A Pie for All Seasons

[Pumpkin pie, post Thanksgiving, December 2010.]

Well, I didn’t end up making butternut squash soup this past weekend because I got sucked into a ridiculous amount of candy-making and photographing (as well as, I should admit, a bit of post late-lunch lounging on Saturday afternoon) and still my beautiful squash rests atop the fridge, practically begging me to do something with it (OK, that’s just my internal mutterings — the squash has been, and remains, quite mum.). So tonight I’ll roast it and puree it with maple syrup (and I will tell you about this lovely dish very soon, because it would make The Best addition to your December 25th table if you’re so inclined) for my singular pleasure (I cannot wait). I’ll also make a pot of sweet potato soup for dinner because it’s cold and gloomy here in San Francisco and I want that shot of warmth. I’ll wish I had pumpkin pie.

Now, I’m of the mind that pumpkin pie, though certainly reserved for the fall months, should not only be reserved for Thanksgiving week. Can it not also figure into the New Year’s feast? Cranberry sauce, for example, makes its first appearance on Thanksgiving and lingers well into the new year. I would like to argue, quietly, that pumpkin pie should please get to do the same.

A few years ago right before Christmas I came down with some sort of odd illness that in hindsight was probably stress-related — I was inundated with freelance deadlines, work at my day job was intense as at it always is in the last weeks of the year, I was trying to cram in my usual holiday-ing of making and sending cards, baking, going to a few lovely parties … I was pretty burnt. So my stomach decided that to counter the stress it would hurt. And it did do, for days and days. It was, as I wrote to a friend, the food blogger’s worst nightmare — I was mainlining that stomach-soothing tea from Traditional Medicinals (note: based in Sebastopol) and gnawing on homeopathic ginger chews. I wondered if I’d be able to eat Christmas dinner. It was miserable.

On the Eve I visited some friends in town. It was very cold and still and dry as Sonoma County often is in December (a proper winter-feeling; San Francisco, being perched along the ocean, stays damp and foggy and rarely dips into freezing temperatures even in winter) and I remember the stars were visible and spread out all across the sky. The house was warm, heated by a wood stove, and we sat and talked and drank tea. Then they pulled out a pumpkin pie — from Costco, but who cared? I hadn’t eaten much that day but something about that pumpkin pie … in that moment it seemed just the thing that would make me feel better. It did. I ate two slices, even, which slipped down cold and soothing and delicious. Suddenly I was on the mend.

You see what I mean, right? Hard evidence that pumpkin pie should and must figure prominently in December even after the Thanksgiving dishes have been washed and put away and the leftovers exist in memory only
(and perhaps also in our expanding waistlines). Plus — pumpkin pie. I swear I eagerly anticipate fall for months because I know I’ll get to eat it. Must I curtail my consumption just as I’m getting started?

Thanksgiving this year was wonderful — as I mentioned, I cooked and cooked and cooked, which was probably the thing I was most thankful for as I do love to cook (and cook. And cook.). But the trouble was that there was not enough pie. For six people there was one (1) pumpkin pie; one (1) apple pie; and one (1) upside-down cranberry cake (oh right: I also baked a batch of pumpkin-chocolate-chip cookies — yes, I do have a baking problem. Why do you ask?). You’d think this should have been enough but as I love pumpkin pie (without or without whipped cream; I’m easy) with a deep and abiding love actually no, there is never ‘enough.’

Thus, the week after Thanksgiving, despite experiencing what I can only describe as ‘baking fatigue,’ found me back in the kitchen (where I belong, apparently, and so I must accept my fate) making cauliflower-leek soup and hankering for pumpkin pie. What better dinner than soup followed by a big slice of pie? I can think of few others. And while I thought I’d been burned out by all the preparations for the big feast I discovered that, alas, no, cooking and I are enmeshed in a long-term love affair that may wane just a bit every so often but which always, always endures. There was little else I wanted to do that Monday night but cobble together a crust from whole wheat pastry flour (and the bit of all-purpose leftover from the previous week’s baking frenzy), stir evaporated milk into pumpkin puree, and wait breathlessly (or while watching a movie) until the pie was ready.

Oh and it was good, man. Too impatient to let it cool completely I had a wee taste that night (it is better to wait, however). I shared a cold slice for breakfast piled with decadent whipped cream. I nibbled at it before runs, in between coming home and going out again, with cups of tea …

I guess this means I’ll have to bake a pie for Christmas dinner, too. The season clearly demands it. So does my stomach.

I usually make my pies following the recipe on the back of the can — and I am not ashamed one bit. They turn out fabulously every time. But I’ve also made this version, via Gourmet, which is nice to make if you feeling like doing it up a bit. It’s equally delicious, if a bit more work.

Caramel Pumpkin Pie, via Gourmet

For pastry

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 sticks (10 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 to 5 tablespoons ice water

For filling

1 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
2 cups heavy cream
1 (15-oz) can solid-pack pumpkin (not pie filling; a scant 2 cups)
1 1/4 teaspoons ground ginger
1 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Pinch of ground cloves
Scant 1/2 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs, lightly beaten

Make dough:

Blend together flour, butter, and salt in a bowl with your fingertips or a pastry blender (or pulse in a food processor) until most of mixture resembles coarse meal with some small (roughly pea-size) butter lumps. Drizzle evenly with 4 tablespoons ice water and gently stir with a fork (or pulse in processor) until incorporated.

Squeeze a small handful of dough: If it doesn’t hold together, add more ice water, 1/2 tablespoon at a time, stirring (or pulsing) until incorporated, then test again. (Do not overwork dough or pastry will be tough.)

Turn mixture out onto a lightly floured surface and divide into 4 portions. With heel of your hand, smear each portion once or twice in a forward motion to help distribute fat. Gather all of dough together with scraper and press into a ball, then flatten into a 5-inch disk. Chill dough, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap, until firm, at least 1 hour.

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 375°F.

Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin into a 14-inch round, then fit into quiche pan and trim excess dough flush with rim of pan. Chill until firm, about 30 minutes.

Bake pie shell:

Lightly prick bottom of shell all over with a fork, then line with foil and fill with pie weights. Put quiche pan on a baking sheet and bake pie shell until side is set and edge is pale golden, 18 to 20 minutes. Carefully remove weights and foil and bake shell until bottom is golden, about 10 minutes more. Cool completely in pan on a rack, about 30 minutes.

Make filling while shell cools:

Bring sugar and water to a boil in a 3- to 3 1/2-quart heavy saucepan, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Boil syrup, washing down side of pan occasionally with a pastry brush dipped in cold water and gently swirling pan (do not stir), until mixture is a deep golden caramel, about 10 minutes.

Reduce heat to moderate and carefully add 1 cup cream (mixture will bubble vigorously), stirring until caramel is dissolved. Stir in remaining cup cream and bring just to a simmer.

Whisk together pumpkin purée, spices, and salt in a large bowl. Whisk in hot cream mixture, then add eggs, whisking until combined well. Pour filling into cooled crust and bake until puffed 1 1/2 inches from edge and center is just set, 55 to 60 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack, about 2 hours. (Pie will continue to set as it cools.) Remove side of pan before serving.

Join the Conversation

  1. First – YUM! I love pumpkin pie any time of the year!
    Second – Will you please, please, please post your candy recipes. The photos are too scrumptious to just look at!

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