Thursday, October 1, 2009

october bliss

It is October!

I wait for October all year with anticipation.  It is finally okay to start breaking out the Halloween decorations, the fall colors and, fingers crossed, a sweater or two.
I am very excited because this year..we have sugar pumpkins to harvest.  Mike planted them in our garden this spring, and they have taken over.
Earlier this week, after a day trip to our cabin, Mike tucked two into his motorcycle satchel and brought them home.  You could only imagine my glee when presented with these beautiful, home-grown orbs.  I was absolutely giddy with delight.  I can hardly wait for Thanksgiving when I can send one of the children out to the garden to pick a few for our table.  Very "prairie".

I love pumpkin pie.  And thanks to the Libby's company we can have it all year round.  I actually think their pumpkin, and their recipe produce a pretty good pie.  I must admit it has been a standby for many years, and I always get rave reviews.  But this year, since we have the pumpkins, I went for it.  100% from scratch.  No canned  pumpkin, no canned milk, no canned nothin'.
The results were amazing.  This recipe yields a nice 10" pie, with a smooth creamy texture and a minimal sweetness.  You can play with the sugar levels a bit if you like a sweeter pie, but this sits on the more sophisticated side of desserts.  And furthermore, it's perfect for breakfast because its less sweet than many cereals.  And who doesn't like pie for breakfast?

Pumpkin Pie
1 recipe flaky pie crust (recipe follows)
2 cups fresh pumpkin (instructions follow)
2 whole large eggs
2 large egg yolks
1/2 cup whipping cream
3/4 cup light brown sugar--gently packed
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/8 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp allspice
*note: you can add or eliminate any spices you wish.  I only suggest that you don't overdo the cinnamon.  The flavor of fresh pumpkin is gentle, if you put too much cinnamon, you will kill the subtlety.
Preheat the oven to 375f.
Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl and let sit together in the refrigerator while you "blind bake" the crust.  Be sure to bake only until the crust begins to look cooked, but not browned.  You do not want to over bake, as you need to put it back in the oven once you fill with the pumpkin custard.  Remove the crust from the oven, remove the weights and parchment paper, and immediately pour in the custard.  Reduce the oven heat to 350f.  Place the pie on a baking sheet and bake for approximately 40 minutes.  It is important that you  watch it. You do not want to overcook the custard.  It is done if you tap the side of the pan and you get a slight jiggle/ripple in the middle of the pie (1 or 2" from the center of the pie).  Just as if you have skipped a small rock into a pond.  If the ripple starts from the outer rim of the pie, it is not done. If it doesn't ripple at all, pull it from the oven and get it on a cooling rack right away.

Pie Crust
you can use a favorite recipe, or even a store bought crust (which simply isn't as good, but I understand).  This is a simple recipe that I use for a nice tasting and sturdy crust.
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
3/4 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
1/2 cup cold butter--cut into chunks
1/3 cup solid shortening or lard (i prefer lard but it isn't the most healthy option)
5-6 Tbs of cold water
In a large bowl mix together the dry ingredients.  Add the butter and shortening all at once and "cut" into the pastry. I like to use my hands for this.  I will work the mixture until the butter and shortening are incorporated into the flour in hazelnut size pieces.  Add enough very cold water to bring the mixture together, but it should not be sticky. It should also not be dry.  Handle the dough as minimally as possible, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or overnight.  If you are making the pastry well in advance (more than a day), I suggest wrapping it and freezing it.  Raw dough will turn gray after a time in the refrigerator.

Fresh Pumpkin Puree
Do not use a pumpkin that you would use for carving. They are too big and don't carry the flavor of a sugar pumpkin.  Wash the pumpkin well, cut in half and remove all the seeds and stringy bits.  Reserve the seeds for spicy-salty roasted pumpkin seeds.  Place the pumpkins, cut side down on a baking sheet and place in a 350f oven until they are soft.  Once cooked, remove from oven and run through a ricer or food mill. Discard outer skin.  For a silky smooth texture, process the "meat" of the pumpkin until it is no longer lumpy.  I use a hand blender which works perfectly, but you can use a processor as well.  You will need 2 cups for the pie recipe, but your pumpkin might yield more.  You can freeze the extra at this point. 

Spicy-Salty Roasted Pumpkin Seeds
seeds from 1 or more pumpkins--rinsed and dried overnight
olive oil
1/4  cup light brown sugar
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cumin

Place the seeds on a roasting pan.  Toss in olive oil...just to lightly coat.  Sprinkle spices over and let bake at 325f. until beginning to brown and getting nice and crunchy.  You can up or decrease the spice level based on your preference. These are pretty spicy and would pair really well with a harvest or pumpkin beer.


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