Several years ago, I volunteered to make the Thanksgiving pies for my husband’s large, extended-family gathering. All of the greats and grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins and second cousins come from far and wide to spend Thanksgiving together. It’s a day filled with lots of laughter, good food and that ‘you’re a part of a great family’ feeling. The food is very important and hasn’t changed much since I married into the clan 16 years ago. Cherry pie has always been on the dessert table as well as pumpkin.
Being in charge of the pies is a perfect job for me because I enjoy baking and feel pretty confident when it comes to the results. That is until the first time I had to make the pumpkin pie for this gathering. Honestly, pumpkin pie has never been a favorite of mine. But, when I became the chief pie maker for Thanksgiving, I was determined to make a pumpkin pie that even I would enjoy. So, I rolled up my sleeves and tried out at least a half-dozen pumpkin pie recipes. My neighbors all helped taste-test because I wasn’t sure I could pick out a good one. Fortunately, somewhere in my recipe testing, I came across this one, The Ultimate Pumpkin Pie, and it set the bar for all of the rest. I even liked it – a lot. It’s been a highly anticipated part of my Thanksgiving repertoire ever since.
Part of what makes this pie so tasty is the homemade pie crust that has Hodgson Mill Organic Whole Wheat Pastry flour in the dough. Not only does the whole wheat add a nice nuttiness to the crust, but because it’s pastry flour, the crust is tender, flaky and very hard for people to resist picking off a piece when it comes out of the oven. (Take note here to all of you who don’t bake the Thanksgiving pies, – do not pick off a piece of crust on a beautiful pie before it is served. Perfect pie is a work of art that has a time and place to be nibbled, and beware; the pie maker will come looking for you if you jump the gun. My husband can attest to that.) As an added bonus, the whole wheat also gives the crust a nice, light brown color, which complements the beautiful, deep orange filling. Top it off with a nice-sized dollop of lightly sweetened whipped cream and you will become famous at Thanksgiving for pies, too. It’s that good.
So let’s get started. This whole wheat pie crust is based on Dorie Greenspan’s, Good for Almost Everything tried and true pie crust recipe. It’s not fussy. With a light touch and some attention to detail, you will have a home-made crust in no time.
Get together the flours, butter, sugar, salt and shortening. If you think about it, stick the flours in the freezer to get them nice and cold. The butter needs to be cold, too, and the shortening should be in the freezer until right before you need it – that’s where mine is right now. I’m making a double crust recipe even though I will only need one. This way I can stick some dough in the freezer for another time.
Put the dry ingredients, butter and shortening in the food processor and give it about 5 pulses; just enough to break the butter and shortening down into pebble-sized portions.
This next part is a little bit tricky. Get a measuring cup filled with icy cold water, about 2/3 of a cup. With one hand, slowly pour the water through the top of the food processor chute and with the other hand, pulse the butter/flour mixture. It will only take about 10 pulses. As soon as you see the moisture take hold and the dough come together, stop. Open the top of the food processor and take a look. You may not need all of the water. Use a spatula and push things around a bit and see if the dough looks like it will stick together if you mush it a little. Grab a bit of the mix and see if it sticks together when you pinch it. If so, then you are done, if not, add a little more water and pulse again. Do not take this mixture so far that you end up with a clump of dough in your processor. The picture below is what you should have when you are ready to stop.
Dump the mixture out onto parchment paper on your counter-top and separate it into two clumps. Press the dough together to begin forming two disks. Notice that this dough is dry looking or “shaggy” as they say in the baking business. It’s okay, with a little bit of pressure, it will stick together.
Get some plastic wrap and squish the dough mounds into disks as you wrap them up. Stick them in the refrigerator for an hour or overnight. Let the dough sit out for about 10 minutes if it’s too hard to roll when you get it out. You’ll know if it starts cracking that it needs a few minutes to soften a bit. You can see bits of butter in the dough. Perfect! A flaky crust is on the way.
When the dough is chilled, roll one disk out so that it is big enough to fit into a pie plate with about an inch or so of dough hanging over the sides. It doesn’t have to look pretty, just be big enough to fit. Give the pie plate a spritz of cooking spray and then carefully slide the dough inside. At this point, you can trim, tuck under and crimp the edges of the dough or you can get fancy (see next paragraph). Poke some holes in the bottom of the crust and stick the whole thing in the freezer for 30 minutes. This gets the dough cold enough to handle the blind bake it’s headed for next. Put the other disk of dough in a freezer bag and stick it in the freezer, too, for another time. It will keep for about 3 months in a refrigerator freezer or longer in a deep freeze.
** Fancy Alert **
We’re going to be blind baking this crust, which means it will be partially baked before we add the filling. In my experience, blind bakes can sometimes result in the sides of the crust sliding down in the oven and an un-even look to the crust afterwards. So, to prevent this from making me crazy and saving the appearance of my pie, I get fancy. To begin, trim the sides of the dough even with the top of the pie plate. Save the edges, wrap them up and put them back in the refrigerator. Proceed with poking the dough with a fork and freezing it for 30 minutes.
