The Spice of Life
While Old Man Winter is starting to make his presence felt here in the Green Mountain State, as far as the calendar is concerned we’re still in the dead of fall. With Thanksgiving fast approaching, our thoughts naturally lean towards some of the iconic foods of the season: Cranberry, turkey, stuffing, warm bread from the oven; In a previous piece here on State 14, I waxed poetic about a few of my favorite recipes. One crucial piece deserves a bit more attention, I think: the Pumpkin Pie.
While it’s hard to trace the exact origins of the dish, we find an early recipe for “pompkin” in Amelia Simmons’ 1796 American Cookery, featuring a familiarly-spiced squash custard baked in a pie shell (on a tangentially-related note, a mostly plagiarized version of American Cookery was published in Montpelier in 1808 by Lucy Emmerson). Simmons’ blend of mace, nutmeg, and ginger would eventually evolve into what we now know as “pumpkin spice”. And boy, do people lose their minds when pumpkin spice season rolls in. The sheer volume of inexplicably pumpkin-spiced products readily available at any grocery store is enough to boggle the mind; Halifax rap legend Jesse Dangerously crafted his ode to all things pumpkin spice in 2015, and I’m still not quite sure where the tongue-in-cheek line is to be drawn. When it comes to pumpkin pies, only a small margin of variance exists; people expect it to be very nearly one specific way. As the Mad Titan said “Dread it, run from it. Destiny still arrives.” But what if it didn’t have to?
The prevalence of pumpkin-spice-everything has left many folks, like me, sick of the subject entirely. This provides a great opportunity to flex some creative muscles and really stick it to Starbucks.
I use a pretty standard crust recipe, with a few secret weapons.
All-Purpose Flour, 175g
Granulated Sugar, 13g
Kosher Salt, 3g
Butter, unsalted, cut into ¼” cubes, 70g
Pork Lard, cut into ¼” cubes, 70g*
Combine 116g flour with sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse twice to incorporate. Spread butter and lard evenly over surface. Pulse until no dry flour remains and dough just begins to collect in clumps, about 25 short pulses. Use a rubber spatula to spread the dough evenly around the bowl of the food processor. Sprinkle with remaining flour and pulse until dough is just barely broken up, about 5 short pulses. Transfer dough to a large bowl. Sprinkle with bourbon, then, using a rubber spatula, fold and press dough until it comes together into a ball. Refrigerate dough 1 hour. Working on a floured surface, roll dough into a circle 2in wider than your pie pan. Lightly grease pie pan and transfer dough, pressing into corners. Trim or crimp edges as desired. Store crust in freezer until ready to use.
*Feel free to use butter instead of lard.
**Normally I use vodka in my crust, but Bourbon really drives home the fall-ness of it. I suggest Mad River Distillers Bourbon Whiskey
The filling recipe is adapted from Francisco Migoya at Modernist Cuisine. As far as I can tell, the idea was the show of the flavor of the squash itself. This is where we get to shake it up a bit.
Butter, unsalted, 25g
Sweet Potato, peeled and shredded, 105g
Squash Puree*, 412g
Sweetened Condensed Milk, 50g
Baking Soda, 3g
Granulated Sugar, 150g
Dark Brown Sugar, 50g
Kosher Salt, 5g
Whole Milk, 235g
Evaporated Milk, 125g
Eggs, whole, 200g (about 4 each)
In a heavy bottomed pot, melt butter over high heat. Add sweet potato and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add squash puree, sweetened condensed milk and baking soda. Continue cooking until browned and aromatic, about 15 minutes. Puree mixture in a food processor until completely smooth. While blending, add sugar, brown sugar and salt. Continue blending to allow mixture to cool more quickly. In a separate bowl, whisk together milk, evaporated milk and eggs until smooth. Add to squash mixture while blending. Preheat oven to 350F. Remove pie crust from freezer and egg-wash edges. Transfer pumpkin mixture to crust, filling nearly to the top. Bake at 350F for 70-80 minutes, or until center giggles when shaken. Remove from heat and allow to cool completely at room temperature on a wire rack.
*Modernist Cuisine suggests using straight-up canned pumpkin puree, and it makes for a huge convenience. If you’re feeling ambitious, roast off some whole pumpkin, butternut squash, acorn squash, or blue hubbard even. As long as you end up with the same weight of finished puree.
Whipped Creme Fraiche
Heavy Cream, 225g
Creme Fraiche, 225g
Powdered Sugar, 100g
Spice Blend, 10g
Combine ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer. Whip on high speed until stiff peaks form. Once the pie is cool, serve on top.
Suggested Spice Blends
Traditional Pumpkin Pie Spice (if you insist)
Cinnamon, ground, 3tbsp
Ginger, ground, 2tsp
Nutmeg, ground, 1tsp
Allspice, ground, 1tsp
Clove, ground, ½tsp
Chai Masala (best with Butternut Squash)
Ginger, ground, 2tbsp
Cardamom, ground, 2tbsp
Clove, ground, 1½tsp
Black Peppercorn, ground, 1½tsp
Nutmeg, ground, 1tsp
Saffron Threads, ground, 4 each
Chinese Five Spice (best with Acorn Squash)
Cinnamon, ground, 1tsp
Clove, ground, 1tsp
Fennel Seed, toasted, ground, 1tsp
Star Anise, toasted, ground, 1tsp (about 3 each)
Szechuan Peppercorn, toasted, ground, 1tsp
Dukkah (best with Blue Hubbard)
Hazelnuts, toasted, ground, ⅔c
Sesame Seed, toasted, ½c
Coriander, ground, 2tbsp
Cumin, ground, 2 tbsp
Black Peppercorn, ground, 2 tsp
Kosher Salt, 1tsp