Monday, December 1, 2008

Pumpkin Pie De-Briefing

At Ecole Ferrandi, we had debriefings after absolutely everything we here's my de-briefing for pumpkin pie (that sounds better than post-mortem, doesn't it?). Or, we could consider it as pre-planning for Thanksgiving 2009, depending on how you want to look at it!

Can you believe that I had never made a pumpkin pie before in my life? Never! Am I American or not?!! Kidding. It's just that Mom was the one who always baked the best pumpkin & pecan pies ever. I always simply enjoyed them, along with the rest of my family. But this year I was on the line for making three of them. And 2 pecan pies (I never made those before, either.)

In order to make a pumpkin pie, you obviously need the key ingredient: pumpkin. Everyone always uses the canned stuff....Libby's 100% pure, right? Right. Normally.

But what do you do when you need to make 3 pumpkin pies, and have only enough cans of Libby to make 1? And you live in Paris, which means you can't just jump in your car & run over to the nearest Jewel food store to buy the other two cans. Your choices here are: (1) take a metro (subway) to The Thanksgiving Store in the Marais district (I kid you not, this is the real name of the store), and pay a fortune for the stuff, or (2) go to the outdoor market just steps from your apt & buy a fresh pumpkin & make it yourself.

I guess by the way I worded those two options, and the photos, it's pretty obvious which path I took (#2). Plus, if I can avoid the perpetually jam-packed metro line #1, I will. In a heart beat. And, wouldn't it be interesting to see what would happen to go grass roots on making a pumpkin pie? Here it is.

Make Pumpkin Purée as a replacement for Libby's - As easy as 1-2-3
1. Scrape seeds & strings from pumpkin & bake uncovered at 180°C until done, ~ 1 hour- 1.5 hours. Add a little water to bottom of pan, if you like, to prevent burning.

2. Scrape off the cooked pumpkin pulp from the rind & put pulp into food processor. Pulse until fine.

3. Drain overnight in refrigerator. I used a fine meshed chinois (strainer). If your strainer is not fine mesh, then I'd line it with a cheese cloth before adding the pumpkin. It is not necessary to actually pass the pulp through the strainer (passer au chinois in french) if the pumpkin texture is nice & smooth. I didn't do it, I'm glad to say!

Comparison: fresh pumpkin purée vs canned Libbys

Taste: the canned tasted like tin....there was no pumpkin taste. The fresh tasted like, well, pumpkin!

Texture: both were smooth; free of "strings"; no difference.

Color: the canned one was dull brown-ish; the fresh one was vibrant orange.

Substitution: a 1:1 (by weight) works well.

Mom's Pumpkin Pie Recipe - with fresh pumpkin

Pie dough for 1 pie
2 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp mace (optional)
15 oz. pumpkin purée
12 oz evaporated milk or ~8 oz crème épaisse (thick cream, as a substitute for 12 oz evaporated milk, another ingredient not readily available here).

1) Wisk eggs. Blanchir les oeufs ==> add sugar & wisk till it lightens in color slightly. Add all spices. Add pumpkin & mix. Add half the cream & continue adding more until it's a good consistency & not too heavy on the cream. Add more spices at the end if you need it. I found that I needed to add more because the taste of pumpkin was too prominant; I kept adding a 1/4 tsp here & 1/4 tsp there until it tasted good to me. In the end, I practically doubled the amount of spice.

2) Bake at 425°F (220°C) for 10 minutes & then reduce temperature to 350°F (175°C) & continue baking 40-50 minutes or until "clean knife test" says it's done. Be careful to watch your crust to assure it doesn't get too dark. If it does, cover with tin foil & it should be fine.

My Conclusions:
  • There is no comparison between fresh pumpkin purée and canned 100% pure pumpkin. The fresh pumpkin just naturally tastes better.
  • However, when it's baked in the pie, the difference between fresh pumpkin & canned pumpkin becomes less obvious, because of the spices, eggs, & cream.
  • Therefore, I would use canned pumpkin if it were conveniently and cheaply available. Since that's not the case in Paris, I will use fresh pumpkin without hesitation & without fear that it'll turn out a strange pumpkin pie (these were my worries, oddly enough!!).
  • When using fresh pumpkin, I'll always drain it overnight to remove the excess water because otherwise, it might affect the texture of the pie. AND, I'll add more spices (up to two times the quantity) to get the right balance between pumpkin & pumpkin pie spice.
  • Substituting crème épaisse (ie, a thick cream, almost like a sour cream in consistency) for evaporated milk works perfectly fine but it's not a 1:1 substitution. My cream was extremely fresh and thick, so I stopped adding cream at about 1 cup (225g), or before it started to become too creamy-tasting.
  • Making pumpkin pies in France does not have to be intimidating, even if it's for 25 people where the (self-imposed) stakes are high to make a perfect American pie! This recipe, with the substitutions, can be trusted and therefore, next worries! You can even make the batter days in advance & then pour it into the prepared pie dough & bake it off the day before - this will make the holiday planning just a little easier, I think.
  • American style pumpkin pie (meaning nice & thick) is still one of my favorites....and having a left-over piece of pie the next morning for breakfast with a nice cappuccino is very....yummmm!


Karen said...

I love your test-kitchen approach, Diane. How do you say de-briefing in French?

girlcookinparis said...

Thanks for your comment, Karen! The translation for de-briefing in!! Nothing lost in that translation, and it sounds charming when the french say it, bien sur!