The Fresh Loaf

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Pumpkin Pie ~ My take on an American Classic

PalwithnoovenP's picture

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!


pmccool's picture

Here's a link to a recipe that starts with a raw pumpkin, instead of with canned pumpkin.  That will suit your situation, I think. 

I notice that the spices in the recipe include a teaspoon of ground cloves.  While I like to have some clove in my pumpkin pie, it is a very powerful flavor and I might want to start with perhaps half a teaspoon.  However that's just my personal taste.

Our friends in South Africa were more than a little dubious when we served them pumpkin pie but decided they liked it.  That may be because they were already acquainted with similar spice blends in other foods.

Happy experimenting.


PalwithnoovenP's picture

I really like cloves but I don't like it when it's already overwhelming so I'll just taste as I go. Thanks for the link, now I know how to make the pumpkin puree the right way as there's no canned pumpkin here. I'll try to roast it next time.

dabrownman's picture

first one I've seen that wasn't baked in an oven to boot!  I like it more spicy too. I use fresh ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, allspice and cloves for the spice mix.  If you use condensed milk in place of evaporated, then you don't need any brown sugar or very little and no added water - too soupy as you found out,  i also put a small can of Nestles Media Creama  in the mix to up the fat some and add 3 eggs in place of 2 for the custard to account for the Media Creama.  The pumpkin is also more flavorful, and less wet, if you bake it instead of boil it but that is tough to do without an oven.  It still had to better than canned pumpkin.  I think you did a fine job with what you had.   Well done and

Happy PP baking  

PS I had never had a savory pumpkin pie before a couple of years ago and had always had them sweet.  Then PiPs published his recipe for a savory one on TFL and I made one.   It was very good too.... but weird:-)  

PalwithnoovenP's picture

Thanks for the tips too. Next time, I'll stick with evaporated milk. I'll really roast the pumpkin next time and now I'm thinking a variety of ways on how to do it. This recipe can really be tweaked infinitely!

This is really my first try of a pumpkin sweet. Here is my favorite pumpkin savory- Pumpkin fritters with shrimp and yes, we eat the whole shrimp; head, tail, shell and all. I like it dipped in spicy vinegar either alone or with rice! Maybe it's even weirder for you.

KathyF's picture

Your pumpkin looks like the Japanese pumpkin called kabocha. My mother grew these all the time and I have made pumpkin pie with it before. I think it is actually better than the typical pumpkin used in the USA. It is meatier and sweeter. Your pumpkin pies look yummy!

PalwithnoovenP's picture

I've always thought too that these are kabocha because they look really the same but not exactly alike. I'm really curious too what is the exact species of our pumpkin. I'll post a photo of the exterior below, maybe it can help us to determine what it really was especially if it looks similar to a pumpkin you have there. Do you have Japanese blood? I recalled you really like anpan and now kabocha!

KathyF's picture

I do. My mother was from Japan. She came to America after she married my father who was stationed in Japan at that time.

andychrist's picture

Your lede pics look like cameos of paramecia under a microscope— and that's a good thing!

Maybe that squash was a Delicata? Terrific for pumpkin pie, as are just about all the blue varieties, so I've been told. 

I've used Libby's canned pumpkin a couple of times for pies and was pleasantly surprised at the quality. Worked in the recipe as well as any fresh, no metallic taste from the can either. But roasting whole gourmet pumpkins does noticeably up the flavor quotient and of course the seeds are an additional treat.

Am interested in that spiral technique for the crust, where can I learn more about it? Thanks Pal.

PalwithnoovenP's picture

I had to google what paramecia is and yes, it looks the same! My imagination is leaning towards more of a paw print, oh I remember Blue's Clues!

I really had no idea what is the exact variety this pumpkin is because it's the only pumpkin here. It really looks like a cheese pumpkin outside but sometimes like a kabocha though. I'll post a picture of how it looks outside below. No canned pumpkin here so fresh pumpkin is the only way to go. I'll really try my best to roast it next time for better flavor

Here is the recipe of the spiral pastry. I used it here before. Have fun!

PalwithnoovenP's picture

I read a material from the department of agriculture here and it said that squash/pumpkin varieties here are from Cucurbita moschata so maybe it is close to the cheese pumpkin but further research says they're winter squashes. The description of winter squash really fits them; thick skin, orange flesh and stores well for a really long time. It's really confusing. Apart from the fruit, we also enjoy eating its young leaves and blossoms. Please let me know if you have a similar pumpkin in your place. It looks similar to three varieties; bliss pumpkin, kabocha and cheese pumpkin but doesn't match some of their characteristics so this maybe is an entirely different pumpkin. Well whats important is it is excellent in sweet and savory dishes with a very smooth texture and a sweet pleasant taste.

KathyF's picture

Maybe it is this. A hybrid between Cucurbita maxima (Kabocha) x Cucurbita moschata.

PalwithnoovenP's picture

That's really it! That's what I see in the market, they're just orange sometimes.

yy's picture

Congratulations on your first foray into pumpkin pie. I also think your pumpkin looks like a kabocha squash, or at least something similar to it. I've never tried making desserts with it, but I can see how kabocha has advantages over pie pumpkins, since it has less water content and a richer, buttery flavor. Amazing variety in the squash family - I wonder what other hidden gems would make great pies. 

PalwithnoovenP's picture

I don't know that it has less water and better flavor because I have no other pumpkins to compare! Despite having less water, my method of boiling made a very wet puree. I've never had a roasted pumpkin and I'm so excited to try it soon, it will surely bring out the best of it.