Spicy Pumpkin Pie

In the past, I’ve made two different pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving: the fail-safe recipe that comes on the back of the Libby’s pumpkin can and the crowd-pleasing candied pecan pumpkin pie recipe I’ve shared on the blog before. For both of these recipes, I’ve always used canned pumpkin, and doing so has always produced excellent results. I had heard that making your own pumpkin puree could have uneven results and it just didn’t seem worth the bother, especially since I have tasted too many pies made with homemade puree that were not good at all. (Side note: these terrible pies were always made by a special breed of foodie whose righteous fervor for whole,organic, locally sourced ingredients is inversely proportional to their ability to cook. Am I the only one who has encountered this kind of person before?)

I was talking to someone once about making pie for Thanksgiving and when I said that I used canned pumpkin, this person was overcome with a look that was some mix of betrayal and indignation that was so strong that I was convinced that they must think that I used a canned pumpkin pie filling. But no—they just couldn’t fathom that, as someone passionate about baking, I would deign to use canned pumpkin. Oy.

Yes, the pie is reading Mother Jones. Ignore the chewed up part around the edge, which was due to a dumb error on the part of the baker.

Ignore the chewed up part around the edge, which was due to the clumsy hands of the baker.

Last year was the first time I experimented with making a pie with fresh pumpkin. We bought a sugar pumpkin at the beginning of fall because our godson was obsessed with pumpkins. Basically, we bought a pumpkin just so we could watch him carry his tiny pumpkin around the apartment saying “da puh-kin” over and over. After a few weeks, Aidan suggested that we might actually use the pumpkin for something, so I roasted and pureed it following the instructions at Oh She Glows and then baked it into a pie using a Cooks Illustrated recipe that calls for cooking the pumpkin mixture down before baking the pie. The result turned out to be easily the best pumpkin pie I’ve ever made. At first, I just assumed that this was because I had used a different, better recipe. But when Thanksgiving rolled around, I made the same recipe with canned pumpkin and while it was really good, it lacked a certain something that kept it from being the kind of out-of-this-world pie that the first one was. I made this recipe again this year with fresh pumpkin and even though I was a teaspoon short on ground ginger, the pie was excellent.

Fresh Pumpkin Puree via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

And so, since then, my feelings about the canned vs. fresh pumpkin debate have been complicated. Fresh pumpkin can be a wonderful thing, but it’s not the only way to go and it’s not without it’s complications. Canned pumpkin make a really good pie. And what’s more, it’s reliable and does not involve the extra prep work and planning that making your own puree involves. Making your own puree isn’t difficult, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t kind of a PITA, especially if you’re in a high-stakes baking situation or juggling the preparation of lots of different dishes (hello, Thanksgiving).

But making a good puree depends on getting good pumpkins. You need the little ones that are called sugar pumpkins or pie pumpkins. One of the aforementioned terrible pies was made by one of the aforementioned cooking-inept foodies who could recite the many virtues of spelt flour but did not understand that different varieties of pumpkins have different uses. Getting good pumpkins might also involve buying them earlier in the season, and possibly even processing them and freezing the puree ahead of time, to make sure that you aren’t left choosing from a selection of picked-over, dried-out, late-season pumpkins. (I’ll be honest—I bought a can of back-up pumpkin in case the pumpkin we bought this year turned out to be crappy.)

And finally, the biggest issue with fresh puree is that it tends to be more watery than canned puree, and the extra liquid will throw the proportions of your pie filling out of whack. After I pureed my pumpkin, I let it sit in a fine mesh strainer over a bowl for 30 minutes. At the end, I had roughly 2.5 cups of puree and nearly a cup of liquid that had drained away. Draining the pumpkin is often listed as an “optional, but recommended” step to making fresh puree. Looking at that cup of liquid, I’m not sure how optional it is if you want good results.

drained pumpkin puree liquid

In addition to straining the puree to get rid of any excess liquid, cooking the pumpkin down a bit also helps improve the final texture of your pie. That’s one of many reasons why I really love this Cooks Illustrated recipe. While cooking the filling before baking involves some extra steps and dirties a pan, the result is a wonderfully smooth, rich texture.  And while I’m kind of moony-eyed about how this pie turns out with fresh pumpkin, this recipe also works wonderfully with canned pumpkin. This pie has great flavor. If you compare the ingredients list to other pumpkin pie recipes, you might expect the amount of spice in this pie recipe to be overwhelming. It’s definitely well-spiced but it’s not too much—the spices just make a pumpkin pie that tastes truly decadent and rich. The original recipe uses a traditional pie crust, but I like to make pumpkin pie in a graham cracker crust. There are lots of benefits to a graham cracker crust: 1) it’s a delicious flavor compliment to the pie filling, 2) it’s quicker and less fussy than making a traditional crust, and 3) you can invite your favorite toddler over to share the leftover crackers and watch Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and, in under an hour, you will have made a best friend for life.

