Pumpkin Pie

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday, in spite of, not because of, the food. As a kid, I loved dressing up and sitting down to a meal with all 40 members of my extended family. I loved drinking sparkling grape juice and eating Uncle Dale’s cinnamon bread. However, most of my green bean casserole usually wound up on my older brother’s plate. Of course, I’m older and wiser now and I actually enjoy eating root vegetables, so the Thanksgiving meal has captured my attention.

While I have mastered the art of stuffing and given up on green bean casserole altogether, I haven’t given much thought to pumpkin pie, the real star of the Thanksgiving meal. That is, until I acquired a pie pumpkin from my sister-in-law last week. After baking it whole and pureeing the flesh, I had just enough pumpkin for a pie.

I used the traditional recipes from the Joy of Cooking for the crust and filling, but I think what made the pie taste so great was the spices. Last Christmas, I received a variety of Penzey’s Spices from Glenn’s grandma. You could really taste the cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and nutmeg in the finished pie. It was a rich, creamy, and not too sweet.

Joy says that custard pies spoil after two days, so I better go grab my fork and head to the fridge for the leftovers!

Pumpkin Puree:
In the fall, you should be able to buy a pie pumpkin at your regular grocery store or at the farmers’ market. Most books say to buy a three-pound squash to get two cups of puree (enough for one pie). My pumpkin was almost two pounds and yielded exactly two cups of puree.

Use a sharp knife to cut a few slits (air vents) in the top of the pumpkin so that it doesn’t explode.
Place the pumpkin on a four-sided baking sheet.
Bake at 375 for 45 minutes to 1 and 1/4 hours. Test tenderness with a fork. When the flesh is easily pierced, remove from oven.
Cut in half from stem to blossom and let cool.
Remove seeds and skin.
Puree in a food processor until smooth.

Pie Crust (One Nine-Inch Crust):
I am a firm believer that you should always make your pie crust from scratch. From-scratch crusts are not difficult to make and are almost always better than their store-bought counterparts. This recipe uses a food processor, which makes it almost fool-proof, but it’s important to freeze the fats so that they don’t melt in the processor.

1 1/4 cups flour
1/2 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup shortening, cut into pieces and frozen
4 Tbs. butter, cut into pieces and frozen
8 tsp. water, ice cold

In a food processor, combine the flour, sugar, and salt. Add the shortening and butter. Pulse in short bursts until the fat is cut into small pieces and well-incorporated into the flour. The mixture should look grainy at this point. It’s better to under-process than over-process.

Drizzle 4 tsp. of water (half) over the flour mixture. Pulse 2-3 times. Remove lid, squeeze mixture between your fingers. If it holds together, remove it from the processor. If not, add the remaining 4 tsp. of water and process in short bursts.

Using your hands, form the dough into a ball and place on a floured work surface. Roll into a large circle. Use a pastry scraper or other flat object to scrape off counter, drape over rolling pin, and transfer to a 9-inch pie pan.

Cover the crust with aluminum foil and fill with rice, beans, or pie weights. Bake on the lower rack of the oven at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. Remove foil and weights. Bake uncovered for 5 minutes. Brush with a beaten egg yolk and bake 5 minutes more. Remove from oven.

Pumpkin Pie Filling:
2 eggs, beaten
2 cups pumpkin puree
3/4 cup milk
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. salt.

Whisk all ingredients together in a large bowl. Let stand at room temperature until the crust is ready to be filled. (To bring my filling to room temperature, I placed it on the stove while the crust baked in the oven.) Pour mixture into the still-hot, prebaked and glazed pie crust. Bake at 375 for 35-45 minutes. When it’s time to remove the pie, the filling will be set on the outside, but should be pretty wobbly in the center. It will continue to set as it cools on the counter. Cool to room temperature before serving.

Berry Buttermilk Cake

As Glenn and I prepare to move to Kansas City, we prepare fewer and fewer meals. Don’t worry though, our snacks and desserts more than make up for it. A few weeks ago, I finally got motivated to make this Berry Buttermilk Cake that I had dogeared in the June 2009 issue of Gourmet. While I plan to toss the magazine before the big move, this recipe is coming with us.

This is a perfect any-occasion cake. It looks healthy enough to eat for breakfast, but tastes rich enough for after dinner dessert. It’s easy, relatively quick, beautiful, and delicious — I highly recommend making it to impress your parents/friends/boyfriend/boss.

I used blackberries, but it would be great with any small, tart, ripe berry.

