I’ve been avoiding the ubiquitous Pumpkin Pie post this entire month because I rarely bake one before Thanksgiving. However, having been to two back-to-back food conferences, where I learned that that food blogs are “lifestyle” magazines, I took out my calendar and decided to pay attention to the holidays coming up. Not that I could ignore the giant turkey staring me back at the end of November but you know what I mean. Of course, it dawned on me that I never really wrote a pumpkin pie post for Eat the Love, which I think is illegal for a baking blog. In my defense I did one for Andrew’s October Unprocessed last year but I know that really only get me a suspended sentence from food blogging jail not a full pardon. Still, I planned on not caving into societal pressures, until I picked up Flour by Joanne Chang, a book that’s been sitting on the top of my stack of cookbooks to look over. I received a review copy a while ago (the book came out last year, but my growing stack of cookbooks means I am only slowly getting to some of them now). Flipping through the book, I came across her Super Pumpkiny Pumpkin Pie recipe and I thought to myself “That Chang, she’s onto something.” So I took inspiration from her book and whipped up this pumpkin pie extravaganza: Caramel Spice Super Pumpkiny Pumpkin Pie with Brown Butter Crust.
Here’s the thing with pumpkin pie – I love it. I really do. But I get bored with the usual pumpkin pies that I make. I’ve made them with honey, maple syrup, caramel, white sugar, brown sugar, molasses. I’ve added cinnamon, mace, nutmeg, all spice, cardamom, cloves, five spice, orange and any sort of ginger you can think (ground, fresh, juiced, crystallized). I’ve done pumpkin pie in more ways that I can think of, and I find myself always just wondering, what can I do that will make this pumpkin pie different? Adding a brown butter crust mixes it up a bit. Then there’s the reducing the pumpkin puree to make it more pumpkiny – nothing short of genius. That along with the idea of using fresh bay leaves to help accentuate the fall season had me saying “to heck with it” and baking myself a pumpkin pie before Thanksgiving. I had myself a winner.
Of course, I couldn’t have done it with out the brilliance of Joanne Chang, owner of Flour Bakery over in Boston (I really need to get my butt over to Boston), who decided to reduces the pumpkin puree on the stove to a more concentrated flavor by cooking it for 45 minutes. I love that idea. I’ve tried draining the puree overnight by hanging the pumpkin in cheesecloth overnight (time consuming), or by absorbing the liquid with paper towels (always felt wasteful for me – all those papertowels), but cooking the pumpkin puree down helps concentrates the flavor more than the other two methods.
Chang’s book is full of nifty tips and little twists on classic American treats. Take her version of the bake sale staple Rice Crispy Treats that my friend Brian from A Thought for Food blogged about on a guest post for The Merry Gourmet. Chang makes it with brown butter. Brown butter people! Brown butter makes everything better. Of course, I didn’t stick to Chang’s recipe for pumpkin pie as I wanted to play around with secondary flavors and I don’t usually have evaporated or condensed milk in my pantry (yeah yeah, I do stock pumpkin puree in my cupboard, leave me alone). However, I have a lot of other ingredients floating around, including powdered milk so I decided to play a little bit with that and making my pie more robust and creamy without adding more liquid and diluting the inherent pumpkiness of it all (yeah, I just made up the word “pumpkiness”, but I’m already in food blogger jail so there’s nothing you can do about it)
Turns out that powdered milk, which originally I thought was a little ghetto, was actually a pretty nifty trick. You don’t need to reduce the pumpkin nearly as much as you do with Chang’s version, because the excess water in the pumpkin puree is absorbed by the milk powder. In the end you get a super rich, ultra creamy Thanksgiving pie, layered with the sweet & spicy complex caramel pumpkin filling and earthy deep autumnal bay leaves with vanilla flavor. In fact, (and I hate being a food blogger cliché by talking in superlatives) this might just be the best pumpkin pie I’ve ever tasted. Dang I went there. Guess I’m never getting out of food blogger prison.
Special thanks to Chronicle Books for sending me a review copy of Flour by Joanne Chang. Though I received a complimentary review copy of the book, all opinions stated above are my own and I was not compensated for it.
By Irvin Lin
I’m kind of obsessed with layering or combining as many flavors as possible in my desserts, something that is very obvious if you peruse my blog. I’m going to guess and say it has to do with my FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) where I never want to choose just one thing and instead prefer to have it all. I fully blame my parents on that one, as I grew up in a Taiwanese-American background where we always ate family style, sharing all dishes on the table. Thanksgiving is one of those holidays where the rest of the country finally understands how great it is to share dishes, instead of just having your own food. With this Thanksgiving pie, you can have both the warm spices of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves along with the smoky caramel and rich vanilla adding to the pumpkiness. The addition of the bay leaf creates an allusive fall scent that makes you feel like you’re walking through a forest of multicolored leaves raining down on you. Not a bad way to end a giant celebratory meal if you ask me.
Inspired by a recipe from Flour by Joanna Chang and a recipe from Gourmet Magazine (RIP).
