[This is part of a multi-post series on Thanksgiving. Start from the beginning.]
[A note from the blogger: I was going to post every other day as I have been, but I figured since today is Pie Day, I may as well post this last one.]
[Another note from the blogger: I have updated this post to reflect the fact that some of my measurements were wrong. While making pies last night, I realized a few mistakes in this post.]
I’m from New England. That means my traditional Thanksgiving pies are pumpkin and apple. I know down south is more of a pecan and sweet potato thing – and I respect that. I even like that. But if I’m only going to make four pies, it will be banana cream, chocolate mousse, pumpkin, and cranapear. Okay, sure cranapear isn’t really traditional apple pie. But it looks like a traditional pie. And it tastes better.
Let’s start with pumpkin. I frequently get the idea in my head that I’ll roast up my own sugar pumpkins, but then I remember that I’m lazy, and I buy a can of One Pie. It is important, however, to get the pumpkin puree, not the pie filling. One Pie is a brand name, and while I have no idea if it is the best quality pumpkin, I know it is good, and I know that the recipe on the can is a good start. I don’t follow it exactly, but it has the proportions I need to get me going.
Pumpkin pie can be horrible stuff. Even if you put all the right ingredients in, it may come out funny looking with a texture that is less than desirable. It’s all about the technique. And I think I’ve perfected it. Ask anyone who has tried my pie – I make the best pumpkin pie. And now, I’m telling you how.
Start by mixing the can of pumpkin with 1 Tbsp. of cornstarch, 1/2 tsp. of ground cinnamon, 1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg, 1/2 tsp. ground ginger, 1/4 tsp. ground cloves, 1/2 tsp. salt, and 1 cup sugar. It is ideal if you have a big bowl with a spout. Use a really stout wooden spoon, and make sure it is thoroughly combined and evenly colored.
Next, melt 1 1/2 tsp. of butter in the microwave. Add 1 1/2 cups of whole milk to the butter, stir, and put it back in the microwave for 30-40 seconds. This is necessary because the cold milk will have re-solidified some of the butter, and if you leave it that way, weird things will happen. Add 2 Tbsp. of real maple syrup (do not even think about using the fake stuff) to the milk and butter, and check to make certain there are no butter bits and that the liquid is just barely warm – not hot.
In a separate bowl, beat 2 eggs until homogenized. Slowly add the milk mixture, and beat until it is all one color. Dump it in with the pumpkin mixture, and combine until smooth.
Oh wait! I forgot to tell you how to make pie crust! I make butter crust. I like the flavor, and I’m a fan of flaky crust. My recipe makes two crusts (a top and bottom) which almost always causes me to have to do math in order to make the three I actually want for Thanksgiving (one top and two bottoms). So as I write this, I will do the math, and then I will have that to refer to!
Start with 3 cups plus 6 tablespoons of all purpose flour. Add 3/8 tsp. salt (a scant half should be fine) and 2 Tbsp. sugar. Put this all in your food processor, and whiz it up to aerate it. Then move the bowl of your food processor into the fridge. Cut 3 sticks of butter into half-tablespoon cubes, and put them in the freezer for about 10 minutes. Fill a two-cup measuring cup with a spout with ice and add 1 tsp. apple cider vinegar. Fill the remaining with cold water. Put that in the fridge. Bring out the processor bowl and the butter. Add the butter to the processor and process until you have pea-sized or smaller butter chunks. Add the icey water mixture a teaspoon at a time until the dough has collected. Divide into three disks and refrigerate for at least an hour before attempting to use.
Back to pumpkin pie! Roll out one crust, and line a 10-inch pie plate. Yes, 10-inch. You can use a 9-inch, but you’ll have extra filling, and unlike chocolate mousse, this is hard to snack on. Make pretty edges on the pie, put the pie plate on a sheet pan, and open the oven (which is preheated to 450). Put the sheet pan and pie shell on the rack and THEN add the filling. Gently push it into the oven, and bake it at 450 for 15 minutes. Then drop the temperature to 350 for 50 additional minutes. Allow to cool slowly, first to room temperature, then to refrigerator or porch temperature. (Unless there’s a massive heat wave, it’s usually in the 40s in New England around Thanksgiving, which is just fine for keeping this pie, and all the others.
And now for my piece de resistance! Cranapear pie is wholly of my own creating, and completely delicious. You’ll need about 2/3 of a bag of fresh cranberries, two Fugi apples, two Granny Smith apples, and four D’Anjou pears. If you can’t find D’Anjou, Bartlett will work, but the floral D’Anjou is about the best pear there is, in my humble opinion.
Put the cranberries in a good thick bottomed pot with 1/2 cup brown sugar and 1/4 cup of apple cider, and cook over low heat until they pop. Meanwhile, peel and slice the apples and pears. Try to make even slices, I think about 3/8 of an inch is perfect. They have to be even in order to cook evenly. As you cut them, put them into a bowl of cold water with a teaspoon of lemon juice or apple cider vinegar. Once they are all cut, drain them and add them to the pot with the cranberries. Add 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon, 1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg, and 1/4 tsp. ground allspice (optional – I say this, because I totally spaced and forgot). Stir to coat the apples and pears with the cranberries and spices. Leave over medium low heat until everything is hot. Now it’s time to break out the Wondra, which is pregelatinized flour – it’s a miracle product. Sprinkle on Wondra, stirring all the while. Add just enough to thicken what juices and sauce are in there, and turn off the heat.
While the filling cools a bit, roll out the bottom and top crusts. I like making pretty designs in my top crust, but you can do it however you like, so long as there’s some venting to let out steam. Line a 10-inch pie plate (it’s a lot of fruit!) and pile in the fruit filling. Cover with the top crust, and brush the crust with some milk. Bake the pie at 375 for 50-60 minutes. Let it cool. If you like hot pie, it’s better to warm up your slice than to try to eat it when it’s fresh. If you cut a fresh pie it will be mush.