Confession time: I’m not a big fan of pumpkin pie. There. I said it. However, I’m not proud of this declaration. For an American it is rather like saying you hate baseball, or Disney World. Might as well burn your passport and be done with it.
I have to admit I haven’t tried very hard with the whole pumpkin pie liking thing. I’ve attempted a few slices in my day but they were always too bland, too soft, or too aggressively spiced: Goldilocks and the three pumpkin pies…
My mother is not to blame as she wasn’t keen either. Our family was more of the pecan pie persuasion, preferring that sticky Deep South delicacy that has kept dentists in business for many decades. My Dad made the perfect one once. It was never to be repeated (probably a good thing), but it will always be remembered. I’ve remembered pumpkin pie, but for all the wrong reasons. Perhaps if I had tried YOUR pumpkin pie, I would be making that and not trying to make my own.
Pumpkin pie is not a commonly seen or requested dessert in the UK, so it has been a bit of a non-issue for a long time. The closest we come is the pumpkin spice latte drink you get at Starbucks. Never had one of those – or any of their sweetened drinks for that matter. And you can also get pumpkin spice candles at TK Maxx (it is a K here in the UK) that smell overwhelmingly/knocking-overly of cinnamon, ginger, sugar and cloves.
However, despite earlier disenchantment with said pie, I wanted to be turned. As an ex-pat living in Scotland for some 20+ years, I occasionally feel a yearning for the country cooking of my youth – sweet potato casserole, devilled eggs, extra crispy home-fried chicken, sauerbraten. But rarely do I make anything that I grew up eating. We prefer less meaty, less fatty cooking than was the norm in my childhood. But, of course, holidays are always different. Many of us feel okay about loosening the healthful strictures that have become a way of life. Even if only for a few days a year.
I played around with this idea for awhile before actually making it. I had seen and impulsively bought a can of ‘solid pack pumpkin’ (what a great name. not) that mysteriously appeared in the American section of my local Tesco. I normally whizz right past this section, with its squat white jars of marshmallow fluff, Goober peanut butter and jelly, shelves of candy, and nothing of nutritional value whatsoever. But, like hearing the words ‘sex’ or ‘Ryan Gosling’ in someone else’s conversation, I turned when my peripheral vision clocked the familiar label, with its swoopy red Libby’s above a dense, cream-topped pie. I plucked a tin from the shelf and made a dash for it, fearing being spotted in this aisle of iniquity. Knowing me, I probably buried it underneath an avalanche of vegetables, just in case. But of course, it is just cooked ‘solid’ pumpkin, and nothing else.
For a week I stared at the can, almost making the recipe on the label just so my family could try this all-American recipe. But, I also wanted to make a chocolate walnut pie at some point so thought I might as well combine the two ideas and see what happens. What happened was just what I wanted to happen: crisp crust, good hit of chocolate, smooth and mild pumpkin, a veil of winter spice and the crunch and heft of walnuts. It is no lightweight of a pie, but I’m of the school of thought that a little bit of what you fancy – especially during the holidays – does you good. And keeps you from going too crazy.
The pie makes 10 slices, so is perfect for a good-sized gathering – Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah (Thanksgivukkah!), the office party. The three of us pecked away at it for almost a week, which is obviously not the best of ideas. But it did keep a great flavour, the crust inevitably softening with each passing day. I will do it again for Christmas, but I will chop the walnuts more finely (in the images the walnuts look like chunks of apple), and keep my dough colder so that it handles into the tin more easily (I had the fire on for the cats…). Other than that I think it is a keeper. I still don’t think it will top my Dad’s pecan pie but, for a pumpkin pie, it’s pretty good.
Have a wonderful Thanksgiving and Hanukkah. I will be back later this week to give you the antidote…
Last year: Tunisian Chickpea and Vegetable Tagine
Two years ago: Old-Fashioned Fresh Apple Cake
Miss R’s track of the week: Honey Pie by the Beatles – but of course!
This pie is dedicated to those of you who – like me – don’t really like pumpkin pie.
300g (1 & 1/3 cups) solid-pack pumpkin OR equivalent cooked and ‘dry’ pumpkin/sweet potato
2 medium eggs or 2 ‘chia eggs’, lightly beaten
¾ tsp salt
150 ml (1/2 cup) real maple syrup (grade B if possible) OR honey
75g (1/3 cup) dark muscovado or dark brown sugar (optional, if not sweet enough with syrup)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground clove
Pinch of ground cardamom or ground seeds from 2 green pods
125g (1 cup) chopped walnuts (or pecans)
75g (½ cup) mini chocolate chips or cacao chips
The Baked Topping:
Walnut halves, to decorate – amount up to you (or pecans)
1 large egg, optional
100ml (1/3 cup) real maple syrup OR honey
30g (2 tbsp) butter OR coconut butter, melted
75g (heaped 1/3 cup) dark muscovado sugar
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
The Dough: the key is to have everything very cold; work quickly and lightly
170g (1 & 1/3 cup) white spelt flour OR plain/AP flour, cold
85g (5 & 3/4 tbsp) butter, diced and very cold OR vegan margarine
1 tbsp unrefined icing (confectioner’s) sugar
Seeds from ½ vanilla pod
pinch of fine salt
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tbsp cold water
The dough is for a 9 inch fluted enamel/metal, loose-bottomed pie dish.
1. First of all make the dough. Pop everything but the egg and water in a food processor and blitz until just forming fine crumbs. Add in the egg and 1 tbsp of water and pulse until just mixed. OR, you can rub the butter into sifted flour, salt and icing sugar until you have fine, evenly-sized crumbs. Whisk the vanilla seeds into the egg and water and knife this into the dry mixture. For both methods work it very gently until the dough forms a cohesive ball. Turn out onto a floured, cold surface and pat into a flat disk. I use both methods with good results.
2. Using a floured rolling pin roll out into a thin round – use short rather than long strokes to keep the dough from stretching and developing the gluten too much. When it is about one and a half inches wider than the diameter of the baking tin, roll half of the dough onto the rolling pin and gently drape the dough into the tin. Press it in with your fingers so that there are no gaps. Do not trim any overhanging pastry at this point. This can all be a bit tricky. In fact, mine was so delicate that I ended up patching it together, which resulted in the dough being a little thicker at the sides than I would have liked. Tasted fine though. Rest the dough in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
3. While the dough is resting, make the filling. In a large bowl vigorously mix together all of the filling ingredients, except the chocolate chips. Set aside.
4. Lightly prick the dough, crumple a piece of baking parchment and then shape it into the tin; top with ceramic baking beans, chickpeas or rice. This step keeps the dough from puffing up. Place the baking tin on a tray and bake in a 200C/180Cfan/375F oven for 12 minutes. Remove the beans and paper and bake for a further five minutes. Trim off the excess pastry and cool the pastry case. Turn the oven down to 160C/140Cfan/375F.
5. To assemble the pie: Sprinkle the chocolate chips into the cooled pastry case and spread over the filling. Arrange the walnuts on the top. In a small bowl mix together the topping ingredients and evenly pour over the top of the pie. Place the pie in a 160C/140Cfan/325F oven and bake for 45-50 minutes, or until the top looks caramelised and uniformly shiny. Allow to cool in the tin before setting the tin over a wide jar or tin and pushing down on the sides of the tin. This releases the base from the sides. Carefully lift the base and pie onto a board or counter and use a cake lifter or wide spatula to lift the pie onto a serving plate.
This pie makes 10 servings and tastes brilliant with lightly whipped fresh cream, cashew cream, custard or ice cream.