I hope you had an excellent Thanksgiving with plenty of good pie!

Spicy Pumpkin Pie via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

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Spicy Pumpkin Pie (crust adapted from Martha Stewart, filling adapted from Cooks Illustrated)

Recipe notes: The recipe calls for using a food processor to mix the filling. Each time I’ve made this recipe, I’ve used my food processor with good results. If you don’t have a food processor, you could definitely use a blender, but I don’t see why you couldn’t also use an electric mixer. It might result in a slightly different texture, but I’d be surprised if it were a significant difference. The key thing would be to make sure that you have the mixer going as you start to pour the pumpkin mixture into the eggs so that you don’t scramble your eggs. This is easy enough if you have a stand mixer. If you only have a hand-held mixer, you probably want to enlist a kitchen helper.

In my experience, this recipe makes more filling than will actually fill a regular 9” pie plate. Last Thanksgiving, I increased the graham cracker crust recipe by 50% and made the pie in a spring form pan instead (as if I were making a cheesecake).  This is a good route to go if you like a higher filling-to-crust ratio but it doesn’t look very traditional. You could also pick up a package of pre-made miniature graham cracker pie shells and fill them with your left overs. You could keep your mini-pies as a gift to yourself, but giving a kid their own personal mini pie is another way to make a fast friend. Of course, you would need to adjust the baking times accordingly for either of these options.

For the crust:

  • 12 graham crackers (or 1.5 c of graham cracker crumbs)
  • 5 tbsp butter
  • 1/4 c granulated sugar
  • A pinch of salt (skip this if you use salted butter)

For the filling:

  • 2 c of fresh pumpkin puree or 1 15 oz can of plain pumpkin
  • 1 c dark brown sugar (packed)
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2/3 c heavy cream
  • 2/3 c milk
  • 4 large eggs
  1. To make the crust, pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees F. Pulse the graham crackers in a food processor until you have fine crumbs. Melt the butter and drizzle over the crumbs. Add in the sugar and salt, if using. Pulse the ingredients together until combined. Dump the mixture into a 9” pie plate and press firmly into the bottom and up the sides of the pie plate. Bake until golden, about 10 minutes.
  2. When the crust is done baking, turn the oven up to 400 degrees F.
  3. To make the filling, pulse the pumpkin, dark brown sugar, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and salt together in a food processor for about a minute. Pour the pumpkin mixture into a medium sauce pan and bring it to a simmer over medium-high heat. Once the mixture starts sputtering, continue to cook for another five minutes, stirring constantly to keep the mixture from burning. The pumpkin mixture will be thick and shiny.
  4. Remove from the heat and whisk in the cream and milk. I do this in batches, adding half the cream, whisking to combine, adding the rest of the cream, whisking, and then repeating the process with the milk. Return the pumpkin mix to and heat it through, removing it from the heat as soon as it begins to simmer.
  5. Pulse the eggs in the food processor to combine the whites and yolks. With the processor running, slowly pour about half of the pumpkin mixture into the eggs. (I transferred half of the pumpkin to a glass measuring cup for this step for more controlled pouring.) Stop the food processor and add the rest of the pumpkin mixture to the egg mixture. Pulse the filling until everything is mixed well.
  6. Carefully pour the filling into your prepared crust, being careful not to overfill the crust. The pie will settle a bit while baking. After the pie has been in the oven for about 5 minutes, you can carefully ladle some of the excess filling into the pie.
  7. Bake the pie at 400 degrees F for about 25 minutes, until the filling is puffy and appears dry. The filling should still wiggle at the center if you gently shake the pie. Allow the pie to cool on a wire rack.

My Thanksgiving Contribution

For the second year in a row, two of our friends are hosting a potluck-style Thanksgiving celebration for we grad students in our program who are staying in town for break. Last year, I brought four pies as my contribution. And because I am full of surprises and excitement, I decided to do a repeat performance this year. My first step was to whip up two double pie crusts–enough for four single crust pies. As always, I used the all-butter pie crust found on Smitten Kitchen. The recipe is great, easy to throw together, and I’ve had fantastic results with it in the past. But lately, my crusts have been turning out not great. There is definitely some user-error occurring. Probably not the kind of thing that other people necessarily notice, but enough to hurt my soul. All of my pies are still uncut, but I’m interested to see how the crusts turn out this time. I think one of my winter break projects may be figuring out what’s been going wrong and trying to perfect my crust-making skills.

