By now, the ovens and stovetops in your homes are beginning to warm up and smell of wonderful things, in preparation for spending the holiday with those you love tomorrow. As I type, three little pies are cooling, safely perched in the only clear section of the countertops, and far from the packing boxes and wrapping paper that I’m using to put away the last pieces of our kitchen. We’ll move it all to our new address this weekend. Frankly, if it weren’t for those sweet pies, their scents, and the joy I had in baking them, it wouldn’t feel much like the holiday season at all around here….yet.
Unfortunately, or fortunately, or situationally, I won’t be cooking for us this Thanksgiving. It makes me frown to think about it, but then I can’t help but smile with thoughts of the upcoming holidays we’ll be spending in the new house, about the first things I’ll bake there. I wasn’t planning any holiday baking for another couple of weeks because of the move, but then Timmy + Loren wrote to ask if I’d make them a few pies for their Thanksgiving celebration. I think I must have lit up like a Christmas Tree with the request. Over the next day or so, we exchanged little messages about what sort of pies sounded best to them and agreed that I’d try a few new things, without straying too far from the classics. Making pies for them – just the act of rolling the dough, coring the apples, babysitting them as they bake, watching the steam rise as they cool, then passing them off with a big hug and all of our wishes for a wonderful Thanksgiving celebration – was a healthy dose of holiday cheer for me.
I did manage to squish in a pie for us before I packed up the pie plates; not the apple pie that traditionally appears several times a week (!!) most holidays, and not the bourbon pecan inspired by this David Leibovitz variation. Instead, I made classic pumpkin pie….but added this maple shortbread crust. The crust was something that just came to mind in our pie musings and proved to be a quick, special something that’s quite worthy of a share here; certainly faster than a traditional pastry, and far more interesting than all those graham cracker crusts that tempt us this time of year.
So! This crust: I used it for a classic pumpkin pie, but you could use it for just about any pie custard pie you can think of. Pecan, cheesecake, whathaveyou. I’ve included an adapted version of my favorite classic pumpkin pie recipe below so that you can make the two as a pair but I encourage you to fire this one off at will. For the record, I really like the way this particular pie filling – which isn’t so sweet and just the right amount of spicy – plays with the sweet crust. (By the way, Deb shares an incredibly worthy pecan praline sauce to drizzle over the pie if you really want to go whole hog!) The crust is a shortbread and so you mix it up as you would cookie dough – by creaming soft butter with sugar instead of pulsing cold butter into the flour. Then you’ll press it into the pie pan, par-bake, fill, et voilà! Pie!
A couple of tips: you’ll need to par bake the crust before filling it. I suggest using pie weights or dry, uncooked beans to prevent the crust from bubbling unevenly during the par-bake process. Docking the crust (ie: poking holes in it with a fork or toothpick – see photo) is also necessary for this process. If you don’t dock the crust, you could end up with a bubbly and uneven crust that won’t hold pie filling very well – the horror! Now, ingredients: you can find maple sugar at most natural grocers these days, or you can order it here. It can be a little expensive, however, and if this is a concern for you (or if you’re hoarding your stash,) you could use light brown sugar for up to 1/2 of the sugar quantity and still get a great maple-y crust. For those of you with cornstarch concerns, as always, feel free to employ arrowroot.
What else….that might be it! We’re saving the pie for this Friday as a reward for the small army of friends whom will help us move. Tomorrow, since we won’t be able to cook a true feast, we’re really quite excited about having dinner at this local spot; I can’t wait to see what’s popping up at their garden at this time of year.
I also can’t wait to hear what sorts of pie you bake in this little crust! I hope this finds you all healthy, happy and well, embracing your loved ones and this wonderful season with open arms. Happy cooking/baking/eating/celebrating! – xo L
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1/4 cup + 6 Tbsp maple sugar
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 cup unbleached all purpose flour
- 1/3 cup cornstarch (or arrowroot)
- pinch of salt
- 1 3/4 cup pumpkin puree (from a 15oz can)
- 2/3 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 tsp fine grain sea salt
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/8 tsp ground cloves
- pinch of ground nutmeg
- 1 1/3 cup cold heavy cream or whipping cream
- 3 large eggs
- makes one 9" pie.
- 1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly butter a 9-inch pie pan.
- 2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in a large mixing bowl, beat butter, maple sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla on medium speed until blended and smooth, roughly 1 minute. Sift together flour, cornstarch, and salt and add to bowl. Mix on low speed just until dough forms big crumbly bits - you want this to look more like cookie dough and less like sand.
- 3. Transfer crumbs to prepared pan. With clean dry hands, press the crumbs smoothly and evenly onto bottom and sides of pan. I like to push my thumb into the seam of the pan, then press up with my fingers to get a nice even crust. You're done pressing when the crust is smooth and not crumbly anywhere. Next, you'll dock the crust. Using a fork, prick top of dough lightly, all over to prevent bubbles during par baking.
- 4. Lay a piece of aluminum foil over the crust, then fill the pie with pie weights. Bake crust 15 to 18 minutes, until firm and lightly colored; edges should not begin to brown. Let crust cool for 20 minutes before filling. To bake the pumpkin pie below, turn the heat up to 400F degrees.
- 1. While the crust is cooling, make the filling: combine pumpkin, sugar, salt and spices in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a sputtering simmer and cook for 5 to 7 minutes, stirring frequently. When the filling is fragrant and thickening, you're ready to pull it from the heat. Scoop cooked pumpkin filling into bowl, and whisk in cold cream until smooth. Whisk in eggs, one at a time. Then, pour filling into prepared pie crust.
- 2. It's time to bake the pie! Bake the pie for 15 minutes at 400F degrees, then reduce heat to 350°F and bake for another 30 to 40 minutes, just until the center barely jiggles and a toothpick inserted into it comes out pumpkin-free. (In culinary school, we used to say "when it jiggles as one, it must be done!" (Note: a damp toothpick is fine, but the toothpick shouldn’t have loose pumpkin batter on it.)
- 3. Let the pie cool on a rack completely, if you, like me, prefer your pumpkin pie cool. Speed things along by putting it in the fridge. This pie is now ready to serve, with your favorite ice cream!