For Thanksgiving this year (which I spent with my wonderful friend Alice and her wonderful family), I prepared apple cobbler and pumpkin pie. My thinking was that since I had never before attempted a pie, I could use the cobbler as a back-up.
Fruit cobbler is a family standard, and we have a tried and true family recipe that always comes out exquisitely. This time was no exception. The key is always to use delicious, very fresh, seasonal fruit. I was sincerely concerned when I arrived to the Howell Farmer's Market site on Sunday and only remembered when I saw the street empty except for a few blowing autumn leaves that the market ends in October. But I was lucky to see a couple bags of Michigan apples at Busch's, that were crisp and lovely. The golden delicious, a variety I had never previously enjoyed in the least, proved to be even tastier than the Fujis, and it was these I used for the cobbler. It was a real hit. Here below is a photo of my cobbler before it went in the oven. Unfortunately, I forgot to capture an image of the finished product!
You may notice the brownish color of the sugar on the top. I used turbinado sugar in this version of the cobbler, and mixed just a little turbinado and brown sugars to sprinkle on top. These never caramelize quite as nicely as white sugar, so for this Thanksgiving, I kept the baking time on the short end, brought the cobbler to Alice's brother's place, and when we were finished with the savory part of the meal, we sprinkled the top of the cobbler with a more generous amount of white sugar, heated up the cobbler in a 375 degree (F) oven for about 15 minutes, then put it under the broiler just until the sugar was browned. It was an effective way of getting a nicely browned top and also having warm cobbler (which I always prefer, served with vanilla ice cream).
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Now, the Pumpkin Pie is somewhat of a different story. The finished product got RAVE reviews, but it was a big experiment. The thing is, my mother hates pumpkin pie, so we never made it in our house for the holidays. My starting point, as it often is for "traditional" household and baking questions, was Martha Stewart's website. There I found a recipe for Traditional Pumpkin Pie with Betty White. Well, one of my pet peeves with recipes is always when people assume you have thousands of dollars worth of kitchen equipment. Why begin with the assumption that you naturally have a KitchenAid, a Cuisinart, pie weights, a wire cooling rack, and a gazillion other specific tools for baking, just because you're ambitious enough to want to make something as "easy as pie"? Since I knew making a pie crust by hand would be time-consuming and potentially disastrous, I bought a couple inexpensive frozen pie crusts at Busch's, and thought I'd just make the pumpkin custard fresh to pour in.
In the end, though, I woke up Thanksgiving morning wanting to rise to the challenge. So, halving Betty White's Pate Brisee recipe (because I didn't have leaf-shaped cookie cutters, and opted to make a single-crust pie), I went through the fun, if slightly tedious, task of making the pie dough in two batches in my tiny-sized Cuisinart mini food processor. Since the mini version doesn't allow you to add liquid while pulsing, I waited until I had the butter & dry ingredients mixed together and all together in one bowl before I used a pastry cutter to mix in the ice water.
Unfortunately, I made two small errors/changes that may have influenced the crust. One was that in halving the recipe, I forgot to halve the amounts of sugar and salt. So the crust ended up rather on the salty side. Not outrageously so, though, and I skipped the salt in the custard to balance it out a bit. The other change I made was that, because I had no white sugar on hand, I used powdered sugar. I thought that was a safer substitution than brown or turbinado sugar. I may or may not have been right in that.
The crust was delicious, but it wasn't completely watertight. So, Martha & Betty's advice of removing the pie crust from the pie pan and baking the custard-filled pie pastry on a rimmed baking sheet proved somewhat unfortunate. My delicious pie, like a paradise island, had a rather ugly peninsula of pumpkin custard oozing out onto the sheet.
There were some other changes I made to the recipe. Well, when I went to Trader Joe's and picked up my canned organic pumpkin, I grabbed the canned milk that was right next to it. Since I generally cook with fresh ingredients, I was not up on the not-so-subtle differences between evaporated milk and sweetened condensed milk. It was only after I'd mixed the sticky sweetened condensed milk into the pumpkin puree that I looked again at the recipe, realized the potential seriousness of the change, and looked online for help to confirm that my custard could recover. Seeing that there are others who use sweetened condensed milk for pumpkin pie, I proceeded with some improvisation.
