In these dark few weeks of mid-October, when the transition from Indian summer to winter chill leaves us contemplating the bleak winter months ahead, we can at least be thankful for the abundance of autumnal food sent to keep us warm and well fed. Pumpkins, at the moment, are everywhere and, whilst the supermarkets are selling the great big orange globes best suited to carving, the markets and farm shops are selling an array of squashes and pumpkins from the lovely little cricket ball varieties to the ubiquitous butternuts. The approach of Hallowe’en and Thanksgiving sends us all a bit pumpkin crazy – I even bought a Jack’o’Lantern-shaped cookie cutter last week – but it is a great time to make use of this vegetable in both sweet and savoury autumnal recipes.
Although pumpkin pie was eaten in England prior to the exploration of the Americas, it features in several cookbooks dating as far back as the 17th century, it is with American celebrations that we have come to associate it with. It is eaten traditionally at Thanksgiving and Christmas and is now such an integral part of those celebrations that a number of different recipes exist for the traditional pie, regional variations and other ‘pumpkin spice’ items such as cookies and cakes, that replicate the flavour of the pie. Pre-baked pie shells and canned pumpkin pie fillings are even available for the non-cook or time poor.
Most traditional pies follow the basic formula of a sweet Shortcrust case and a filling of puréed pumpkin and spices thickened with eggs and cream, all baked in the oven. The main variations come from the type of pumpkin used and the combination of spices. I first made pumpkin pie for some ex-pat Canadians a couple of years ago and have been working on the recipe ever since. Recently I have discovered that I prefer the flavour and texture of butternut squash in a pumpkin pie – it is less stringy in texture, so requires less preparation. Getting your pumpkin spice mix right takes a little bit of practice and trial-and-error until you find a combination that you like. The most common spices used are ginger, all spice, mixed spice, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, mace, ginger and cardamom, and the best way to start is to make combinations of three or four spices in equal measures and adjust the ratios accordingly once you find a combination you like. If you plan to make a number of pumpkin spiced items throughout the winter, make your spice mix in a large quantity and store in an airtight jar – it should retain it’s potency for a good few months.
My own personal spice mix is: two parts cinnamon, one part mace, one part ginger, one part allspice, one part ground cloves.
For the pastry:
- 220g plain flour
- 125g unsalted butter, cold, cut into small cubes
- 30g icing sugar
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 tbsp cold water (more if needed)
For the filling:
- 565g pumkpin or squash (prepared weight)
- 2 large eggs, plus 2 yolks
- 90g dark brown sugar
- 3½ tsp pumpkin spice mix (see above)
- 330ml double cream
To make the pastry, put the flour, butter and icing sugar in a food processor and pulse until the mixture has the consistency of fine breadcrumbs. If you do not have a food processor, rub the butter into the flour and sugar by hand until it reaches the same consistency. Add the egg yolk and water and pulse or mix until the dough starts to come together. Turn out on to a floured surface and work with your hands until it forms a smooth ball. Flatten into a disc, wrap in clingfilm and chill in the fridge for half an hour.
Preheat the oven to 200ºc / 400ºf / gas 6. Flour the inside of a loose-bottomed tart tin.
Once chilled, roll out the pastry and line the inside of the tart tin, gently pushing the pastry into the grooves. Do not, at this point, trim the edges, instead allow them to hang over the edge of the tin – this will help to prevent the pastry from shrinking during cooking. Line the pastry case with greaseproof paper and baking beans and bake blind in the oven for 12-15 minutes. Remove from the oven, remove the paper and beans and carefully trim the edges of the pastry case with a sharp knife. Return the pastry to the oven for another 10-12 minutes until lightly golden and completely dry.
In the meantime, make the filling. Cut the pumpkin into 1in pieces and cook in a steamer over boiling water until tender. Puree the pumpkin in a blender or in a large bowl with a hand-blender. Set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs and set these aside also. In a large saucepan, heat the cream, sugar and spice mix in a pan, whisking occasionally, until it reaches simmering point. Pour this mixture over the eggs, add the pumpkin puree and whisk together until smooth. Pour the filling into the cooked pastry case and cook for around 40-45 minutes until risen with a slight wobble in the centre. Allow to cool in the tin for 20 minutes, then remove and serve on a plate.