Brown Butter Crust
320 g (1 cup + 6 tablespoons or 2 3/4 sticks) unsalted butter
280 g (2 cups) all purpose unbleached flour
100 g (3/4 cup) almond meal (or flour)
70 g (1/2 cup) white whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup cold water
1/4 cup cold vodka
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 egg yolk + 1 tablespoon water beaten together
Pumpkin Pie Filling
850 g (30 oz or about 4 cups) of pumpkin puree (make sure to get pure pumpkin puree and not pumpkin pie filling)
2 fresh bay leaves, cut in half (use fresh not dry)
1 cup white granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups heavy cream, divided
1 vanilla bean
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
100 g 3/4 cup powdered milk (try to find dry whole milk if possible)
3 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon (generous pinch) cloves
1 teaspoon sea salt
1. To make the crust, first put the butter in a large skillet and cook on medium heat until the butter fat starts to brown and smell fragrant. Pour the hot butter and brown butter fat in a heatproof bowl (I used a Pyrex measuring cup), scraping the brown butter off the sides and bottom of the skillet and into the bowl as much as possible.
2. Chill the butter until it is solid and cold (at least an hour, overnight if possible). Place the all purpose flour, almond meal, white whole wheat flour and sea salt in a large mixing bowl. With a balloon whisk stir vigorously until well blended. Cut the brown butter into 1/4” square cubes (be sure to scrape out any brown butter bits from the bottom of the bowl. Sprinkle the cubes over the flour, and then, using your hands, toss the cubes with flour, coating them with the flour. Then, using your hands again, squeeze the cubes of butter flat, until all the butter has been flattened. Then start rubbing and squeezing the flour and butter together, until the ingredients start to clump together.
3. Sprinkle the water, vodka and almond extract over the dry flour butter mixture and toss with a fork until it forms a shaggy dough. Gather the dough and split in half. Flatten each half into a 1/2” thick disk. Wrap tightly with plastic wrap. Place in the refrigerator for an hour or overnight (up to three days).
4. When the crusts have chilled and you are ready to make the pie, preheat the oven to 425˚F. Generously flour a flat surface and roll out the dough to a 12” circle. Fit the dough into a 9 inch deep dish pan. Try not to stretch the dough as you fit it into the pan. Decoratively crimp the edges of the pie crust and line with a piece of parchment paper or aluminum foil. Fill with pie weights or dry beans/rice. Repeat with the second crust.
5. Bake for 15 minutes or until the edges of the pie crusts start to look golden brown. Remove the parchment paper/aluminum foil with the pie weights in it. Return the crusts to the oven and bake for 5 more minutes, until the crusts starts to look dry. Remove the crusts from oven, and brush the bottom and sides of each crust with the egg yolk wash, helping to seal the crust and keep it crisp. Return to the oven for 3 more minutes, until the crust looks dry and shiny. Lower the temperature of the oven to 350˚F and remove and cool the crusts while you finish making the pumpkin pie filling.
6. While the crusts are baking, place the pumpkin puree in a pan with the bay leaves. Cook the pumpkin on stove at medium high heat for about 15 minutes, stirring frequently to make sure the pumpkin doesn’t scorch or burn. The pumpkin puree should have reduced from 4 cups to about 2 1/2 cups and darken. Remove the bay leaves and discard. Let cool while you make the caramel.
7. Place the sugar in a large heavy bottomed saucepan with a silver bottom (avoid nonstick, as the dark coating will make it hard to judge the caramel color). Turn the heat to high, stirring occasionally with a heat proof silicon spatula or wooden spoon. As the sugar melts, continue to stir and shake the pan so all the sugar melts evenly. Once the sugar starts to brown, turn the heat off and let the residual heat of the pan continue to caramelize the sugar. You want the caramel to turn a dark golden brown, closer to chestnut but not mahogany black. If the caramel has stopped browning or isn’t dark enough, turn the heat back on to low to give it a nudge. It’s better to go slow and let the residual heat caramelize the sugar, as you can always make the caramel darker, but you can’t go backwards and if you burn the sugar, you have to start all over.
8. Once the caramel has reached the appropriate color, add 1 cup of the cream carefully (the caramel will steam, sizzle and seize up). Turn the heat back up to medium and cook until the caramel that has hardened dissolves into the cream (this may take a few minutes). Once most of the caramel has dissolved add the remaining 1/2 a cup of cream and cook until all the caramel is dissolved.
9. Pour the caramel into the pumpkin puree. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape the seeds into the pie filling. Add the vanilla extact and the powdered milk. Stir to combine with a balloon whisk. Add the eggs, egg yolk, spices and salt. Stir again to combine.
10. Pour half the pumpkin pie filling into one pie crust, and the rest into the other pie crust. Bake in the oven to 40 to 45 minutes or until the edge of the pie is dry and puffy and the center of the pie jiggles a tiny bit. Let cool for two hours on a wire rack to room temperature before serving. You can also make the pie the day before, let it cool, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. Just make sure to let the pie come to room temperature before serving.
Makes 2 pumpkin pies