Easy as pie – or so they say. In my books, anything to do with pastry is a frantic exercise. I don’t know about you, but getting that fragile, buttery-melting-by-the-second pastry into the tin is nervous breakdown territory. If you can relate, I think you’ll love this pie crust. It’s dreamy. It’s easy. It’s flaky. Just don’t ask how much butter is in it.
In Western Australia we seem to get pumpkins year round, which I think is attributed to different seasons throughout the state. This means canned pumpkin puree is almost unheard of. (But it can be found in independent supermarkets, especially around Christmastime.) I usually use butternut pumpkins as the puree is drier but flavour-wise it’s hard to go past Japanese pumpkin. With its speckled green skin and gorgeous sun burnt flesh, it’s petite enough to cut without swinging an axe.
That being said, making puree, pastry and pie in one day does sound like (and is) too much work, so organising the pastry and filling a day ahead is a good idea. No one likes pie fatigue. For the puree, I prefer steaming as some moisture is inevitably drained away and there’s no risk of burning it. The pastry can be made in a food processor, but the results are debatable. Making the crust by hand not only produces a far better, flakier pastry but also bestows domestic goddess bragging rights. (And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve cut myself on processor blades while scrubbing pastry off.)
Basic Pie Crust
Based on Thomas Keller’s Basic Pie Crust from Ad Hoc at Home
170 gm plain flour
1 tsp salt
145 gm unsalted butter, cold and cut into 2 cm cubes
3 tbsp iced water
In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt and butter. Toss to coat the butter in flour. Rub the flour into the butter, regularly tossing to find stray lumps. When the butter pieces are no larger than pea-sized, drizzle over half the iced water.
Using a fork, work the dough until it holds together. If it’s still dry add the remaining water. Knead the dough (I do this in the bowl to avoid adding more flour) until all the butter is incorporated. Shape into a disk and refrigerate for at least one hour, or overnight.
Dust the workspace with plenty of flour. If it’s too hard to roll out, beat it with the rolling pin. Roll out the dough until 4 to 5 millimetres thick and press into the pie dish. Trim off the excess and crimp the edges.
Refrigerate or freeze the pie crust. Preheat the oven to 170°C.
Blind bake for 20 minutes, keeping a (close!) eye on the crust. Once it turns blonde, remove the weights and return to the oven for another 5 to 10 minutes to finish cooking.
Below is my favourite spice mix for anything remotely winter related (or Christmassy). Freshly grated nutmeg makes the pumpkin flavour pop, but normal ground nutmeg is fine too.
600 grams pumpkin puree
450 ml thickened cream (or double cream)
185 gm brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg or freshly grated nutmeg
pinch ground cloves
pinch ground allspice
In a food processor or blender, puree all ingredients until smooth. Strain into a jug and set aside.
When the blind baked pie crust is ready, remove it from the oven and turn the temperature up to 220°C.
Once the oven is ready, place the pie crust back onto the oven shelf. Pour in the filling until it reaches the top. Carefully slide the pie (or oven rack) into the centre of the oven.
Bake for 10 minutes, then turn the oven down to 150°C.
Now for the tricky bit. Usually the custard will set in 35 – 45 minutes but this can take up to an hour, especially if the filling went in cold. The custard will puff up and rise as it cooks but will deflate to its normal volume when cooled. To check if it’s set, the centre should have an ever so slight wobble, with a skinned, slightly matte surface. If in doubt, leave it for another five minutes.
It is tempting to dig into the pie while its warm, but it’s even better eaten at room temp.
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