Tuesday, November 22

A Tale of Two Pies

Here we go. Pumpkin Pies. You should know that I really did take this seriously before you read further. I am not a Scientist, but I do take Pies very seriously. There may be some places of necessary technicality or at least a little ramble hear and there. These are all ideas that have been ruminating in my head for a few years and I've finally found a useful purpose for them. Pumpkin pies generally consist of pumpkin filling and a crust, but then you probably know that. I have a go-to crust that I'll be using, which I'll give you the recipe for, but I really want to focus on getting the best pie filling from the pumpkin I can. I've selected a couple of recipes to try.

I mentioned before that I was on the watch to see if my pumpkins had frozen over yet. Well, they were nicely frozen last night when I went out to check on them, snow capped  from a storm a few days ago to be precise. But I recently learned a trick that my previously mentioned uncle uses to sweeten up his squash. Apparently he doesn't pick his Banana Squash until after the first frost. So unlike many other years, I left the pumpkins out. I wondered, but never moved them under my somewhat more sheltered car port. Last night I brought one inside and set it on the floor to thaw out. Today it is room temperature and solid as a rock, from that I know that there was no damage from the cold.

So I know that you need no detailed instructions on how to roast a pumpkin. If you do, these images should be more than enough instruction. And there is nothing wrong with your two year old periodically turning the oven off, it might just take twice as long. It doesn't take away from the fact that this is an experiment. I first scrubbed the paint off of the pumpkin. Actually I first took some pictures of the pumpkin. The apple is suppose to give you an idea of how big the pumpkin was. I tried to choose smaller pumpkins so that they would fit in my oven, but smaller fruits seem to always be somewhat more flavorful and some of the Jack-o-lanterns were truly Monstrous.

To start out, I scrubbed the paint off the surface of the pumpkin (Latex paint and Pumpkin Pie, not so much). I turned my oven on to 350 and placed a baking dish under the pumpkin to catch the liquids that will eventually seep out. 

I honestly can't remember how long I let that baby sit in the oven. It was at least 3 hours. But when I do this again in a few weeks, I'll let it sit longer. I use visual cues. Wait until the skin is darker  and more wrinkled than mine. A fork should poke through with no resistance and I mean NO resistance. The softer, the better. The longer it roasts, the more those sugars can carmelize. It seems like my oven was warmer toward the back, so I would rotate it once after a couple of hours.

Strip the skin off with a fork or knife. It falls away pretty easily. It was easy for me to work in sections stripping and slicing into the flesh.  This image really doesn't do it justice, but the flesh on this is two inches thick. I really thought that it was going to be a lot thinner and harder than it was. Just makes it that much sadder than all of this goes to waste so often.

You can see that the fruit is very stringy, but we'll just let our food processor work all that out for us. Cut into large chunks and process it until there are none left, till its nice and smooth. 

Drain it in a mesh strainer, seive or, even better, in cheese cloth.

Next for the filling. I found a recipe that calls for maple syrup and so I've used something from there.
However there were a few things that don't fit my taste. For one, I think spices should be considered as separate ingredients. Also My husband isn't real big on cinnamon; I on the other hand, love fresh ginger and we both love fresh grated nutmeg. Its a give and take thing. I also used whole fat plain yogurt instead of sour cream just because I ussually do when baking. So here's the final result for what's in recipe one:

Recipe I Pumpkin filling:

2 cups strained pumpkin puree
3/4 cup pure maple syrup
1/2 cup plain yogurt
2 eggs
1/2 tsp cinnamon,
1 heaping tsp nutmeg
1 Tbsp fresh grated ginger

For the second recipe I am using my usual:

Recipe II Pumpkin Filling

3 eggs
2 cups strained pumpkin pie filling
3/4 c whole milk
3/4 c heavy cream
1/2 c demarara sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 Tbsp fresh grated ginger
1 heaping tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt

This part might have been helpful first, but since I'm assuming that you'll read through the whole recipe before trying it, that shouldn't be a problem. Just because the filling is meant to be sweet and soft and the main affair of a pie, does not in any way discount the wrapping. A crust is like the wrapping of a present. it can be of newspaper, brown paper bags or colorful satin textured super-wrap, but the wrapping of a present is important and adds to the over all effect of gift giving. If there is one thing in a bakers book I have  practiced and tried and experimented through and through, it is the pie crust. Like I've said before, dough is what I play with in lieu of a potters wheel and clay. And I learned alot of my techinique from a handy little (Big) book called JOY of Cooking. My coffee stained, bulging at the seems, steam warped copy is one of my prized kitchen possessions. If there was ever a book that shouts to the world the art and heritage of American Cooking it is Joy of Cooking. Get it. You'll never say nothing is uniquely American again. The recipe II Pumpkin filling above is taken from that The ingredients in this Deluxe Butter Flaky Pastry Dough, page 862 are as follows:

1 1/2 c all purpose flour
1 c whole wheat pastry flour
1 Tbsp powdered sugar
1 tsp salt
*mix* then cut in:
1/2 lb cold unsalted butter
1/4 c solid vegetable shortening.
add slowly
1/3 + 1 Tbsp Ice cold water and mix with your hands the minimum amount necessary to encorporate the water.

I Love this crust because it's soft and buttery. I should add that because I used part pastry flour, the recipe indicates that you should use 1/3 cup powdered sugar, but that's just too much sugar for me. So I actually used not quite 2 Tbsp. I know, big difference. The BIG trick is how you cut the fat with either a fork, two knives, or a mixture of both. (I've never had the luxury of a pastry knife.)Cutting the fat into the flour is key. Leave pea size pieces of butter intact. I 've also used a food processor wo mix my pie crust dough. It is tricky because the processor works so fast, but just remember to keep mixing to a minimum. Do the final kneading by hand into a ball. 

I also have to add a special disclaimer here in honor of my very best cooking friend and newly become sister and law (with which I had nothing to do) Ivy. My kitchen Library would be very sad without her generous donations over the years. On to pies:

As a last detail, the pies should be baked in the middle of the oven at 375 F.  give them about 40 minutes. But you'll know when the pie is ready to take out when it is still a little soft in the middle and moves just a little bit when you jiggle it. if it sloshes, not done. if if sways ever so slightly, it's probably done. Home cooking experiments are not an exact science and no matter how many descriptions I give you, nothing can take the place of your own practice.

Pie I
Recipe I Pumpkin Pie analysis:
Texture: Good, this sliced up better than the other,. The filling was nice and firm.
Crust: excellent Held together when cut, crumbled upon the touch of a fork.
Taste: Here's where I can tell the difference in my ingredients. This pie was not nearly as sweet as the other. Maple syrup is generally less sweet than sugar. Considering that the filling was plenty firm, It could stand some more maple syrup. But the general lack of sweetness was probably from this being made with a Jack O' lantern.

Pie II
Can you tell by the size of this picture, that I'm trying to place emphasis on this pie?

Recipe II Pumpkin Pie Analysis:
Texture: Good, not as firm as the first, but still good. There was 1 more egg in this recipe making it more custardlike. It was also in a smaller pan, making the filling thicker and it took longer to cook. I suspect that added to the softness of the filling.
Crust: Excellent. Not quite as pretty. But if you don't like a lot of crust this is a great way to do it.
Taste: The sweetness won me over. I Loved the ginger, but my husband thought it was too strong. So if you're not a hug ginger fan, use 1/2 Tbsp instead.

So there you have it. Two Pies. Two recipes, one pumpkin. And I would say that with the help of a food processor, there is no reason why an awesome pumpkin pie can not be made with a Jack O' lantern. but then, with some amount of determination..whatever, you knew I was going to say that....

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