Lemon-Thyme Cakes

When I asked Glenn what kind of birthday cake he wanted, he said, Something crazy that we’ve never had before. I don’t know if these Lemon-Thyme Cakes exactly qualify as crazy, but it’s a combination I certainly had not seen in a dessert before.

I was skeptical of the recipe because it instructed you to combine all the ingredients in a blender. I decided to actually follow the directions for once in my life and I’m glad I did. When you make the batter in the blender, you only dirty one dish and it the batter is extremely easy to pour into the muffin tins.

The glaze was the perfect sweet, tart accent to these moist cakes. As delicious as it was, you probably only need about half the glaze, or twice the cakes, whichever you prefer.

The Times They Are A-Changin’

For one thing, I’ve been making desserts. When I saw this brownie recipe circulating through the world of cooking blogs, I tried to ignore it, but to no avail. Dense, chewy, crusty brownies are one of the few desserts I really fawn over. These were no more difficult than a packaged mix, but a million times more delicious. Since I have yet to get my all corners brownie pan and I’ve never owned a square baking pan, I used a 9-inch cake pan. It worked fabulously.

In other news, Glenn and I will be relocating to my hometown, Kansas City MO, this summer. Once we get there and get settled in, I’ll post about all the fabulous barbecue we’ve been eating, but posting will be pretty sporadic until then.

Easter Pudding Eggs

Pudding Eggs (makes 12):
3 cups milk
1 1/2 Tb gelatin
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 tsp vanilla
12 eggs
food coloring

To empty the egg shells: Use a safety pin to poke a finger-sized hole in the bottom of a whole egg. Hold the egg over a bowl and use a safety pin to poke one pin-sized hole in the top of the egg. Shake the yolk and white out and rinse the shell.

To sanitize the egg shells: Put the rinsed shells in a saucepan with water. Bring to a boil and boil for 10 minutes. Drain upside down on cooling racks.

To make the pudding: Sprinkle 1 1/2 Tb gelatin over 1/4 cup of milk and let stand 5 minutes or until absorbed. Heat the rest of the milk and combine with the sugar and vanilla. Then combine the gelatin mixture with the hot milk mixture. Let cool slightly.

To fill the eggs: Color the pudding mixture with food coloring. Use about 1 drop per cup for pastels. Fill the eggs through the hole in the bottom. I used a pastry bag to funnel the mixture into the eggs. Chill overnight in the refrigerator.

Peel the eggs and serve over a bed of coconut grass. (You can dye coconut green by tossing it in a ziploc with food coloring.)

Apple Season

I missed apple season by a long shot, but I still managed to squeeze in these two Smitten Kitchen recipes. The best thing about these dishes is that they don’t taste like every other cinnamony, sugary, appley pie and crisp that we eat so much of all fall. I like a good apple pie as much as the next guy, but every once in a while it’s nice for the apples to step aside and make room for some other flavors.

The top picture is of Breakfast Apple Granola Crisp. This is much more like applesauce with a granola bar on top than an apple crisp, which makes a fine breakfast.

The second picture is of Raisin-Studded Apple Bread Pudding. I like to think of it as a desert stuffing, but maybe I still have the Stuffing Project on the brain. It doesn’t have the custard-like consistency of a bread pudding or breakfast casserole, which is fine by me.

So if you’re in denial about winter (I would hardly call the ice on my windshield this morning a frost), then whip up one of these.

Applesauce Muffins

applesauce muffins

As I’ve mentioned before, my family has never been big on desserts. Along with Apple Pizza and Half-the-Chocolate-Chips Cookies, these Applesauce Muffins were in the regular dessert rotation. Or was that the breakfast rotation? Hard to say.

Don’t be intimidated by the ingredient list. If you have a fully stocked spice cabinet, you probably already have all the ingredients except applesauce, raisins, and walnuts. Once you have everything, you just dump it all in a mixing bowl and beat them together. You can make the recipe as a cake (9×13), muffins (24), or mini muffins (48).

These muffins are super easy to make and a major crowd pleaser, which is why I made them for the Goodwill Store Costume Contest winner’s party. Judging the contest was at least ten times more difficult than making these muffins, but you can read about that on the Triad Goodwill Blog.

Applesauce Muffins:

  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp all spice
  • 15 oz can applesauce
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • Mix all ingredients in a large bowl. Blend half a minute on low, scraping sides of bowl constantly. Blend 3 minutes on high, scraping sides occasionally.
  • Pour into 9×13 pan, 24 muffin cups, or 48 mini muffin cups (filling muffin cups about 3/4 full).
  • Bake at 350 for 20-30 minutes.