Saturday, November 24, 2007
Pumpkin pie with perfect pastry
Why pumpkin pie, you might ask, when Thanksgiving is over?
Well, for one thing, this pumpkin pie is good enough to make just for the pleasure of eating it, and not only as part of a harvest ritual that will leave you far to stuffed to appreciate it. And, for another, it gives me an excuse to talk about a method of making pastry that has changed my life - and just might do the same to yours.
I've published this pastry recipe before, as part of July's strawberry tart. But at the time I didn't realize quite how significant a revelation it was.
Over many years of making pastry, I'd come to accept that pâte sucrée, sweet pastry rich with butter and egg yolk, is tricky to work with. Unlike pâte sablée (short pastry), in which the butter is kept cold, pâte sucrée is usually made with butter at room temperature. This means that you have to chill the dough before you can work with it - at least for a couple of hours but preferably overnight. When you remove the dough from the refrigerator it is inevitably too hard to roll out right away, which calls for even more patience (or, in my case, some vigorous banging with a rolling pin to soften the dough). Once you finally roll it out, you have to let it rest again - preferably for an hour or two - so that it doesn't shrink when it bakes.
The soft-butter method, favored by star bakers such as Pierre Hermé and Eric Kayser, is ill-suited to the impulsive baker - what could be better, after all, than realizing that you have a couple of spare hours in front of you and deciding to treat your family and/or friends to a homemade tart? Enter this foolproof recipe, which I came across in the Books for Cooks no. 7 recipe compilation. This is the standard recipe in the Books for Cooks kitchen, which turns out beautiful cakes and tarts every day, and it has fast become my favorite too.
The ingredients are the same as for traditional pâte sucrée, but the butter comes straight out of the fridge and the water is ice-cold. You could make it by hand, but I've had the best results using the food processor, which keeps the ingredients cool. The magic part of the recipe is that once the dough comes together you roll it out right away, skipping a step that can take up to 12 hours in other recipes. Because the ingredients are cold, the dough is soft, silky and a joy to roll out.
You do need to let the rolled-out dough rest for at least an hour in the refrigerator, but that should be easy to do while you prepare the filling. For some recipes - such as my fig tart with almond cream and this pumpkin pie - I bake the pastry directly with the filling, but you can also bake it blind the standard way, by lining it with parchment paper filled with dried beans or rice. If you freeze the pastry before blind-baking it, you shouldn't need to weigh it down - just keep an eye on it and pop any bubbles with the tip of a knife.
Should you want to use this pastry for a savory tart, all you need to do is leave out the sugar. Try this recipe once and you'll wonder why you would ever go to the trouble of buying ready-made pastry.
Canadian Thanksgiving comes several weeks before the American celebration, which means that I'm usually completely unaware of it. By the time American Thanksgiving rolls around, fall has really come to the Côte d'Azur and I'm in the mood to make this pie. It's a hit with the Niçois, who have been making sweet tarts with vegetables for centuries.
6 oz (1 1/2 cups) all-purpose flour (175 g)
5 tbsp confectioner's (icing) sugar (45 g)
Pinch of salt
3 oz very cold butter, in pieces (90 g)
1 egg yolk
2 tbsp ice water (30 ml)
A piece of pumpkin or winter squash weighing a little more than 1 lb (500 g)
A little vegetable oil
2 oz Speculoos biscuits or other spice biscuits
1/2 cup whipping cream (double cream) (125 ml)
4 oz light brown sugar (110 g)
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp dried ginger
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
A pinch of salt
For the pastry: Sift the flour and confectioner's sugar and place in the bowl of a food processor with the salt. Pulse once or twice to combine. Add the butter and process until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add the egg yolk and water and process until the dough forms a loose ball. Be careful not to overmix, but do let the dough come together. Turn the dough out onto a board and form into a ball with your hands. Flatten with the heel of your hand.
Flour the board and roll the pastry out quickly, turning it now and then and lightly flouring the board and rolling pin as necessary. Line a tart tin with this pastry, pressing it well into the corners to prevent shrinkage. Let the excess hang over the sides. Trim the pastry or, if your tin has sharp metal edges, cut off the excess with a rolling pin. Then press the pastry a little above the edge of the tin all the way around. Place the pastry in the refrigerator for at least an hour.
For the filling: Lightly oil the pumpkin or squash and bake in the oven at 375 F (180 C) for about 1 hour, until soft. Peel it and purée in a food processor or, better, though a food mill (mouli-légumes) to remove the fibers. If it seems very wet, drain the purée in a fine strainer for a few minutes.
Blend the spice biscuits to coarse crumbs in a blender or food processor, or place them in a plastic bag and crush with a rolling pin.
In a bowl, beat the eggs. Add the pumpkin purée, cream, sugar, spices and salt. Sprinkle the spice biscuit crumbs over the uncooked, chilled pastry and top with the pumpkin filling. Bake at 375 F (180 C) for about 45-50 mins, until the filling is set and lightly browned.
This tart tastes best to me when it's cold, and the cream, although pretty, is a rather unnecessary flourish. If you do use cream, you might like to sweeten it with maple syrup.