “I think it’s good,” he says.
I raise my eyebrows. “So you like pumpkin pie?”
“It’s still not my favorite,” he says, half-smiling. “But it’s good enough to share.”
Crazy boyfriend. But I’m glowing with triumph. Take that, fear of pumpkin pie!
It is a delicious pie with an assertive but balanced spice mix. The fresh nutmeg and crystalized ginger perk up the flavors and I find cardamom and cognac enhance the vanilla. The pie is super-moist with a marvelously dense consistency. And of course it includes butternut squash - more flavor and a bit sweeter than pumpkin.
This pie is also an expensive devil to make. You could spend a small fortune on just spices. Vanilla bean sells like $15 for 2 beans at Walmart. At Walmart! Yeah. And the crystalized ginger is crazy expensive unless you live near a Whole Foods where you can buy it in tubs. And fresh nutmeg isn’t cheap (although it will last you a long time). Neither is cardamom. All these costly ingredients bake up a really delicious pie, but it’s like eating gold on a fork. So if you need to pinch some pennies, read the tips that follow the recipe.
|This recipe makes a 9-inch pie. I recommend using a thermal-shock resistant pie plate. Preheat oven to 400F|
|First comes the crust. You will need enough pastry dough for 1 pie crust|
|Roll out the pastry dough to at least a 12-inch diameter|
|Transfer the pastry to the pie plate. The easiest way is to roll up the pastry around the rolling pin and then to unroll over the plate. Be careful not to stretch the dough|
|Work the pastry dough gently into the pie plate. Work quickly and do not stretch the dough.|
|Crimp the edges of the pie with the thumb and index finger of one hand the the index finger of your other hand|
|Trim off the excess pastry around the edges of the pie plate with a sharp knife|
|Freeze the pastry shell for 10 minutes - this helps to create a flakier crust when baking|
|Line the frozen pastry shell with foil (shiny side facing the pastry dough)|
|Fill the foil with beans or oats. I use steel-cut oats. Blind bake the crust for 20 minutes at 400F|
|Remove the foil and filling, prick the sides the bottom of the pastry with a fork, and bake for 5-10 minutes at 375F|
|Remove crust from oven when pastry is a light golden color in the center and starting to crisp|
|While the crust bakes, prepare the filling. Add brown sugar to the bowl of a food processor|
|Mince 2 teaspoons of crystallized ginger|
|Scrape out the inner seeds from a vanilla bean|
|Grate 1/2 teaspoon (packed) of fresh nutmeg|
|Add all spices, ginger and vanilla to the food processor|
|Process sugar and spices until crystallized ginger and nutmeg are pulverized|
|Add butternut squash puree|
|Add pumpkin puree|
|Process squashes with sugar and spices until smooth|
|Add 3 egg yolks and softened mascarpone cheese|
|Process everything until smooth|
|Add vanilla extract|
|Add cognac liquor|
|Process everything until smooth and well combined|
|Pour filling to prepared crust. Bake at 375F for 20 minutes, then at 325F for 30-35 minutes until center top is set|
|Let pie cool at room temperature until completely cool|
|Chill for 6 hours for best flavor. Decorate with whipped cream and serve.|
Spiced Fresh Pumpkin Pie
Prep Time: 45 min
Cook Time: 50-55 min
Ingredients (1x 9-inch Pie)
- 1 homemade pastry crust
- 3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
- 2 teaspoons minced crystalized ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
- 1 3/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/16 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 8 ounces mascarpone cheese, at room temperature
- 3 large egg yolks, at room temperature
- 1 cup roasted pumpkin puree
- 1/2 cup roasted butternut squash puree
- 1 Tablespoon cognac
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 3/4 cup homemade whipped cream, for decorating (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 400℉; roll-out the pastry dough into a 12-inch diameter circle and transfer the dough to an ungreased 9-inch pie plate; tuck the pastry dough into the pie plate (do not stretch the dough), then crimp the edges and trim off the excess pastry dough
- Freeze the pastry shell in the freezer for 10 minutes, then line with foil (shiny-side facing the pastry dough) and fill the foil-lined shell with beans or oats
- Blind bake the pie crust for 20 minutes, then remove the foil and filling and prick the sides and bottom of the pastry dough with a fork; reduce the oven temperature to 375℉ and bake the crust for another 5-10 minutes until the crust is golden and starting to crisp
