Sunday, November 29, 2009

Pumpkin Pie

The first pie that I learned to make is one of my favorite: good old pumpkin pie. I don't make it as much as I would enjoy, since a certain unnamed person for whom I do most of my cooking doesn't like pumpkin. But come Thanksgiving, Pumpkin Pie is a Rykoff family tradition, and sorry unnamed person, but if I only make one pie it will be pumpkin.

I've refined the recipe over the years, improving my crust technique (I used to -- gasp -- use store-bought crust), and tweaking the filling. The basis of my filling recipe is my grandmother's famous pumpkin pie. One of the last years that my grandmother made pumpkin pie somebody was helping her, but they were flummoxed because she couldn't find the famous pumpkin pie recipe. It turned out it was on the back of the Libby's can of pumpkin.

The most recent iteration, which I record here for posterity, is a pair of hybrid recipes. The crust has the basis in a Cook's Illustrated recipe (but with all butter -- I'm morally opposed to shortening, and also we don't eat pork, so no lard), but with the clever rolling method from Alton Brown. The filling merges Libby's recipe (with a fresh pumpkin!) with an old New York Times recipe. Although you can substitute a can of pumpkin (not "pumpkin pie filling") if you wish.

Crust for Single-Crust Pie (Updated!)

based on Baking Illustrated "blind-baked" pie-crust.  The best!

Makes 1 9-inch pie crust

1 1/4 cups (6 1/4 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbs sugar
7 Tbs unsalted butter (see below)
2-3 Tbs cold water
2-3 Tbs cold vodka

Food processor
Rolling pin
2+ gallon "jumbo" ziploc-style bag
2 pie tins
1 cookie sheet
3 cups dry beans or pennies for pie weights

Chop butter into small pieces, put in a small bowl, cover and put in freezer to chill it for a few minutes (at least). Mix together 3/4 cup, salt, and sugar in a food processor (reserving 1/2 cup). Add butter and process continuously for about 10 seconds, until mixture resembles cottage cheese. Put in remaining 1/2 cup flour and mix with 4-6 quick pulses until incorporated.

Mix vodka and water together. Move flour/butter mixture to a medium bowl. Sprinkle 4 Tbs mixture with flour and use a rubber spatula to incorporate. If the dough is not sticking together (this depends on humidity, altitude, etc) add more vodka/water mixture. The vodka is used because the alcohol will evaporate in the oven, allowing a wetter dough to be mixed that won't end up with a tough and chewy crust. When the dough sticks together, form into a 5" disk and place in the jumbo ziploc bag. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour, as much as 2 days.

Put oven rack on lower-middle position and preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.  Place two pie tins and cookie sheet in freezer. Remove dough from freezer and put on a large table. Roll out the dough inside the bag. This helps keep everything together. You'll have to unstick the dough from inside the bag every several rolls. When the dough is rolled out (enough for a tin plus 1" + margin), remove pie tins and cookie sheet from freezer. Put the bag with dough on the frozen cookie sheet. This ensures that the crust stays nice and cold. Cut off the top half of the bag. Put one of the pie tins right side up on the dough. Flip dough and pie tin over, so that you have the dough draped over the back of the tin. Peel off the rest of the plastic bag, and put the second pie tin on the first and press dough into place. Flip over and remove outer pie tin. Tamp down bottom circle of crust. Trim overhang to within 1/2 inch, fold under edge and make a nice fluted edge (this part I'm not very good at).

The next part really helps.  Refrigerate dough-lined plate 30-40 minutes, and then freeze for about 20 minutes.  The first refrigeration helps relax the gluten and minimizes shrinkage during baking; the second freezing improves the flakiness due to the different melting points of the flour and butter.

Put two layers of aluminum foil in crust and weight down with dry beans or pennies.  Put in oven and bake until light in color, 25-30 minutes.  Carefully remove the foil and bake for a further 5 minutes.

Pumpkin Pie with Fresh Pumpkin

Makes 1 9-inch pie

1 pie-appropriate pumpkin
3/8 cup (3.5 ounce) white sugar
3/8 cup (3.5 ounce) packed light brown sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp fresh grated ginger or 1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp nutmeg
2 eggs
5/8 cup whole milk
5/8 cup half-and-half

Preheat over to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Take 1 medium sugar pie pumpkin or winter luxury pumpkin or french roasting pumpkin or (as I do) whatever they recommend at your favorite pumpkin-monger at the farmers' market. Cut in half lengthwise, and scoop out the seeds and stringy bits. This is a bit of a pain, and may require a paring knife as well as a spoon. However, getting out the stringy bits makes a much better pie! Line baking sheet with foil and place two halves of pumpkin pumpkin-side down. Bake for 1-1.5 hours until domes noticeably soften, but before things start getting very brown. Scoop out pumpkiny goodness from the shell into a bowl, and mash with a spoon. It may be fairly wet, so put the mashed pumpkin in a sieve to drain excess liquid. (I usually do this before I start the crust). (It is, of course, possible to skip this whole thing and use 1 can of pumpkin). Update: To effectively get the excess liquid out of the pumpkin, Christopher Kimball recommends lining a baking sheet with 3 sheets of paper towels, spreading the pumpkin, and then covering again with 3 more sheets. With some light pressing the paper towels will get saturated, and you end up with a nice sheet of perfectly textured pumpkinny goodness.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Combine sugar, salt, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and nutmeg in a small bowl and whisk to mix. Beat eggs in medium bowl. Add sugar mix and whisk together. Wait a few minutes and whisk again (to ensure that sugar dissolves completely). Whisk in mashed pumpkin. Update: If the mix is too lumpy at this point (when using fresh pumpkin) this mixture can be pulsed a few times in a food processor before continuing.  Slowly add milk/half-and-half mixture and whisk to mix completely. Add filling and put in oven. After 15 minutes, reduce heat to 350 F. Bake for an additional 30-40 minutes until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool on wire rack.

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