It looks pretty homely, doesn’t it? Pumpkin pie always looks like the plain Jane standing in the corner to me. It’s not like apple pie, which can tower over the pie plate, or sport a decorative lattice. And it’s not like cherry pie, whose bright red fruit can be shockingly beautiful. No, pumpkin pie is . . . well, it’s just too brown and flat to be impressive.
And I can’t say that this pumpkin pie is really any less plain – at least on the outside. But you’ll just have to trust me when I say that it really has been spiffed up – a shot of homemade caramel gives the pumpkin a boost of sweetness, with just a hint of that bitter, burnt sugar flavor. Oftentimes I don’t like pumpkin pie because the squash tastes too healthy to me, but this tasted much more like dessert.
The verdict on this pie was mixed – I took it to kittyhagan’s pre-Thanksgiving party and, while it was well received, a full three quarters of it remained by the time I left. Granted, I gave it some pretty stiff competition, in the form of a double chocolate mint pie (more on that next week)—maybe the shy wall flower can never really compete with the beautiful cheerleader, you know?
Well, in any event, if you’re looking for a way to spice up pumpkin pie for Thursday, I definitely suggest this recipe. The caramel gives an extra boost and depth to the pumpkin filling, the crust was gloriously flaky, and, for a homely pie, it certainly packed an impressive punch of flavor. Just make sure you make it the star of the Thanksgiving dessert table, which is certainly what it deserves.
Caramel Pumpkin Pie
Adapted from Mastering The Art of French Cooking (crust), by Julia Child, and Baking: From My Home To Yours, by Dorie Greenspan
For the pie crust
1 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
6 tbs unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 1/4 inch cubes
2 tbs shortening, chilled and cut into 1/4 inch cubes
1/4 cup ice water, plus a little bit more (just in case you need it).
For the caramel
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup heavy cream
2 tbs rum, cognac, or apple cider (or, if you are out of these ingredients and are in a pinch, 1 tbs of vanilla extract)
2 tbs unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
For the filling
1 cup canned unsweetened pumpkin puree
1/2 cup sugar
1 and 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
3/4 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp nutmeg
Pinch of salt
1 and 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
For the glaze:
1 beaten egg mixed with 1 tbs of water
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and sugar. Place the bowl in the freezer for 15 minutes to chill. Remove bowl from freezer and add the chilled shortening and butter; cut the fat into the flour mixture using your fingers or a pastry cutter, until the fat is the size of small peas. Slowly add the cold water and stir together using a wooden spoon or spatula, until the dough just comes together. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured work surface, flatten into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill in the refrigerator for at least one hour.
Alternately, if you have a food processor: In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and sugar. Freeze the flour mixture, butter, shortening, and the processor blade for 1/2 hour before using. Fit the blade on the processor, and then add the flour mixture, butter, and shortening to the bowl. Pulse a couple of time, in five second bursts – until the butter and shortening are the size of small peas. Add the ice water through the feeder tube – and pulse until the dough just comes together. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured work surface, flatten into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill in the refrigerator for at least one hour.
Preheat oven to 350°F.
On a lightly floured work surface, roll out one disk of the dough until it is approximately 1/8 inches thick and 1.5 inches larger than your pie pan. Transfer to pie dish and trim off excess overhanging dough with a pair of kitchen shears – leaving a 1 inch overhang. Fold over the excess dough, tucking it under itself. Crimp edge with a fork, or your fingers. Place in the refrigerator while making the filling.
In a heavy-bottomed, medium sized sauce pan, spread the 1/2 cup sugar in an even layer and heat over moderate heat (I had the most success with medium-low heat). Cook sugar until it is melted and begins to brown. Gently swirl the caramel so that it colors evenly. Continue to cook until the caramel is a deep, dark brown – this will happen quickly, so watch closely. Lower heat, stand back, and add cream – it will hiss and spatter dramatically and bits of the caramel may harden, but continue to cook until the sugar melts and the mixture is smooth. Remove from heat and add the butter and vanilla, stirring until smooth. Pour into a heatproof container and let cool for 15 minutes.
In a large bowl, whisk the pumpkin to smooth it out. Add the sugar and beat to blend. Whisk in spices, salt, vanilla, and eggs, until the mixture is smooth. Whisk in the caramel. Rap the bowl against the counter to de-bubble the filling.
Lightly brush the crimped sections of the crust with the glaze, then pour in the filling. Place in the oven for 45-50 minutes, until the filling is puffed and set. Let cool on a rack before serving. Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.