As the evenings grow shorter and colder with each passing day, and the heater’s thermostat becomes a point of dispute, the pie season falls on us. I’ll never say that a slice of fresh berry pie with a frosty scoop of vanilla ice cream on a warm summer’s day is inadmissible, but no time of year is more appropriate for the smell of warm spices and buttery brown pie crust coming out of a hot oven than a chilly autumn evening. It’s with those aromas in mind, and Thanksgiving on the horizon, that I wanted to make my favorite out of all the pies that squash has ever graced, the quintessential pumpkin pie.
One thing I adore about cold evenings is the crisp air filled with smoky aromas emanating from wood fired chimneys. This is a flavor profile I wanted to adapt into my recipe because I can’t help myself from unnecessarily sullying an impeccable classic. And, this was admittedly where I faltered a bit: I cold smoked my pumpkin puree (despite what the image suggests) with apple wood and a piece of gear called a smoking gun. And, while I got an enchanting smoky flavor into the puree (disclaimer here about not eating things with raw eggs. Do as I say, not as I do), the flavor could not be found after baking. Either I needed further rounds of cold smoking to impart a stronger smoky essence into the puree, or hot smoking to cook the pumpkin would might have produced the desired effect. I did give some thought to adding liquid smoke to the puree, but I tend to think it leaves a very intense smoke flavor, and I was aiming for something a little more subtle for the end result.
Please keep in mind that I created this dish during Halloween, so the need to craft an entirely unnecessary jack-o-lantern is a decision that I leave each individual baker to arrive at.
Next, we landed at yet another failure during my expedition into pie making: the crust. I had heard the prodigious claims of the much touted vodka pie crust, and its incredibly flaky (in a good way) results. My understanding is that the alcohol helps inhibit the formation of gluten, whereas water induces gluten formation in flour, and this reduction in gluten, in combination with alcohol’s ability to evaporate quickly, is what creates an exceedingly tender and flaky crust. Well studied, yet misguided, I speculated that I could use additional alcohol in place of the water, and this is where things started to fall apart…literally. My inclusion of additional liquid created an excessively wet dough that I found difficult to work with. In addition, it slumped and fell apart in the oven as the butter began to melt in the dough, and lacked browning when baked. The only good decision I made was the incorporation of bourbon in place of vodka, as it gave the crust a handsome flavor that paired nicely with the spices of the pumpkin filling . I decided to scrap (read: eat separately in shame) my failure of a crust, and found myself producing a barely modified recipe for Pate Brisee from the website ChefSteps.com. Definitely check out their site; it’s a treasure trove of amazing ideas and recipes. I’ve got a ton of respect for that crew and what they do.
With nothing but failures at this point, my ego was primed for any modicum of success I could achieve. That success came in the form of those tiny, often discarded little pumpkin seeds. Thoroughly cleaned, and dried out with a session in a low oven, these tiny gems were married with the charmingly fragrant aromas of browned butter. After a quick butter soak and a heavy dousing of salt, it was off to a hot oven. Upon the seeds exiting the oven, much to my pleasure, I had my first taste of success over the course of my pie undertaking. Crunchy, salty and nutty, these pips would make for a wonderful textural garnish for my pie.
Finally finding its way into a worthy crust, baked until silky perfection was achieved, and sitting on the cooling rack, the pie was off to the next field of debate: what temperature to serve it at? I like to think myself a flexible man in the matter of most things, but pumpkin pie is no simple matter, and my line has been drawn deep within the sand. This pie found itself thoroughly chilled in the refrigerator before a knife was set to it. Served upon a pool of maple syrup, dolloped with maple whipped cream, and peppered with seeds, this pie’s chilled, dense, silky texture was worth every hurdle that I stumbled over. And, while I wasn’t transported to a wood-fired hearth like intended, I still found myself comforted by the warm spices and soothing texture of a hearty slice of pumpkin pie on a crisp autumn’s eve.
Smoked Pumpkin Pie
|205||Grams||Butter (unsalted)||Chilled & Cubed|
Add flour, salt, and butter cubes to a stand mixer outfitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on low until it looks crumbly, about pea sized chunks.
