Homemade Crust Tips and Pointers
1) Blind Baking. This does not mean to blindfold yourself before using the oven. This simply means popping the crust in the oven, on its own, for a period of time.
2) Floured Surfaces are So Overrated. But only if you’re replacing them with wax paper. I like to roll my dough onto wax paper so that I can simply lift the wax paper up, flip the crust into the pie dish, and I’m done. No fuss, no sticking.
3) Can I just use store-bought? If you do this, the sun will go dark, trapping us in a nightmare real of eternal, lifeless winter. You don’t want that, do you? Do you?
Ingredient Notes, Tips, and Substitutions
1) Canned Pumpkin vs Puree vs Fresh vs Pumpkin Pie Filling. Very simply, canned pumpkin is pumpkin and nothing more. It’s intended largely as a stand in for ‘fresh,’ saving you the need of slicing up a pumpkin and then processing it on your own. This is especially useful for ingredients where you don’t want chunks of pumpkin, but rather a smooth, evenly processed ‘filling’ or ‘puree’ – as in something like a pie. Pumpkin puree is precisely the same thing, sans the labeling difference. By contrast, pumpkin pie filling is pureed pumpkin to which things like cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and ginger have been added, along with brown sugar, possibly molasses, and possibly white sugar as well.
Why Am I Not Using Pumpkin Pie Filling In Today’s Pie? You’ll probably notice I’m using pumpkin puree as opposed to pumpkin pie filling, and that’s because I do ‘not’ want the added ingredients (sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, etc..) that typify Pumpkin Pie Filling. Instead, I like to be in full control of how I’m flavoring my pie, especially since I make my own pumpkin pie spice.
What If I Only Have Pumpkin Pie Filling On Hand? By all means, use it. Today’s pie will taste just fine if made with pumpkin pie filling – although you might want to adjust how you sweeten and season the pie to account for the additional ingredients in the canned filling.
2) Brown Sugar – Tasty, but what is it? There are two types of brown sugar, refined and unrefined. Refined brown sugar is simply white sugar to which molasses has been added. Unrefined brown sugar, as the name implies, undergoes less processing to allow the sugar to retain more of its original, naturally occurring molasses. In other words, the difference between white and brown sugar is the presence of molasses, which gives brown sugar its signature ‘sticky’ texture and caramel-like flavor. Contrary to popular misconception, brown sugar (both kinds) and processed white sugar are almost identical nutritionally. This is the case since virtually all commercially available sugar originates from sugarcane, the juice of which – as the name implies – contains meteoric levels of sugar. For reference, a mere 100 grams of freshly pressed sugarcane juice contains 73 grams of sugar. This juice is then refined and processed to produce molasses, which is then further refined to produce brown sugar, which in turn is then further refined to create white sugar. This refining process does nothing apart from filtering out more and more of the original sugarcane plant to isolate and crystalize the sugar itself.
3) Pumpkin Spice. This little spice mix is simply the flavor of ‘pumpkin pie,’ and has been around for some two centuries as attested to in The Original Boston Cooking-School Cookbook. The star ingredients of this mix are by no means set in stone, and can vary quite widely, but generally include some combination of cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, brown sugar, cloves, and allspice.
Make Your Own: Seriously, there’s no reason to pay markup on store-bought pumpkin spice when making your own is as simple as combining a few spices, giving them a quick stir, and that’s it. I make mine with cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and nutmeg.
4) Cornstarch. This makes the filling nice and thick, which translates to a ‘plump’ filling after cooking.
Romancing the Pumpkin – The Truth Behind America’s Unlikely Love Story with the Blandest of Squashes
When it comes to pumpkins, we’ve all been living a sweet, autumn-themed lie.
The hard truth is that pumpkins taste nothing like ‘Pumpkin Pie,’ nor do pumpkins taste anything like ‘Pumpkin Spice.’
In the case of ‘pumpkin pie,’ the pumpkin is merely the ‘vessel’ for the flavors that make the pie enjoyable, providing the ‘body’ of the pie, and an admittedly delectable texture. In the case of ‘pumpkin spice,’ actual ‘pumpkin’ has nothing to do with what you’re tasting – pumpkin spice is made of things like ginger, cinnamon, brown sugar, and sometimes allspice. Pumpkin simply isn’t an ingredient.
The sad truth is that the flavor of ‘pumpkin’ is the flavor of ‘bland squash.’ Yet, even within the squash family, a group of foods hardly known for its bold or memorable flavors, there are a range of items that are not only ‘more’ flavorful on their own, but that are in fact ‘sweeter’ as well, such as butternut squash, spaghetti squash, and delicata. Yes, within a group of foods that are themselves widely regarded as ‘bland,’ pumpkin is among the blandest.
In fact, pumpkins are so unpalatable on their own that in colonial times they functioned purely as a ‘food of last resort.’
Yet, here we are all these centuries later, and pumpkins are to be found everywhere from our holiday dinner tables in the form of pies, cakes, and cookies, to adorning our front porches as decorations. How did this happen?
Why are we positively spellbound by the one food that our ancestors set aside thinking “If we’re starving, then we’ll eat these…maybe.”
The answer begins not with pumpkins but with turnips. Since time immemorial, Northern Europeans, especially in the British Isles, have been carving jack-o-lanterns from assorted squash. The Irish were fond of using turnips for this purpose. When the Irish arrived in America, they happened upon pumpkins. Pumpkins were cheap, plentiful (they grow like weeds even in the harshest of climates), and were only rarely used as ‘food’ at the time. Having brought their squash carving tradition with them, it wasn’t long before the Irish realized that pumpkins make far better jack-o-lanterns than turnips, and thus pumpkins entered the American cultural consciousness.
Pumpkin jack-o-lanterns began popping up all over the place as the Irish spread across the nation, and soon pumpkins became synonymous with autumn.
Nevertheless, that does leave us with one big question when it comes to ‘pumpkin flavor’ – is our love affair with pumpkins really about the pumpkins themselves, or are we in love with ‘pumpkin spice?’ Almost certainly the latter, but pumpkins – and pumpkin spice – certainly aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.
More Pumpkin Goodness From Living the Gourmet
1) Homemade Pumpkin Spice. Made from just four simple ingredients, pumpkin spice is one of the easiest things to prepare for yourself, and it goes great in everything from breads to coffee to pancakes.
2) White Chocolate and Pumpkin Bundt. An elegant yet decadent bundt, this cake is a perfect centerpiece for a seasonal dessert spread.
3) Pumpkin Spice Pancakes. My recipe for hardy diner-style pancakes topped with warmed maple syrup and pumpkin spice.
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