Pumpkin Pie

We are having food wars at our house. It all began last week when my 17-year-old, Sam, brought home a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Chubby Hubby ice cream (for those of you Chubby Hubby virgins, that’s fudge-covered, peanut butter-filled pretzels in vanilla malt with extra fudge and peanut butter). He made an announcement at the dinner table that he had bought the ice cream with his own money and no one was to lay a finger on it. To make his point, Sam took a Sharpie marker and wrote his name in bold on top of the container.

Several evenings later, my husband, Bob, and my 13-year-old, Spencer, were sitting around watching television. I was reading a book in bed and heard Sam come downstairs from his room. “I’m hungry for dessert,” he said as he passed my door. This was followed several moments later by shouts of furry. “Who ate my ice cream? It’s half gone!” he bellowed. Then Sam came stomping up the stairs and into my room. “Mom, did you eat my ice cream?”

“I haven’t even looked at your ice cream,” I told him. “Dad said it wasn’t him and so did Spencer,” Sam told me. I smelled a rat so I decided to go downstairs and confront who I thought was the culprit — namely, Bob. “I can’t believe you’re trying to lay the blame on me. Be a man and admit you ate that ice cream,” I said to him. At first he tried to deny it but then a guilty smile crept across his face. “OK, I had a couple of spoonfuls, but I didn’t eat it all, I swear.”

This made me flash back to the time when the boys were little and Bob’s mother had bought them chocolate Easter bunnies. The kids had a few bites of their bunnies and put them back, headless, in the snack drawer. A couple of days later Bob and I, in probably our worst joint parenting moment ever, ate the leftover bunny bodies. We were just going to have a few bites, but the bunnies were hollow and we were hungry. “They probably forgot about them already,” Bob said, licking a fleck of chocolate from the corner of his mouth. The next day, when Sam and Spencer discovered their treats were gone, they both started to cry hysterically. “Who ate our bunnies?” they wailed as tears streamed down their cherubic red cheeks. It was a classic case of “stealing candy from a baby,” and I’ve tried never to touch their treats since then.

“Sam, I’ll make it up to you. I’m going to bake a pumpkin pie for book club and I’ll make an extra one for the house,” I promised. “I’m still really mad,” he said, but it seemed he had calmed down a bit.

That night I went to my computer to check out recipes for pumpkin pie at http://www.epicurious.com/. I sorted recipes by rating and began scanning through the ones that came up with the top-scoring four forks. I first opened the link to “Citrus Pumpkin Pie with Grand Marnier Cream,” but wasn’t crazy about having orange and lemon peels in my pie, plus I prefer to use some Crisco (aka lard) in my crust to help it hold its shape, which this all-butter recipe was lacking. I also passed on “Maple Pumpkin Pie” because I didn’t feel like making an egg wash and pastry leaves, not to mention having to boil maple syrup to 210 degrees.

I did, however, make a note about the importance of using Grade B maple syrup, which “A cook from Boston, MA” said in the reviews “adds a bit more bite.” Further research led me to the Massachusetts Maple Producers Association website, http://www.massmaple.org/, which said while Grade A syrup was light and delicate, “Grade B, sometimes called Cooking Syrup, is made late in the season, and is very dark, with a very strong maple flavor, as well as some caramel flavor…Because of its strong flavor, it’s often used for cooking and baking.”

As they say, the third one’s the charm, and I knew I had found my dream dessert when I clicked on the link to “Pumpkin Spice Pie” from the pages of Bon Appétit magazine back in November 1999. I scanned the whopping 43 online reviews and took a few notes. “A cook from Columbia, MO” recommended “adding an additional half teaspoon of ginger to make it really spicy,” while a Chicago reviewer said to “use canned organic pumpkin.”

After I printed out the recipe, I went downstairs to see what I had in stock and what I would have to buy the next day. The good thing was I already had a number of items on the ingredients list, and all I needed to purchase was the Grade B maple syrup and canned organic pumpkin along with some whipping cream.

A note about the Grade B maple syrup: First of all, I couldn’t find it at the regular grocery store and ended up having to go to Mrs. Green’s, my local health food store, (where I also picked up the canned organic pumpkin). In addition, nobody gave me the heads up that this does not come in a small bottle, but rather a giant half-gallon jug. I almost got the Grade A, which came in a smaller size, because I was reluctant to pay the whopping $30 for the Grade B syrup. In the end, I bit the bullet and bought the B, although I grumbled under my breath at the checkout counter and all the way home. The only thing that kept me from returning the bottle was a phone call that night from my brother David, who’s a big-time cook and baker. “Grade B is the only way to go,” he told me. He called it “unfiltered” and “murkier” (not exactly appealing), then added, “You have to use the Grade B to get that dark, rich color and fuller flavor.” If you should decide to use Grade A, then use Grade A, but whatever you do, don’t substitute Aunt Jemima’s syrup, which, if you read the label, doesn’t even have maple syrup in it (scary!).

