Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Basics of Baking a Pumpkin Pie

Making a homemade pumpkin pie from scratch is easy to do. I like to try to avoid using lard and dairy products when possible, but feel free to use what you prefer.


1 pie pumpkin, peeled and chunked
1 cup of condensed milk (coconut, cashew, or soy milk for dairy-free)
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp Ceylon cinnamon (Penzey's)
1 tsp nutneg (Penzey's)
1 tsp baking spice (Penzey's)
2 eggs

Crust (for single crust)
1 cup all-purpose flour (King Arthur)
1/3 cup leaf lard or shortening (Spectrum Organic)
1 Tbsp butter (Kerrygold)
pinch of salt
3 Tbsp ice water


First buy a pie pumpkin, preferably organic. All pumpkins are edible - even the blue and white decorative ones - can be used to bake a pie, but the pie pumpkins are sweeter. There are some French varieties of pie pumpkins that have some more complex flavors. I prefer to steam roast the pumpkin rather than boiling it to soften the flesh because this concentrates the flavor and produces some caramelization rather than the blander watery product that comes from the alternative.
Both decorative pumpkins (left) and pie pumpkins (right) are edible

Peel the pumpkin using a Y-peeler (they are sturdier and better for peeling any winter squash), making sure to remove all of the tough skin. Peeling first makes it easier to deal with now rather than having to remove hot peels off the roasted pumpkin. Seed the pumpkin - you can roast them along with the pumpkin drizzled in olive oil and your choice of spices. Chop the pumpkin into even-sized chunks (to speed cooking time), place in a glass pan or pie plate, and then cover with aluminum foil. Bake at 350F for 1.5 hrs until soft. Let the pumpkin chunks cool to room temperature, and mash with a fork. 

roasted pumpkin chunks (and salsa verde)
toasted pumpkin seeds

Puree the pumpkin with 1 cup of cashew milk, coconut milk, or condensed milk, 1 tsp of ground cinnamon, 1 tsp pie spice, 1 tsp ground nutmeg, and 1 cup of packed brown sugar, and blend the pumpkin mixture until smooth. Taste and adjust the sweetness. Scramble two eggs and blend again. The filling texture can be varied to be more firm and custard-like by adding less milk but an additional egg. I like lots of pie spice flavor, so omit the pie spice and use Mexican cinnamon if you like a less strong, less anise flavor.

Preparation of the crust

Making a good crust is about three things: 1) not overworking the dough after it's wet where gluten can form, 2) coating the flour in fat to reduce gluten formation, and 3) using the right balance of shortening to create shatteringly crisp crust and butter to provide browning and flavor. Personally, I prefer a mostly shortening crust because I like my crust to be flaky. I only use all butter crusts when I'm doing something like a pecan pie. I like to use King Arthur Flour because it's a great product and it's made by a Vermont company. The flour is grown up North, so it will be slightly harder (more gluten) than any grown in the South (why White Lily grown down south is conversely the right flour for biscuits). All bakers I've consulted use Kerrygold butter from Ireland. The dairy cows are 100% grass-fed, so the butter has a great flavor and healthier fatty acid profile than from grain-fed dairy cattle.
crust ingredients

Combine 1 cup of flour, a pinch of salt, 1/3 cup of shortening, and butter using the pastry blender until they are fine crumbs as shown below.

Add 3 Tbsp of ice cold water and combine by chopping through the mixture with the pastry blender until all the dough pulls up into the blender in folds.

To facilitate turning the pie crust onto the pie plate I typically roll on a piece of flour-dusted plastic wrap. Here I used a piece of parchment paper instead, which works too.

Press the dough loosely into a flattened disk. Roll the dough using a flour-dusted rolling pin until it is two inches larger than the glass pie plate. I like to use a French rolling pin that tapers toward the edges to do the rolling. When rolling, push the pin towards the edges with the palms of your hands rather than rolling back and forth where the dough tends to stick to the pin. Dust the top of the dough periodically to keep it from sticking to the pin.
prepping to roll (Made In Italy pumpkin spoon rest from Marshalls HomeGoods)

The dough can be rolled onto the pin with the attached parchment paper leaving one end free. Turn the pin over and unroll the dough across the top of the glass pie plate (darker metal pans are more likely to burn). Then remove the parchment paper by peeling the paper back at a sharp angle.

Gently push the dough to the bottom of the pan. Try not to create cracks in the center of the crust. Typically I fold the edge of the crust before adding the filling to avoid getting liquid on the crust where it can burn, but the technique is reversed here. The free edges should be rolled up to the top edge of the pie plate. Then, use an alternating pinch technique to create a raised crust edge. This technique isn't just pretty. It creates extra height for the filling to expand into, an opportunity to have a browning Maillard reaction that adds flavor, and the folding add additional strength and greater surface area to create more crispness.
Filling added prior to crust edge prep
Alternating pinch technique
Ready to go into the oven
The finished pie with slight browing of the crust
 Note that the dairy-free version of pumpkin pie is darker than a pie prepared with condensed milk.

Sprouts sells this Cool Whip alternative that's trans fat-free and dairy-free

No comments:

Post a Comment