Autumn Leaf Pumpkin Pie has enriched our Thanksgivings for years. Fall of 1996 was the year of pumpkin pie tests. After each, Mark asked for more spices and a deeper dish. After this version, there were no more requests other than I make it more often!
It is especially delicious with homemade whipped cream. Growing up, we lived in a world where Cool Whip was new and all the rage. No one in our family was making whipped cream the old-fashioned way. Then one year Mark’s mom started serving it at family gatherings, and that was the end of the tub.
|WHAT YOU NEED||WHAT TO DO||WHY|
|2 cups dark brown sugar,
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
3/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
|Filling: Place sugar and cornstarch in a 5-quart bowl, sift spices over top. Whisk until cornstarch is no longer visible and no brown sugar lumps remain.||Whisking cornstarch into the sugar prevents clumping during baking. Sifting removes spice clumps and nutmeg grit, which is most unpleasant in the finished dish.|
|3 large eggs
1 cup half and half
29 ounces canned pumpkin
|Whisk eggs into sugar mixture to eliminate egg clumps (30-40 seconds). Whisk in half and half and pumpkin until uniform in color (50-60 seconds). Set aside at room temperature.||Taking the chill off promotes even baking.|
|Position a rack two-thirds down in the oven; preheat to 400°F “Convection” (verify with an oven thermometer).||Ovens often run hot or cold, or preheat slowly.|
|1/2 recipe Flaky Pastry||To shape bottom crust (1-crust pie): Fold the pastry round in half and in half again to transfer to a deep dish pie plate (9.5-inch, 6 cup capacity). Center the point; unfold and smooth without stretching or pulling. Trim overhang to match edge of plate. Mend any splits or weak spots with scraps.||Stretched dough shrinks in the oven. Mending prevents filling from leaking during baking.|
|To shape autumn leaves: Neatly stack dough scraps, tucking under ragged edges. Pound with the rolling pin to flatten; roll to 1/16-inch thickness. Cut 30 small leaves with a 1 ½-inch cookie cutter. To attach each leaf to the crust edge, lightly brush backside with water, position, and then press in “veins” with a knife edge. Overlap each leaf by ⅛ inch; set aside spare leaves to use for Pumpkin Custards (see below).||Stacking scraps creates additional layers, whereas working pastry dough destroys flakiness.|
|Fill crust with custard to the lower edge of the leaves to allow for 1/4 inch swelling during baking. Set aside excess to use for Pumpkin Custards.|
|Bake pie promptly. When filling swells almost to the center (35-40 minutes) confirm that a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, or that an instant-read thermometer registers 175°F. The center will still be “jiggly”. Promptly shut off oven and crack door open to allow the center to cruise up to 180°F. Leave pie in oven 1 hour to cool slowly, and then age in the refrigerator 12-24 hours before serving.||Baking promptly avoids a soggy bottom crust. Overcooking or quickly cooling custards causes contraction and cracking. Aging promotes smoothness in custards.|
Testing Notes: Baking at 400°F for 25 minutes and then 350°F for 30 minutes does not reduce cracking. Additional cornstarch does not reduce cracking. Adding extra egg or extra yolks increases swelling/contracting.
These can be baked in a little toaster oven. Pour leftover filling into 1/2-cup capacity ramekins. Space ramekins on a quarter sheet pan (for easy handling) along with spare pastry leaves. Bake 10 minutes at 400°F; remove from oven to arrange leaves decoratively on custard/s. Return to the oven to bake just until custard swells to the center (about 10 minutes). Transfer to a wire cooling rack.
WALNUT PUMPKIN PIE
In 1-quart bowl, whisk together 3/4 cup diced walnuts, 1/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar, 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour and 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons melted butter; whisk until there are no dry areas. Distribute evenly over pie filling after the first 20 minutes of baking (filling must be partially set, or nuts will simply sink). Finish baking as directed.
PECAN PUMPKIN PIE
In a 1-quart bowl whisk together 1 cup pecan pieces, 1/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons melted butter; whisk until there are no dry areas. Distribute evenly over pie filling after first 20 minutes of baking (filling must be partially set, or nuts will simply sink). Finish baking as directed.
I grew up with a lot of French toast. It was such an important part of my childhood, I taught my own children how to make it as soon as they were old enough to use the stove.