I am not a pie person. Now, this is to say that I don’t like a good pie from time to time, or that I haven’t taken pride in some of my pastry creations (there was one blueberry pie I made this summer that I was rather proud of), but pie just doesn’t obsess me the way cake does.
This is not to say that I don’t like making pie. In fact, I love making pie—I love how pie crust is so simple to make and yet so difficult to perfect, I love the diverse options for fillings, I love feeling the dough yield and flatten underneath a rolling pin. But if I had to choose between eating a piece of pie and a slice of cake, I’d take the cake any day.
Still, I happily volunteered to make the pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving this year. I used this pie recipe, which my mother found on the Food Network Web site. She chose it because it uses half and half, rather than condensed milk, to thicken the filling.
Rather than using the Food Network pie dough recipe, I stayed true to the Julia Child pastry crust recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking. This time, however, the dough was a little dry and was difficult to roll out. But I think that was because the dough actually needed to be kneaded a bit more. I’m always terrified that I’ll over-work the dough and end up with a greasy hockey-puck, but this pie dough actually suffered from my fear of over-kneading.
Crust issues aside, the pie tasted delicious and the seasoning was perfect. But be warned—I cooked the pie a full 20 minutes longer than the original recipe said I would have to. The recipe said that the center would be slightly loose upon removal from the oven, but it was still pretty liquid after being in the oven for an hour. Also, as you’ll see, the top did crack, which may be on account of the half and half. Still, I am rather proud of the decorative leaves I placed around the edges.
I made a double recipe of Julia Child’s original pastry crust, and I upped the sugar to two teaspoons. Below are the proportions I used.
2 cups all-purpose flour.
6 oz butter and 2 oz vegetable shortening (cut into 1/4 inch cubes and very cold)
6-9 tbs iced water
1 tsp. salt
2 teaspoons sugar
(Note: the pie dough method below is how I mix the dough, which is not exactly the Julia child method.) Whisk together the flour, salt and sugar in a mixing bowl. Place butter and vegetable shortening in the bowl and cut into the flour using a pastry cutter, fork, or your fingers, until the fat is broken into pieces the size of oatmeal flakes. Add the water and blend until the dough gathers into a mass. Press firmly into a flat disk and chill at least one hour before rolling.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. On a lightly floured board, roll out dough until 1/8 inch thick with a rolling pin. Gently lift the dough and place in an ungreased pie dish; use your fingers to press the dough into the dish. Lightly score the bottom of the dough with the tins of a fork (to keep air bubbles from forming under the crust). Place pie crust on a baking sheet (for easier removal from the oven) and par-bake for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven, place pie crust on a cooling rack, and let cool before adding the filling.
While the pie crust is baking and cooling, cut out decorative shapes from remaining dough using a cookie cutter. Make decorative designs by light scoring the dough with a knife. During this time, you can also make the filling.
Pumpkin Pie Filling
One 15-ounce can unsweetened pure pumpkin puree (about 2 cups)
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/4 cups half-and-half
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
In a large bowl, whisk together the pumpkin, brown sugar, eggs, half-and-half, spices, and salt until smooth.
Return the pie shell to the baking sheet and pour in the filling.
Place decorative pie crust pieces on filling as desired. If you wish, brush the crust with lightly beaten egg. Bake on the lower oven rack until the edges of the filling are set but the center is still slightly loose, about 50 to 60 minutes. (If the edges get very dark, cover them with aluminum foil.) Cool on a rack. Serve room temperature or slightly warm.
Pie filling recipe courtesy of the Food Network Kitchens.