Pumpkin Pie ~ My take on an American Classic
I've never had a pumpkin pie in my entire life because pumpkins and/or squashes are just meant to be savory here. I can't imagine pumpkin as sweet before, then it became a trend to put it in desserts because of the flavor and health benefits; still haven't tasted a sweet with pumpkin. So, pumpkin is generally accepted now to be used in sweet and savory alike but the idea of pumpkin pie with spices (some even call for black pepper and coriander) is still perplexing because the use of spices with sweets is not much accepted, it sure tastes alien here!
Last week, there was a conversation about pumpkin pie on Dabrownman's blog and it really made me want to taste pumpkin pie. I like to taste one to know the reason why every American I knew love the taste of sweet pumpkin with spices in a pastry shell. For me as always there's no other way to taste it than to make it myself as soon as possible.
(This is long post with a ton of pictures because I'm so happy of what I've achieved)
This weekend, my cousin brought us half of the lovely pumpkin (I don't know if it's a pumpkin or squash; what I just know is when I became aware of this world is THIS is the pumpkin or squash that I knew but I'll call it pumpkin in this post) that they harvested weighing more than two kilos. I said to myself that maybe it's really meant and it's the right time for me to make some pumpkin pie.
This pumpkin pie was totally unplanned! I tried to get my palate accustomed first to sweet pumpkin by just dipping my toes in the water, pumpkin sweets with simple clean flavors. First, I thought of making a pumpkin flan but I saw some spices used in pumpkin pie in my bunch of things so my thoughts shifted to a crust less pumpkin pie. When I am to begin my mind was struck again that it won't work so I changed my mind again, I'll just make a pumpkin flavored custard tart. Then again I got really curious about the taste of a pumpkin pie and I got all the ingredients I frequently saw on pumpkin pie recipes so finally I've settled that I will give it a shot. Okay, I am ready to check the internet for an exact recipe but there was no connection! I'll just have to rely on my memory on what I've seen on that recipe. I remembered it has maple syrup, evaporated milk, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger.
I really winged this pie, the filling and the crust! I don't have a recipe to follow and I don't have many of the required ingredients in the kitchen. Well, it's not a problem! I am the kind that doesn't hesitate to improvise or substitute.
* I don't have evaporated milk but I have condensed milk- reduce the sugar and add some water. Solved!
*No maple syrup but I have golden syrup and honey- use honey because it will complement the spices better. Solved!
*No ground ginger- use fresh ginger. Solved!
*No butter for the pie crust- use oil and a bit of technique. Solved!
I didn't measure anything too because that's my game, it's where I'm used to. I made four mini ones and one large pie in my llaneras which are flan molds. Unfortunately, my molds won't allow me to crimp the edges which is my favorite part of pie making and I'm so good at it! :P
For the crust, I've read before that oil pie crusts are not as flaky as butter ones so I tapped on my background in oriental pastries. The spiral pastry made with alternating layers of water dough and oil dough is super flaky without even a chunk of butter and works every time so that's what I used here. I made both doughs by adding water and oil little by little until they had the right consistency.
For the filling I cut off a decent-sized chunk from the pumpkin, sliced it thinly and boiled it until very soft. I then mashed it by hand and added other ingredients with cinnamon being the backbone of the spice flavor. I tasted and tasted it before adding the eggs and made it overly sweet on purpose so when the eggs are added, the sweetness will be right. I also went heavy with the salt for a tremendous flavor boost. Not so fast! Before adding the eggs I saw it was too thin because of too much water added as compensation for the condensed milk, it was like soup! When the eggs are added it will be much much more fluid unlike the pumpkin filling I saw on videos so I made a brave move, I cooked the filling on the top of the stove sans œufs until thickened. When I tasted it, I liked the flavor much better than the uncooked one, more intense and slightly caramelized. Yesterday I remembered txfarmer's favorite pumpkin pie that I read long ago and decided to read it and I was shocked (I've already made and eaten the pie before I read it) that it also calls for heating the ingredients before filling the pie so maybe this is a technique to keep. When the mixture was cool, I then mixed in the eggs.
I suddenly had plan; instead of baking the unbaked dough filled with the filling in my clay pot over a wood fire, I will employ a different technique to test a theory. I will try to bake this in a frying pan on top of our gas stove! To ensure a crisp crust, I will bake it first without the filling utilizing conduction from the mold to cook the dough on the bottom then I will flip it so the radiant heat from the pan will cook the dough from the top so it's really dry and crisp; then to ensure a silky filling, I will bake it at a low temperature and since it is technically a custard or flan, it can be steamed too!
What sounds good in theory doesn't always go smoothly in practice. The dough is a bit difficult to conform to the shape of the mold especially with the large one, I really rolled it into an oval to minimize waste and luckily none was wasted. I intended to serve these as a late afternoon snack but since it was unplanned and I began very late, I had to rush it that resulted in some mishaps. I forgot to prick the base of the crust and five minutes later they have all puffed up like a balloon so I pricked them with a fork as best as I can to keep them flat. When the crust was cooked I immediately put the filling in and pour water on the pan to steam it, again as an effort to serve it that afternoon so I forgot to shake and tap the pan to raise the air bubbles so they left a mark at the top. I quickly covered it with the lid too not remembering to put a cloth so condensation dripped on the pies and left white marks on the top and a crack on one. If those didn't happen then this pie would have a very smooth top and a more vibrant color. Alright, I learned my lesson!
The crust was VERY flaky and crisp, this one even managed to keep the spiral pattern too! It may not look like it was because it's pale but it really is. The crust without any barrier from the filling is still crisp even after four days in the fridge! It also goes well with the filling, what more if it's a butter crust!
The custard was smooth and silky, no cracking or weeping. It didn't dome over like most "baked" pumpkin pies. Its texture inside is closer to the one posted by txfarmer. It was spicy, yes and I admit that I really like it as first time maker and eater and I understand now why Americans love it, personally I would love it more if it was more spiced. Now, why it lasted for four days? Because I'm the only one who ate it! People here can't get past the aromatic spices especially the ginger and said "If it was just pumpkin then it would have been delicious or I could have eaten it!" No problem! More treats for me!
It was so delicious but it can be made better. This will be my adjustments next time:
*Use a proper all butter crust- it's my favorite and has the best flavor.
*Add some alcohol- I think it will be really nice; rum, brandy or whiskey, maybe a splash of Kahlua or Tia Maria will be good too for some coffee undertones.
*Add some nuts- walnuts or pecans would be a nice contrast to the silky filling.
*Use brown sugar and/or molasses- I think it is the ultimate complement to the pumpkin and spices.
*Stick to the sweet spice quartet- I'm not a fan of ginger so I'll ditch it. I'll add cloves because that's what I like then use more nutmeg and less cinnamon. I'm sorry cinnamon, it's time for you to move aside and let nutmeg take center stage.
*Make two batches- one for my spice loving self and one for my pumpkin loving friends!
I would like to close this with a satisfying sweet meal. Thank you very much!