Add the Bourbon & water, continue to mix on low until mixture comes together in a ball of dough.
Turn dough ball out on a lightly floured surface, and shape into a smooth ball with your hands, using flour as needed.
Flatten the dough ball into a disk, and plastic wrap it. Refrigerate dough for a couple of hours to allow the butter to solidify again.
Take the dough out, and unwrap onto a floured surface. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough out, starting from the center and rolling away from you to the far edge. Turn 90 degrees and repeat. Roll out dough to about 1/8th of an inch.
Place dough into your spring-form pan (I used this to get higher sides, but feel free to use a classic pie dish), molding it as necessary. Either trim the excess overhang, and crimp around the pan, or leave the overhang to cut off after baking.
Refrigerate crust in baking dish for 30min-1hr.
Preheat oven to 400F.
Pull crust out of refrigerator, line the crust with aluminum foil, and add pie weights.
Blind bake for 20min with the weights in. Remove pie weights and foil, bake for an additional 5min.
Remove and cool.
Smoked Pumpkin Puree
|1||Each||Sugar Pie Pumpkin||Clean & Seeded|
|2||Teaspoons||Pumpkin Pie Spices|
Preheat oven to 425F.
Cut the pumpkin in half, deseed and clean. Place halves on a baking sheet, cut side up. Liberally spray with water.
Roast in oven for an initial 15min, spray with additional water, and flip to cut side down. Roast for another 15min. Spray with water if it starts to look dried out.
Pumpkin should be easily & cleanly pierced with a knife. If not, continue to roast in the oven.
Allow pumpkin to cool just enough to handle. Peel off the skin, and place cooked pumpkin flesh in a mixing bowl.
Add the condensed milk, eggs, salt and spices to the bowl with the cooked pumpkin. Using a stick blender, puree mixture until smooth. Strain puree through a strainer to take out any remaining fibrous bits or chunks.
Wrap the top of the bowl tightly with plastic wrap. Load a smoking gun with applewood chips, and insert the tip of the smoking gun just under the bowls plastic wrap top. Turn unit on, and allow the bowl to fill up with smoke. Pull the tip out, quickly tighten the plastic wrap over the bowl, trapping the smoke in. Allow to sit for 5min to absorb. Mix the puree up with a rubber spatula, and do another round of smoking.
Baking Pie Off
Turn oven to 375F.
Add smoked pumpkin puree to blind baked crust. Allow for a little room near the top of the crust, so it doesn’t spill over as the pie puffs up while baking.
Bake pie for 45-60min. Check the pie every 15min, and place an aluminum foil ring around the crust when it starts to go deep golden brown to slow further darkening. The pie is done when it has a slight jiggle in the middle when the pan is shaken.
Allow pie to cool before placing in the refrigerator to chill and set.
Brown Butter Pumpkin Seeds
Preheat oven to 250F.
Clean the pumpkin seeds thoroughly, discarding any pumpkin flesh.
Place seeds on a sheet pan, and dry them out in the oven for 45min-1hr. Pull out and set seeds off to the side.
Turn oven up to 325F.
Place a pot over medium low heat, and add the butter. Allow the butter to cook, swirling the pot around as it begins to brown. Once the butter has taken on a hazel color, and smells nutty, take the pot off of the heat.
Toss the dried seeds into the brown butter pot with some salt. Toss to coat.
Transfer the seeds back to the sheet pan, spreading them out evenly.
Roast for 15-25min, giving them a shake once in a while. Make sure the butter doesn’t become too burned, or it will taste bitter.
Allow seeds to cool off, adding more salt if needed.
Maple Whipped Cream
Combine cream & syrup to a metal mixing bowl. Nest that bowl into a larger mixing bowl filled with ice. This allows the cream to stay cold during whipping, reducing the amount effort needed to whip.
Whisk vigorously until you get the desired whipped cream texture.
Pour some maple syrup onto a plate, and swirl it around until it fully coats the bottom of the plate. Slice a generous portion of pie, and place onto the plate. Add a dollop of maple whipped cream, and sprinkle some browned butter seeds over the top.
Serve and enjoy.