Anyway, first up was a crumb-topped apple pie.

apple pie

Then a pecan pie, which I made for the first time last Thanksgiving and for the second time yesterday.

pecan pie

And because pumpkin pie is traditional, I figure that I need to make at least two for a group of around 12-15 people. So I’ve got your standard, no-fuss pumpkin pie from the back of the Libby’s can . . .

pumpkin pie

. . . and for a little variety, a candied pecan-topped pumpkin pie.

candied pecan pumpkin pie

It looks a little homely, but this was a big hit last year and Aidan has already decided that this will be his one piece of Thanksgiving pie. Now all that’s left to do is (literally) whip up some whipped cream. I’m looking forward to some good food, definitely looking forward to some good beer (to take the edge off my end-of-the-semester anxieties), and already scheming ways to get out of the touch football game I hear is planned for this afternoon. Happy Thanksgiving!

Apple Crumb Pie (adapted from the Better Homes and Gardens 75th Anniversary Ed. Cookbook)

  • Single pie crust
  • 6-7 cups of apples, peeled and sliced (I used about 6 Ginger Gold apples)
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3 tbsp flour
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 c flour
  • 1/2 c brown sugar
  • 3 tbsp butter
  1. Line pie plate with single pie crust and crimp edges.
  2. Toss sliced apples together with sugar, 3 tbsp flour, cinnamon and nutmeg until coated. Spread apple mixture evenly in pie shell.
  3. Mix 1/2 cup flour and brown sugar together. Use a pastry blender to cut in butter until the mixture looks like coarse crumbs. Sprinkle brown sugar mixture on top of the apples.
  4. Cover edges of the pie with tin foil. Bake in a 375 degree oven for 40 minutes. Remove foil and bake 20 minutes more until bubbly.

Pecan Pie (adapted from the Better Homes and Gardens 75th Anniversary Ed. Cookbook)

  • 1 single pie crust
  • 3 beaten eggs
  • 1 c corn syrup
  • 2/3 c sugar
  • 1/3 butter, melted
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 1/2 c shelled pecans
  1. Line pie plate with single pie crust and crimp edges.
  2. Stir together eggs, corn syrup, sugar, butter, and vanilla until well-combined. Stir in pecans. Spread pecan mixture into pie shell.
  3. Cover edges of the pie with tin foil. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 25 minutes. Remove foil and then bake for 20-25 minutes longer until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.

Pumpkin Pie (an unintentional mash up of the Libby’s pumpkin pie recipe and the pumpkin pie recipe in the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook)

  • 1 single pie crust
  • 1 15 oz can of pumpkin
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ginger
  • 1/4 tsp cloves
  • 1 12 oz can of evaporated milk
  1. Line pie plate with single crust and crimp edges.
  2. Whisk together pumpkin and eggs until well-combined. Stir in sugar, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves. Slowly add evaporated milk to pumpkin mixture. Pour pumpkin mixture into pie shell.
  3. Cover edges of pie with tin foil. Bake in a 375 degree oven for 25 minutes. Remove foil and bake for 25 minutes more until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

Candied Pecan Pumpkin Pie (adapted from the Better Homes and Gardens 75th Anniversary Ed. Cookbook)

  • 1 single pie crust.
  • 2 beaten eggs
  • 1 15 oz can of pumpkin
  • 1/4 c milk
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tbsp flour
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp allspice
  • 1/2 c brown sugar
  • 1/2 c chopped pecans
  • 2 tbsp melted butter
  1. Line pie plate with single pie crust and crimp edges.
  2. Stir together eggs, pumpkin, and milk until well-combined. Stir in sugar, flour, vanilla, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice. Pour pumpkin mixture into pie shell.
  3. Cover edges of pie with tin foil. Bake in a 375 degree oven for 25 minutes. Remove foil. Stir together brown sugar, pecans, and butter. Sprinkle mixture over top of pie. Bake for 20-25 minutes more until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

Pumpkin x3

Like a lot of people, we’re getting ready for Halloween over here. We’ve got all the pieces for our costumes together, and I plan to spend part of the day throwing together some Halloween treats for a party our friends are throwing tomorrow. On Tuesday night after we did some shopping for the last few pieces of our costumes, Aidan and I came home and carved some pumpkins.

jack-o-lanterns

Mine is on the left; Aidan’s is on the right.

I really love pumpkin carving. When I was a kid, my parents would spread news paper all over the floor, cut open the tops of our pumpkins, and set us to scooping out the guts. My dad would be elbow deep in pumpkins, even though he’s allergic to them, scraping the sides clean. He’d give us each a Sharpie so we could draw a face on our pumpkin, which was a bit dangerous since I distinctly remember drawing some weirdly complicated designs. I believe my sister also had a penchant for drawing mouths with lots of tiny teeth and would get very upset if any of them broke off. I think we all struggled with not being able to carve our pumpkins ourselves, but now every time I take a knife to a pumpkin as an adult, I totally understand my dad’s caution. Because I really appreciate the fact that I still have all ten of my fingers.