Fancy or not, we’re ready to blind bake. Put some parchment paper over the dough and fill it with some kind of weights. I keep a bag of dry beans in my pantry for just this reason. The beans can be used over and over and they are some of the cheapest pie weights you can find. Stick this guy in the oven at 400˚ F for about 20 minutes, or until the edges look dry and are beginning to brown. When it’s ready, carefully take out the pie weights and paper and put the pie crust back in the oven for about 8 more minutes or until the bottom looks dry and the whole thing is light brown. Cool completely. Turn the oven down to 325˚ F.
** Fancy Alert **
Roll out the dough scraps you saved and cut out 50 small circles about 3 cm in diameter. I used a large frosting tip to do the trick and poked them out with a metal skewer. Whisk an egg white in a small bowl and brush the edge of the blind baked crust with it.
Place the circles around the edge of the crust pressing them down a little and overlapping as you go. Put the crust back in the refrigerator for 10 minutes while you mix the pumpkin filling. Next, brush the decorated circle edge on the pie crust with some of the egg white and sprinkle with turbinado sugar. I love how this picture shows the bits of whole wheat peaking through the crust. You will love the flavor it adds. Cross my heart.
Now for the part that takes this pie over the top. Spread a thin layer of apricot preserves over the bottom of the crust. Your guests will taste a hint of something in the pie that makes them need to keep tasting it to try and figure it out. They may even need another slice just to be sure. Next, add the pumpkin filling and bake it for about 45-50 minutes. You’ll know it’s done when the edges of the filling start to puff and the center is about set. There should be about three inches of set filling around a jiggly center when the pie is done. This is a custard-type filling, so the middle will keep cooking from the outside in when you take the pie out of the oven. If it gets over-cooked even a little, you will end up with a crack in the middle. This doesn’t mean the pie is ruined. The crack doesn’t affect the taste one bit. Spread a little whipped cream over the pie before serving it and no one will be the wiser.
Take a minute and admire your work. Fancy or not, this is a beautiful pie with a picture-perfect toasty brown crust. The whole wheat pastry flour has done its job in the looks department. Just wait for the taste. Really. I mean it. Wait. These little circles are begging to be nibbled. DON’T DO IT! Cool the pie on a rack on the counter, and then stick it in the refrigerator to chill before serving. I usually make my pumpkin pies the day before Thanksgiving, so they have plenty of time to chill.
At last – time for a slice of pumpkin pie. Add a dollop of lightly sweetened whipped cream and you and your family will be in Thanksgiving dessert heaven –even if pumpkin is not your favorite pie. I Promise.
Happy Thanksgiving! Enjoy!
The Ultimate Pumpkin Pie
- ¾ cup sugar
- 1 Tablespoon packed golden brown sugar
- 1 Tablespoon Hodgson Mill Cornstarch
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- ¾ teaspoon ground ginger
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
- ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 16-ounce can pumpkin puree (not pie filling)
- ¾ cup whipping cream
- ½ cup sour cream
- 3 large eggs, beaten to blend
- 1 egg white, lightly beaten
- Turbinado sugar for sprinkling
- ¼ cup apricot preserves
Put the flour, sugar and salt into a food processor fitted with a metal blade; pulse just to combine ingredients. Drop the butter and shortening in and pulse only until the butter and shortening are cut into the flour. This takes about 5 pulses. Don’t overdo the mixing. You should still have some good size clumps of butter in the bowl. While pulsing the machine on and off, add a little bit of water at a time until the dough starts to come together. Stop and check what’s going on inside by mushing things around with a spatula. If it looks like it will come together and you can pinch some of the dough together in your fingers, it’s done. Big pieces of butter are fine. Pour the mixture out onto a clean counter top and form two disks of dough. Wrap them in plastic and refrigerate for about an hour.
Roll one of the dough disks on a floured surface to about 14 inches around. Spritz a 9-inch glass pie pan with cooking spray and then transfer the dough. Trim the overhang to 1 inch. Fold overhang under and crimp. Poke a few holes in the bottom of the crust with a fork. Trim the overhang flush with the edge of the pie plate. Save and refrigerate dough scraps. Freeze crust for 30 minutes.
Line the crust with parchment paper and fill with weights (beans in my case) all the way to the top. Bake at 400o F for 20 minutes or until the sides look dry and are beginning to brown. Carefully remove the paper and weights and bake for about 8 minutes more or until the bottom is dry and the whole thing is light brown. Cool crust completely. Reduce the oven temperature to 325˚ F.
Whisk together the first 8 ingredients of the filling in a bowl until no lumps remain. Blend in pumpkin, whipping cream, sour cream and eggs.
Roll out dough scraps and cut into 50 small circles. Whisk one egg white and brush on edge of blind baked crust. Lightly press circles onto the edge, overlapping as you go around. Chill for about 10 minutes. Brush the decorated edge with egg white and sprinkle with turbinado sugar.
Spread apricot preserves over crust; pour in filling. Bake until filling puffs at edges and the center is almost set, about 45-50 minutes. There will be about 3 inches around the sides that are set and the center will still be jiggly. Cool on rack. Chill in the refrigerator for several hours until cold. This pie can be made one day ahead. Serve with lightly sweetened whipped cream.
Makes 1 9-inch pie.
Crust adapted from Baking From My Home to Yours, Dorie Greenspan
Filling adapted from Bon Appétit Magazine