Week 10: Thanksgiving part one, in which we discover, bake, and gobble the Perfect Pumpkin Pie

Thanksgiving is any pie-maker’s happy place. Everyone expects pie. Everyone is ready to eat more than one slice of pie (everyone who is any fun that is). Pie is celebrated. Pie is praised. Pie is gobbled. Pie is The Finale.

I like making a desert that is well and truly seen by all as The Finale. I like being the center of attention like that, I admit.

At the same time, the perfectionist pie maker might find Thanksgiving a shade stressful. I mean, a pie that is The Finale must not only be swoon-worthy, with a crust both flaky and golden and a filling to sing about, it must also be Magnificent to Behold. A perfectionist finds that prospect a little eek-inducing.

Last year I avoided pie completely, because last year I wanted to skip the finicky crust-making process. Instead I made an apple tart cake and a cranberry caramel tart, both delicious, both beautiful, both fitting for the season. However, a few family members asked in a quiet, “not-that-I’m-disappointed-or-anything” sort of way, whether or not there was going to be pumpkin pie. After I stopped feeling miffed (“Be thankful for what you’ve got here people!”), I realized that they had a point. It wasn’t right. Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie is wrong. This year there would be pumpkin pie. My fella asked me if I was making “a regular pumpkin pie” (knowing that it is my habit / addiction to try new recipes, even / especially for the most high-pressure occasions) and when I told him yes, he said, “Yes!” The only ingredient that makes this a little non-traditional is maple syrup, but who could get upset about that?

I am one of those people who could pretty much drink maple syrup straight from the jar. I find it hard to imagine many foods that couldn’t be improved with a little drizzle of its golden perfection. So when Fall comes I find every excuse to bake / cook / drink the stuff. When I discovered a recipe for Maple Pumpkin Pie I felt that it would satisfy the traditionalists in my family as well as my inclination to tweak a classic into something even more memorable. One bite of this pie was all it took to convince me that it will be very unlikely that I will experiment with different pumpkin pie recipes again. Do not bother looking for another recipe. This one is The One.

Before I get to the recipe, don’t you think the look of a pumpkin pie is the definition of understated, rustic simplicity? I had wanted to do cut-outs of tiny leaves all around the crust edge, but I didn’t have enough pastry and I didn’t have a leaf cutter, so I just pressed the tines of a fork all around and I was surprised by how much I liked how it looked. The opposite of fussy, but still so evocative of Fall. It says, “I am ready for whipped cream now, thank you very much.”

Crust
(This crust is courtesy of Good Egg, who is now blogging at Pie-Scream. This recipe beats the others I’ve tried so far, by a long shot. You can read her wonderfully specific and non-terrifying instructions for making this pastry here. I’ve said it my way below).

2 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
1 tbsp granulated sugar (or 2 if you like it sweeter)
1 tsp salt
12 tbsp chilled unsalted butter, cut into small bits
1/2 cup chilled Crisco, cut into small bits
ice water (6-8 tbsp)

Filling
(adapted from Pie by Ken Haedrich)

3 large eggs
1 cup of light cream or half-and-half
1/2 cup of pure maple syrup, dark is best
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 1/2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
3/4 tsp salt
one 15-oz can (1 3/4 cups) pumpkin puree

Whipped Cream

1. Put a cup or so of water into the freezer to chill while you get the rest of the crust ingredients organized. Mix the flour, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl. Drop the pieces of butter into the dry ingredients and toss with a fork. Drop the pieces of shortening into the butter and toss again with a fork. Using a pastry cutter or your fingers, cut / rub the fat into the dry ingredients until you have mostly pea-sized bits. A few larger pieces are good for the flaky-factor. Take out your water and drizzle 4 tbsp onto the mixture, tossing it in with your fork. Add more water, 2 tbsp at a time, mixing after each addition, being sure to get to the flour that hangs out at the bottom of the bowl. After you have 6 tbsp in there, try to press a bit of the crust together to see if it holds. If it doesn’t, add a little more water until you are able to get it to hold together. Pack it like you would a snowball and divide into two pieces. Ken Haedrich says to give it a knead or two, but you really don’t want to work it much at this point. Flatten each piece into a disk and cover with plastic wrap. Chill for at least an hour in the fridge or longer.

2. After you’ve chilled it, roll the pastry into a 13-inch circle and turn it over a 9-inch pie dish. Tuck it in without stretching it and trim off excess so that you have about a 1/2 inch overhang. Tuck the overhang under to form an upstanding ridge, even with the rim of the plate. Chill for 15 minutes or so. Preheat the oven to 400º. When you take it out of the fridge to blind bake (partially bake), press the tines of a fork around the edge of the crust to make a simple pattern. Line the shell with a circular piece of parchment and then fill the parchment with beans / pie weight of choice and bake for 20 minutes to set the pastry. Remove the beans and parchment and quickly prick the bottom of the pastry all over with a fork to allow steam to escape. Turn the oven down to 375º and bake until light golden on the edges and sides, about 10 minutes. Remove to cool completely on a rack.

3. Reduce the oven temperature to 350º. Beat the eggs lightly in a medium bowl. Whisk in the cream, maple syrup and vanilla. In a small bowl mix the sugar and spices, flour, and salt. Add this to the wet mixture and stir, and then finally add the pumpkin and whisk well.

4. Put the cooled shell on a baking sheet and then carefully pour the filling into the shell. You want to fill it right up because that looks really nice in the end after it bakes. You don’t want it to look underfilled and unhappy. Place the pie on the sheet in the over and bake for 25 minutes. Turn a half turn and continue to bake until the filling is set but the middle still wobbles a bit when you jiggle the tray. When it’s done the outer area will have puffed a bit and the edges will have a sheen to them. You want to try to get it when it is just at this point, because the pie will have a lovely silky texture if it is not overbaked.

5. Cool completely. Serve with whipped cream.

I tell you, this pie will make everyone be quiet and just revel in the perfectly spiced, creamy, maple-kissed pumpkin flavour. One thing that I think separates an ordinary pumpkin pie with something special is getting the level of spices just right. An underspiced pumpkin pie can be boring. I know it’s a little braggy, but I don’t think this pie could be better. I would enter a pumpkin pie throwdown with this pie. So far, of the pies I’ve made on this pie mission, I’d put this pie way up at the top, either in the #1 or #2 spot. Also, in terms of ease, it’s not a very demanding pie for someone who doesn’t make pies often.

I have made another one today, for our second Thanksgiving, and I think I will probably make a third one next weekend, because it is so good everyone fought over the leftovers and so we ended up with hardly any just for us.

And now a song all about going home and feeling loved.

Blue Ribbon for Best Smooth and Spicy Pumpkin Filling

Happy Thanksgiving!

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