Our family would also always roast the seeds from our pumpkins.

pumpkin seeds

I don’t know how my parents did it, but I rinsed these and left them out on a baking tray overnight to dry. Then I tossed these together with 2 tbsp of melted butter and about a teaspoon of seasoned salt and baked them for about 30 minutes at 300 degrees. Tasty. We got about 3 cups of seeds from two pumpkins.

Continuing the pumpkin frenzy, I decided to whip up some pumpkin scones this morning when I got home from teaching my early morning classes. I followed the recipe as written, adding a bag of Hershey’s cinnamon chips to the dough and topping the scones with a cinnamon-sugar mix. I’ve never made scones before, but these came together quickly and easily–it’s a great recipe and the King Arthur Flour blog posted step-by-step photo instructions for this recipe that are also helpful.

scones ready for the oven

After the dough is formed into rounds and sliced, the recipe recommends putting them, uncovered, in the freezer for 30 minutes while you preheat the oven. Chilling the scones before you bake them is supposed to help with the rise, and while I don’t have any prior scone experience to compare it to, multiple people reviewing this recipe said that putting them in the freezer really did make a difference. As someone who can’t ever seem to get my biscuits to rise the way I’d like, it makes me wonder if some pre-oven chilling would help in that situation too. Hmmm . . . I’ll have to experiment and see.

Pumpkin scone

Anyway, these scones were seriously good. I was worried I had over-handled the dough, but they had a great tender, light texture with a crunchy top from the cinnamon-sugar mix. These scones are about a million times better than the dry, dense, iced pumpkin scone I got a few weeks ago from the Starbucks across the street from the building I teach in. Today, one of my students asked me if I preferred Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts. I said Dunkin’ Donuts, but I now realize that I really should have said my house. Where else can you get warm pumpkin scones and fresh french press coffee while you watch The Real Housewives of Atlanta?

Ike the Giraffe

In closing, Ike hopes you have a fantastic Halloween weekend. He can’t wait to party.

Pumpkin Cupcakes

There is a student group in my program that I’m not involved with who hosted a department potluck last night that I had decided awhile ago I probably wouldn’t attend. That is, until one very persuasive friend started throwing around words like “free beer” and “chili relleno casserole.” So I went, and greatly enjoyed the beer, the food, and the good conversation. It was a fun night.

After I decided to go to this shindig, my first move was to go to Smitten Kitchen to figure out what I was going to bring. I find myself doing this a lot when I’m looking for recipes–first I check SK, then the King Arthur Flour website, and then my own cookbooks. If I can’t find anything there, then I take a deep breath and start sifting through recipes on Epicurious. I’m sure you feel greatly enriched now that you know my recipe finding process. The bottom line is that I really love Smitten Kitchen. It’s a great food blog that not only has a ton of great recipes, but also has a whole host of solid cooking and baking tips that have helped my own work in the kitchen immensely. Anyway, my own contribution to the potluck ended up being pumpkin cupcakes with maple cream cheese frosting–a recipe that I, of course, found on SK.

pumpkin cupcake

I have neither the patience nor the equipment to pipe roses onto the top of my cupcakes as they were beautifully shown on SK, so mine are more humbly “decorated” with some chopped, toasted pecans. I followed the recipe exactly as its posted on SK, except that I halved the frosting recipe since I knew I wasn’t going to pull off any impressive frosting design feats. Half of the recipe ended up being perfect for frosting the 18 cupcakes that I got from this recipe.

These were really good. I mean, REALLY good. They are light and moist in texture, not overly spiced, and they don’t have an overwhelming pumpkin taste. And they were well received by children and adults alike. At least two people who aren’t big fans of pumpkin (Aidan included) ate more than one, and one friend said, “this cupcake is the best part of my night.” What more can you ask for?

A final word of praise: In the comments on the original SK post, a number of people were disappointed that the cream cheese frosting didn’t have a distinct maple flavor. And it’s true–the maple syrup in the frosting just can’t compete with the stronger flavor of the cream cheese. Really, I think it’s a good thing because I’m not sure these cupcakes would have benefited from a strongly flavored frosting. But the most important thing to note about this frosting recipe is that it yields a superior cream cheese frosting. Because of the addition of the maple syrup, the recipe calls for a lot less powdered sugar than you typically see in cream cheese frosting recipes. The result is a frosting that is satisfyingly sweet without have the kind of over-sugared bite you can get when you have to add a lot of powdered sugar, and it is also much lighter than your typical cream cheese frosting. It’s the kind of frosting you can eat straight from the bowl (which I may or may not be doing right now) without feeling like your teeth are going to fall out of your head. I’m bookmarking this as my go-to cream cheese frosting, and frankly, I think you should too.