- While the crust blind-bakes, prepare the pie filling: Scrape out the seeds from the vanilla bean with the tip of a knife; add the sugar, crystalized ginger, vanilla bean seeds, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom and salt to the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade; process until the ginger and nutmeg are pulverized (about 3 minutes)
- Add the pumpkin and squash puree to the bowl of the food processor and pulse to combine with the sugar and spices; run the food processor for another 2 minutes until the mixture is smooth
- Add the mascarpone cheese and egg yolks to the bowl of the food processor and pulse to combine with the other ingredients, then run the food processor until the mixture is smooth and creamy (about 2 minutes); add the cognac and vanilla extract and pulse to combine
- Pour the pie filling into the baked pie shell and bake for 20 minutes at 375℉; rotate the pie and reduce the oven temperature to 325℉ and bake for another 30-35 minutes or until the center top is set but wobbly, rotating and checking after 20 minutes
- Remove the pie from the oven and let cool to room temperature (about 3 hours); chill the cooled pie for at least 6 hours, then top with optional whipped cream and serve
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Hungry for Tips?
- If you don't want to spend a small fortune on spices, you can use regular ground spices (which are significantly cheaper) and just vanilla extract instead of vanilla bean and extract. For ginger, use 1 teaspoon ground ginger instead of the crystallized. For nutmeg, use 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg instead of the fresh grated. For vanilla, use a total of 2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract and eliminate the vanilla bean. If use these substitutions, you can eliminate the food processing steps and just mix the ingredients together with a electric mixer (hand-held or stand).
- A good pie crust can make a good pie spectacular and a bad pie crust and wreck even the best flavored of pies. So I strongly recommend making your own pastry dough and blind-baking the crust before adding the filling. Blind-baking ensures the crust is super-flaky and doesn't absorb the liquidy filling. I've provided the exact technique I use for blind-baking pastry crust, but the baking times will vary slightly depending on the pie plate you use.
- Why cardamom and cognac? Sometimes vanilla flavor can get lost behind all the other more aggressive spices like cloves and cinnamon. I find a little bit of cardamom and some cognac help enhance the flavor of the vanilla without muddling the other flavors in the pie. If you don't have either of these ingredients, you can leave them out (although the flavor of the pie will change somewhat).
- I avoid opening cans and so I don't use sweetened condensed milk (a common ingredient in classic pumpkin pie recipes). Instead, I use mascarpone which is an Italian sweet cream cheese. It's delicious and it's a big contributor to the texture of this pie. I do not recommend substituting regular American cream cheese as the flavor profile is quite different from mascarpone.
- The food processor both pulverizes the crystallized ginger and grated nutmeg while also mixing all the other ingredients together. If you do not own a food processor, you can use a standard blender to pulverize the ginger, nutmeg and vanilla bean seeds using about half the brown sugar. After pulverizing, dump the sugar and spices into a separate bowl before beating in all the other ingredients using a electric mixer.
- Do NOT over-bake pumpkin pie. The surface of the pie should just be set when the pie is ready to be removed from the oven. In fact, the center of the pie will still be quite wobbly and that's fine. If you over-bake the pie, you will end up with SEVERE cracking on the surface of the pie and the brown sugar may crystallize, marring the inner texture of the pie. So check the pie early and keep checking as it approaches the end of the baking time.
- I recommend topping any pumpkin pie with homemade whipped cream. Pumpkin pie and whipped cream were made for each other. Like it's wrong to eat pumpkin pie without whipped cream (it's not, but still). Besides, pumpkin pie looks a bit drab without the contrasting white whipped cream.
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