First things first. You have to decide whether you are going to bake your own pie crust or not. If you’re going to buy it, you can skim the next few paragraphs. For those of you who are going to go for it, and I recommend this, you will be highly appreciated by your guests for the few extra minutes it takes you to make this simple crust. This is how it goes down: you mix flour, sugar and salt in a food processor, then add 6 tablespoons unsalted butter and 2 tablespoons solid vegetable shortening (that’s not too much, and it’s just the ticket for a great crust!). After you pulse the combined ingredients until the point the mixture resembles course meal, you add a little bit of ice water and process until moist clumps form. In my case, the mixture turned itself into a perfect ball in a matter of seconds. I dipped my hands into a little bit of flour so the dough wouldn’t stick to my fingers, removed the ball, and patted it into a disc. Then I covered it in Saran Wrap and let it chill in the refrigerator.

In the meantime, I blended together the ingredients for the pie filling — maple syrup, whipping cream, eggs, butter, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger and salt. It smelled just like one of those pumpkin spice candles that they sell in mall candle shops, only better and more natural.

When the pie crust was chilled, I pulled the disc out of the refrigerator and stuck it in my handy-dandy pie crust bag, made out of two 14-inch plastic circles that are connected by a zipper going around their circumferences *(see information below). You need to buy one of these $5numbers; it’s fantastic. You just throw some flour in there, insert your dough disk in between the sheets of plastic, and pull out your rolling pin. Then you roll out your dough into a perfect circle, unzip the bag and put your nine-inch pie plate on top, turn it over and, voilà!, the perfect crust slips perfectly into place. You can trim the edges and crimp them anyway you’d like; I used the tines of a fork for mine.

I’ve spared you the task of pre-baking the crust, but if you want to add that extra step (which I can tell you is unnecessary in this case), then refer to my earlier blog on making apple pie. All you really have to do for the pie is to pour the pumpkin mixture inside the crust and stick it in the oven. If the rim of the crust starts turning dark, cover it with tinfoil or splurge and buy a metal pie crust shield.*

 While the cake is baking, now is the time to create the pièce de résistance, the whipped cream topping. This was so good that I kept sticking my finger in the bowl to have yet another taste of the sweet, spiced cream. It’s made of a simple list of ingredients — whipped cream, powdered sugar, cinnamon and vanilla — but it’s amazing how good they taste when they’re combined. FYI, it’s also about the best thing you can ever add to your coffee.

OK, back to the food wars. I served the pumpkin pie to my family at dinner the other night and then brought a second pie to my book club; both were practically devoured. I managed to bring one slice home for moi, plus there was another large piece left over from dinner. The following morning I went to yoga and told my friend D. about the pie. Never one to be shy, she asked, “Can I follow you home and have a slice?” “Of course,” I answered. Driving back to the house, I fantasized about biting into my own piece of creamy pie.

We walked into my kitchen and I opened the refrigerator. “Where’s the pie?” I asked. All that was left was a sliver, about the size of my thumb. Apparently, the food wars are still on. (Sam, if you’re reading this, I know it was you!)

*Shopping Tips:

Pie Crust Bag and Pie Crust Shield are both available at http://www.sugarcraft.com/catalog/misc/pies.htm

http://www.epicurious.com/, Bon Appétit, November 1999
By Elinor Klivans


1 15-ounce can pure pumpkin (I used canned organic pumpkin)
¾ cup pure maple syrup (I used Grade B)
¾ cup whipping cream
3 large eggs
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon salt
Pinch ground ginger (not in original recipe)

1 Flaky Pie Crust (see below)

Whipped Cream:
1 cup chilled whipping cream
3 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For pie: Position rack in bottom third of oven and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk pumpkin, maple syrup, whipping cream, eggs, butter, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, salt and ginger in large bowl and blend well.

Pour pumpkin mixture into prepared pie crust. Bake until filling is just set in center and crust is golden, about 1 hour. Transfer pie to rack and cool completely. Cover pie and refrigerate until cold. (Can be prepared one day ahead. Keep refrigerated.)

For whipped cream: Using electric mixer, beat 1 cup chilled whipping cream, 3 tablespoons powdered sugar, 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract in large bowl until soft peaks form.

Flaky Pie Crust
http://www.epicurious.com/, Bon Appétit, 2000
By Elinor Klivans

Makes one 9-inch pie crust.

1 1/3 cup all purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch pieces
2 tablespoons chilled solid vegetable shortening, cut into ½-inch pieces
3 tablespoons (or more) ice water

Mix flour, sugar and salt in processor. Add butter and shortening. Using on/off turns, process until mixture resembles course meal. Drizzle 3 tablespoons ice water over mixture. Process just until moist clumps form, adding more ice water by teaspoonfuls if dough is dry. Gather dough into ball; flatten into disk. Wrap in plastic; chill until dough is firm enough to roll out, about 30 minutes.

Roll out dough on lightly floured work surface (or in your floured pie crust bag) to 12-inch round. Transfer dough to 9-inch diameter glass pie dish. Fold overhang under. Crimp edges decoratively. (Can be prepared two days ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)


  1. says

    The pie was amazing and it blew everyone away at thanksgiving. I think the Saigon Cinnamon and fresh ground nutmeg really elevated the pie from the ordinary to the truly memorable.

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