Holiday Baking: Old School Pumpkin Pie

I've never made a pumpkin pie. This is primarily because I've never had a pumpkin pie that I like as much as a good fruit pie. So, for the holidays, my counterpart gets what was traditional for my family growing up in close proximity to Wisconsin's cherry orchards - a nice tart cherry pie. Even on Thanksgiving.

This year I decided to give the man a break and muster up a home made, fresh pumpkin pumpkin pie. I always kind of liked my mom's approach. She uses a standard recipe but doubles the spice except for the clove, which she halves. This creates a nice spicy pie. But, there's still something weird about the texture of most pumpkin pies. Maybe it's the prevalence of canned pumpkin?

I did a bit if research and found an old-school recipe for pumpkin pie on the Food52 blog. And, by old school, I mean it predates the era in which I was raised, where condensed milk was as ubiquitous in the kitchen as flour, sugar, and eggs. I feel as if the women who raised me put that stuff in everything. My first fudge recipe called for a fair amount of the stuff.

And, maybe this is also part of my issue with pumpkin pie. I can't get beyond that tinned milk flavor of so many fillings. So when I found a recipe that used good old fashioned cream, I knew I had a winner.

Food52 attributes this recipe to Meta Given, who published the two-volume Encyclopedia of Modern Cooking sometime in the 1940's. It calls for caramelizing the pumpkin, as well as limiting the spice to cinnamon and ginger. It also bakes in about 25 minutes.

For Meta Given's Caramelized Pumpkin Pie you will need:

A 9-inch pie pan lined with pastry (I like the Deluxe Butter Pastry from Joy of Cooking)

1 3/4 cups cooked pureed pumpkin

3/4 cups sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

2 eggs

1 cup cream

1/2 cup milk

To prepare the pureed pumpkin, you'll want a sharp knife, a kitchen shears, and a vegetable peeler. First, cut the pumpkin into quarters and use the kitchen shears to cut out the seeds an all those little threads. Then, use the vegetable peeler to peel the skin. Roast them in the oven at about 350 until the internal temperature of the pumpkin is 140 or so. While your pumpkin is roasting, you can prepare your crust.

When your pumpkin is out of the oven and has cooled a bit, use a parking knife to cut it down into smaller pieces. Then mash it with your potato masher before pureeing it with an immersion blender.

Make sure to roll out your pie crust and get it in your pie pan before you start the filling. This comes together quickly, and the recipe calls to pour the fresh-from-the-stove-top filling into a chilled pie shell. So, get your crust in your pie pan and place it in the freezer to chill while you make the filling. Also, I made enough pie crust for two pies. This is a good thing to do if you are making a recipe for the first time, or if you are a holiday baker only and haven't really baked since new year's brunch. This way, if the pie doesn't turn out, you've got another crust on hand to quickly try again.

Here's something else that will help, especially with this recipe. Basically, you've got three main components: the pumpkin, your dry ingredients, and your wet ingredients. Premix the sugar, salt, and spices and set aside. Then, beat your eggs and pre-mix the egg, cream, and milk.

Now you are ready to caramelize your pureed pumpkin. Place it in a heavy saucepan over direct heat. I started mine out on high heat and watched while it looked (and smelled) like it was scorching. It stuck to the pan and really made me more than a little anxious. So, I turned the heat down a bit and kept going. The recipe says it should take about 10 minutes to caramelize. And, after about 5 minutes, the scent changed, and it did indeed begin to smell a bit like caramelized sugar. After about 8 minutes, the pumpkin was starting to brown and had achieved a slightly dry texture.

Caramelized Pumpkin

Remove the pumpkin from the heat and fold the sugar mixture into the still-hot pumpkin. Use a good spatula, too, as the sugar is going to react with the hot pumpkin. As I mixed the sugar, I noticed that all the pumpkin residue that I saw sticking to my pan came right off and mixed in with the rest.

With sugar and spice

Once everything is well combined, mix in the cream mixture. I used my immersion blender, but a hand mixer would probably be more appropriate.

With cream and egg mixed in

Now, here's the second area of concern for me. The filling is liquid. Like really liquid. I got a little concerned that I had skipped a step or something. But, no, it is supposed to be this way. There are eggs in there, and they will cook. So, I removed my pie shell from the freezer and used a small soup ladle to gently transfer my steaming hot pie filling into the very chilled pastry, ladling some off into a small glass dish to serve as a taste test. This is another good thing to do if you are trying a new recipe as it gives you a chance to sample the filling before the pie is out on the table in front of guests.

Ready for the oven

Bake the pie in a pre-heated 400-degree oven for about 25 minutes, or until the filling has set. The recipe says this is when it is slightly jiggly and the area in the center is still liquid. It also says that a pumpkin pie that has been cooked properly has a smooth surface that has not cracked. My pie cooked in about 30 minutes and was somewhere in between these two guide posts.

Plus, it looked burnt. So, after allowing my taste test some time to cool, I gave it a try. This is a unique pie filling that does indeed taste strongly of pumpkin. The light spicing of ginger and cinnamon allow the actual flavor of the pumpkin to dominate, as the recipe promised. Plus, there is an undertone of caramel that is subtle but noticeable. The texture is clearly an egg-based filling, although not quite a custard. Overall, I am pleased. I hope my counterpart is also.

The finished product