In the end, this is the pumpkin pie I've come out with, that I will recreate the next time I do this. I'll use the appropriate amounts of salt and sugar for the Pate Brisee, but I'll make the pumpkin custard in exactly the same way I did this time. And, I'll bake the filled pie crust in a pie pan in case of any leakage!!
Heather's Pumpkin Pie
(thanks to Martha Stewart, Betty White, and the internet)
Makes one 10-inch pie
Pate Brisee Ingredients
Makes enough for one single-crust pie
- 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 1/8 to 1/4 cup ice water
Pate Brisee Directions
- Pulse flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor. (If you don't have a food processor, use two forks or a pastry cutter.) Add butter, and pulse until mixture forms coarse crumbs with some larger pieces remaining, about 10 seconds.
- While continuing to mix (with machine running, or with pastry cutter or two forks), add ice water in a slow, steady stream just until dough holds together without being wet or sticky, no longer than 30 seconds.
- Divide dough in half, and shape into disks. Wrap in plastic; refrigerate at least 1 hour or overnight. Dough can be frozen up to 1 month; thaw in refrigerator overnight, or at least for a couple hours, before using.
- 1 1/2 cups solid-pack canned pumpkin (one 15-ounce can)
- Pate Brisee (see above)
- All-purpose flour, for work surface
- 3 large eggs
- 2 teaspoons heavy cream
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
- 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 1/2 cups sweetened condensed milk
- Fresh (unsweetened) heavy whipped cream, for serving
- Optional: 2 teaspoons heavy cream and 1 egg for egg wash
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
- On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough into a 14-inch round. Fit round into a 10-inch pie plate; trim and fold dough under flush with rim of pie plate. Freeze until firm, about 15 minutes.
- Cut a large circle of parchment paper; fit into pie plate, extending about edges. Fill with dry beans or lentils (to use as pie weights).*
- Bake pie shell 10 minutes. Remove weights and parchment; bake 5 minutes more. Let cool completely on a wire rack.
- Place pumpkin in a large bowl. Add condensed milk, cornstarch, spice, vanilla, and 3 eggs; whisk until combined.
- Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees. Place pie back into pie pan. If desired, prepare egg wash by whisking 1 egg and heavy cream in a small bowl. Brush edges of pie shell with egg wash. Transfer pumpkin mixture to pie shell. Bake until all but the center is set, 50 to 60 minutes. Let pie cool completely on a wire rack. Cut into wedges, and serve with whipped cream.
Mom's Perfect Fruit Cobbler
- 1/2 cup butter
- 1 cup flour
- 1 cup + 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 cup milk
- 3 cups fresh seasonal fruit, cut (if necessary) into slices or chunks
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 C) In the oven, melt butter in a glass pan, without allowing it to brown.
- In a bowl, mix flour, 1 cup sugar, and baking powder. Add milk and stir until combined but still slightly lumpy.
- Pour the mixture over the melted butter in the glass pan.
Pour fruit over the top. Don't mix it at all!! Sprinkle with about 1/2 cup sugar over the top. Bake for approximately 35 minutes until it is browning on the edges. If you like your cobbler really caramelly brown on top (I know I do), overbake it a little bit, but keep an eye on it so it doesn't burn.
- Serve warm or cool. It's especially nice warm with vanilla ice cream or heavy whipped cream.
Tip #1: If you're making an apple cobbler, you can use a little lemon juice sprinkled on the fruit to prevent it from browning while you're preparing the other ingredients, and it's nice to add a little cinnamon (about 1 tsp) to the dry ingredients.
Tip #2: There are many fruit variations possible, and I've never had one I didn't like. I can't emphasize enough what a difference it makes to use truly fresh fruit, right from the tree. Some of my favorite combinations are: Nectarine + Blackberry (my absolute favorite!); Peach + Blueberry; Apple; Peach; Plum; Cherry; Apricot; Blackberry
Tip #3: If you like an extra-crusty cobbler, you can make 1.5 times the batter while leaving the fruit amount constant.
Tip #4: In the interest of making a slightly healthier adaptation, I recently tried a newfangled variation using half buckwheat flour and turbinado sugar in about 2/3 the amount called for above. It turned out pretty good, but not at all the pure sweet perfection of the original recipe. If I DO try a "healthier" version again, though, I think I'll reduce the butter too, because the buckwheat one didn't quite absorb all the butter in the bottom of the pan like the standard version. The turbinado sugar didn't seem to carmelize quite as effectively as the standard white sugar.