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"We must have a pie. Stress cannot exist in the presence of a pie." David Mamet

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Day 1 of Pie Week: Pumpkin Custard in Lemon-Ginger Pâte Sucrée

The only thing I want to do anymore is poetry and pie. 

Is that bad? 

My mother rarely baked pies, so I don’t have any crust secrets to summon from our DNA. But a few years ago, when I found myself beset by anxiety, baking pies proved as good as atavan. I’m still not very good at crusts, but it doesn't matter. When baking pies, a floury calm seems to settle over the kitchen that tames my jumpy monkey-mind, and makes me feel like I’m in exactly the right place. Plus, when you bake pies, the whole building smells great and everyone loves you – even when the crust isn’t perfect.

Thanksgiving's just a week away, the start of the holiday craziness. It’s the ideal time for a nice anxiolytic dose of pie-making, don't you think? So I had this idea – what if I made a pie a day for a week? I promise to try to make them interesting. By the end of the week, I’ll have some mad pie skills to share with anyone as obsessive as I am about pies. And the kitchen will smell great, and everyone will love me:)

See you in ten pounds!

Day 1: Pumpkin custard in lemon-ginger pâte sucrée

Filling adapted from Cook's Illustrated (1993), crust riffed on Warm and Toste

I’ve been thinking about a way to make pumpkin pie less like the dense and churlish boy next door, and more like a dashing, mustachioed uncle from Paris. The makeover started with the crust, which should snappy and gingerish, but not gingersnappy. A bright and elegant lemon and ginger cookie. I settled on a pâte sucrée – the kind of short crust you get with a fruit tart – but flavored with pumpkin-complementary lemon zest, grated ginger, and a hint of cardamom. And the filling – custardy and just a little sweeter than the average pumpkin pie so you wouldn’t need whipped cream. I hunted through a bunch of crust recipes for the flavor I was tasting in my mind, and couldn’t find one, so I winged it (gulp). But I did find a really fine recipe for the filling in Cook’s Illustrated, which I adapted. I think Uncle Maurice would like it beaucoup. (Leo did.)

Pâte sucrée

2 1/2 cups flour
8 oz (16 Tbs) cold butter, cubed
1 Tbs shortening - I used 3/4 Tbs coconut oil
1/3 cup sugar
zest from 2 lemons
1" fresh ginger, grated
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
1/4 cup heavy cream

Pumpkin filling

1 15-oz can pumpkin puree (or roast and strain your own, about 2 cups)
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg (or grated fresh)
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup heavy cream
2/3 cup milk
4 eggs

Crust: I make mine in a Cuisinart fitted with a steel blade, which changed everything. But if you are an advanced pie crust maker, feel free to use a dough cutter or forks or your fingers.

Some pointers: get everything as cold as you can. When it's hot in the kitchen, put all the ingredients in the freezer for a few minutes before mixing. Some people put their food processor bowl in there too.

Combine first seven ingredients -- all but the cream -- in the bowl of the food processor. Process until it looks like a course meal. Add cream and pulse until the dough pulls together, but don't overmix. It may be crumbly but will stick together when you squeeze it. With the heel of one hand, quickly press the pastry by two-spoonful bits on the board away from you, smearing it out about 6 inches. This is called fraisage. Using a scraper or spatula, gather the dough and knead it quickly to form a smooth ball. Separate in half and flatten each into a disk. Sprinkle with flour and wrap in plastic. Put one in the freezer for use in up to 6 months. The one you're baking, either put in the freezer for at least an hour, or in the fridge for two - or overnight.

Generously sprinkle flour on your work surface. Remove the one disk and sprinkle with flour lightly. If the dough it's hard, beat it with a rolling pin a few times (be sure to put on your apron and mad face when you do this.) It should give a little when you press it. If it cracks when you try to roll it, let it sit a bit longer, but not more than 5 minutes. Roll out a few times in one direction, turn the dough 90 degrees, then roll it again a few times, continuing like this until it's about 9" in diameter. If it gets sticky, toss a little flour under it. Flip it over and roll it out in all directions -- no turning -- until it's about 1/8" thick and 14 inches in diameter.

Fold the dough loosely into quarters and put it in a 9" glass pie plate. Fold the excess dough up to the top and press your fingers to flute it.

Refrigerate for 20 minutes. Then prick the entire pie with a fork every 1/2 inch or so, including the corners. Cover with aluminum foil and press to follow the concave shape. Prick the aluminum foil bottom about 10 times. Chill for another 30 minutes.

Pop the oven open and put the rack on the bottom most slot. Heat to 400*. Start  your filling when you put the pie in to bake. Bake 15 minutes and press down on the foil to flatten air bubbles. Take the foil off and bake 10 minutes longer until the crust just starts to turn color.

Filling: The key, according to Cook's, is to add the filling to the crust when both are hot: this will make the custard firm up faster, and prevent it from soaking into the crust. Genius! 

Cook the pumpkin mixture, stirring until shiny and thick.

Process the pumpkin, brown sugar, spices, and salt for one minute. Transfer to a large, heavy-bottomed pot and heat medium-high to a sputtering simmer, stirring constantly until shiny and thick. Mine looked like a slightly thinner-than-usual frosting. This should take about 5 minutes. 

As soon as the pie crust comes out of the oven, whisk in the milk and cream and bring to a very low simmer. In the food processor add eggs and process about 5 seconds until mixed. With the motor running, slowly and carefully add half the hot pumpkin filling through the tube. Stop the machine and add the rest, then process 30 seconds.

Pour the custard right away into the hot pie shell and pop into the oven. After 5 minutes, you can ladle in any excess -- the custard will have settled a bit. Bake until the filling is puffed, lightly cracked around the edges, and the center wiggles when gently shaken. This should take about 25 minutes. Remove to a wire rack, where it can cool for an hour or more.

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