Saturday, 20 December 2008

The great pumpkin pie disaster

I've had a small hankering to make a pumpkin pie, ever since US Thanksgiving. So when I found a recipe at my Taste & Create partner's blog it seemed like the right thing to do. Nicely cross-cultural, and also festive. It's been an adventure. This has *not* been a flawless execution of the concept.

To begin with, the pumpkin puree was no problem. I got a nice big half butternut, removed the seeds and strings, chopped it in rough chunks and microwaved it for 10 minutes. I let it cool, and noticed that some water drained out just like that. Then I removed the peel, mashed the pumpkin with a potato masher, and put it in a paper towel lined sieve to drain. I used paper towels on top as well and squished it down, and eventually came up with 2 US cups, and half a metric cup extra of puree. So far so good. I have an old fashioned cup measure, so the 8 fluid ounce US cup is no problem.

For the next step, I made the pie filling. Here's Stephanie's recipe.

Recipe: Pumpkin Pie Filling
2 cups mashed, cooked pumpkin (reviewers suggested using more like 2 1/2 cups)
1 12-oz. can evaporated milk
2 eggs, beaten
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground ginger (we skipped this; Mom doesn't like ginger)
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. salt
Pastry for 2 single 9-inch pie crusts

Prepare pastry. Roll out pastry to fill two pie plates. Partially prebake crust to keep it from getting soggy: Line crust with a double thickness of foil. Heat oven to 425 and bake foil-lined crust for 10 minutes. Remove foil and bake an additional 2-4 minutes until crust is just barely starting to brown. Press down any bubbles with a fork. Don't prick the crust, though; you don't want filling leaking through.

In a large bowl with mixer speed on medium, beat pumpkin with evaporated milk, eggs, brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and salt. Mix well. Pour into a prepared crust. Bake 40 minutes or until when a knife is inserted 1 inch from the edge comes out clean.

Not being a big follower of exact recipes, I varied it a bit. I really don't like evaporated milk, so I substituted cream, of the plain pouring kind. I used dark brown sugar rather than light since that is what I had on hand. And I totally forgot to add the salt, though I had intended to cut it down to a pinch. Finally, since another of Stephanie's recipes for pumpkin pie spice includes cloves, I added just a pinch of ground cloves - and I kept the ginger. I chucked it all in the blender and whizzed it smooth. It seemed nicely tasty in this state; so far so good... The white ceramic ginger grater is in the photo because I use that to grate nutmeg, but perhaps fresh ginger might be nice to try sometime.

I needed a plate of something to take a work Xmas party. So I decided to make pumpkin pie bites rather than two pies. I used Stephanie's technique of cutting pastry circles and stuffing them into muffin cups, although I made mine smaller than hers. The fluted edges on some are because I have brioche moulds. I use these to make muffins, mostly. They make very cute shapes with no hassle. My oven seemed to be overheating slightly and I overcooked a few in the blind baking phase, but I noticed in time to save most of them. I let them cool, and then filled each one with about a dessertspoon of filling. I guessed at the baking time for these and monitored them closely. The idea is to bake until the testing toothpick comes out clean. They took about 15 minutes at 180C in this case.

I took them to the party, and people ate them and enjoyed them. I ate a few myself, and they were sweet, spicy, smooth and creamy. I really liked them, and looked forward to having a whole wedge of pie made from the leftover filling. But this is where things started to go wrong.

First, I started to blind bake the tart shell. This was after dinner last night. Once again the oven seemed to be overheating. I rescued it at what I estimate was "just a bit too dark", but still OK for home if not for show. Oh well. I poured in the filling, gave it a foil fringe to save the brown edges from getting even worse, turned the heat down a bit, set a timer to check at 20 minutes, and went off to watch some telly.

20 minutes later, no sign of setting. Another 20 minutes, and there was a strange smell of burning, but I couldn't find anything that would explain it. The pie wasn't set. Another 20 minutes... Obviously I was not paying too close attention, because it took me an hour to twig that the oven was actually quite cool, only around 120 degrees. What? I fiddled around with the controls, wondering if I'd accidentally turned it off. It's a SMEG brand (cue Red Dwarf fan sniggering) and there is a timer switch that can easily be turned to the wrong position by accident. I flipped that around, then wondered if I had the right setting, noticed that the thermostat light seemed to be on so surely it must be heating now... Well, no, it wasn't. But why was it warm? Residual heat? What?

Eventually I gave up and shoved the pie in the fridge. This morning I tried again, and with the oven definitely cold to start, it was easier to work out what was actually happening. The fan-force element has died entirely. It fans, but generates no heat. But the oven has two more elements, top and bottom, so I was able to bake the pie using a non-fan setting. To avoid burning the pastry any further, I let it go at 180 for 40 minutes. It came out OK, looking quite nice - though still a bit darker around the edges despite its foil protector. This is definitely not a showpiece. Oh well.

I left it to cool on the counter, feeling a bit annoyed about the oven, but satisfied that at least I had a tolerable pie. And an hour or so later, the bloke came in and said "there's a cat that likes your pumpkin pie". Aaaaarrgh!! I really should have covered it. Plummet has licked up a neat square from one side of the pie. Well, I don't care, I've just wiped it down in case he's licked any more, and cut that bit out. I'm going to eat the rest anyway - all of it, if the bloke and his mate object. I shall not lie about the cat.

I've already eaten a slice for afternoon tea while writing this. I tossed the burned crust edge in the bin, leaving it as more of a slice than a pie. The taste is still delicious - the spice blend, pumpkin and cream are great together. The texture is not as good as the small pies, probably due to the partial two-phase baking. It would also be better more deeply filled. If I do this again, I'll make the big pie first, to be sure of having enough. No, that's *when* I do it again. I have some Easter visitors in mind. Don't worry, I promise to keep the cat away.

On balance, I suppose it could have been worse. Disaster is an overstatement, although it sounds good in the title. On the negative side, I have:
* the pie shell is semi-burned
* my oven is broken. smegging smeg.
* the cat ate part of the pie

On the positive side, at least the oven didn't break when I was making the first batch of mini-pies, so I got my work party show-off moments. And I have now got a yummy pumpkin pie recipe, and some pumpkin slice for dessert tonight. This is good stuff.


brazen's crafts said...


i'm glad someone else has disasters of the feline kind ;)

Zoe said...

If you'd made the hot tuna salad ...

Mim said...

Heh, I love the way you deal with the cat's depredations, I confess I'd do the same.

My Fisher and Paykel oven has done the same thing as your Smeg. The fan-forced setting merely gets vaguely warm no matter what temp it is set to, all the other settings work just fine, so I've been cooking everything on fan-bake instead. I suppose I'll get around to having it fixed eventually.

I have fond childhood memories of pumpkin pie from being in the US at Thanksgiving a couple of times, I must try this some time.

Stephanie said...

That's too bad about your oven acting up on you. I'm glad you enjoyed the mini pies and got to show them off. And I'm glad the cat enjoyed the pie. :-)

Bob said...

Great story, I love that your cat liked the pie. I have two cats, one that will eat anything and one that will only eat cat food. I wonder if Noodles would like pumpkin pie... :)

BJ said...

oh dear, the crust of doom. I once made a lemon meringue pie with pastry so bad (yes, home made) that even my hosts' DOG wouldn't eat it. the ultimate putdown!