11 October 2010

Happy Turkey Day! (in Canada at least)

Fall is very officially here, no question about it.  We didn't get the nice, long Indian Summer I was hoping for... not quite, anyway.  Yes, we're back to warm, sunny days, but it took less than a week for all the leaves to turn colour and drop this year.  Who can blame them?  Summer ended very abruptly this year - sunny and 28C one day, cold, drizzly and 13C the next... and then it stayed that was for over a week.  I had plans for driving down to the river valley to take some photos of my city when it is at its absolute prettiest, but I hardly had time before all the trees went from a riot of illuminated golds, vibrant oranges and fiery reds to a forest of barren branches.  And pictures of naked brown treetops doesn't extactly have the same appeal. {sigh} Oh well, at least it's warm again.

And withn fall, comes Thanksgiving - a full five weeks earlier than it comes for our neighbours to the south, though I honestly have no idea why.  It's fine with me, because we get to enjoy our traditional turkey with all the trimmings and still have enough time before Christmas to actually crave it again. We'll be heading over to dinner at my parent's house on Sunday for Round 1, then over to the in-laws' on holiday Monday for Round 2.  It's been a long time since we hosted and I prepared the whole feat myself, though I have very distinct memories of our first Thanksgiving after hubby and I moved in together....the turkey was so beautiful we took pictures of it, and my then-vegetarian sister-in-law totally fell off the meat wagon and feasted on potatoes and stuffing covered in the killer gravy that gorgeous bird produced.  Nowadays, we go elsewhere for our turkey fix and I bring the pies... natch!

One thing that's a must is Pumpkin Pie, just like my dear Grandma used to make.  Mostly because it's tradition and for some people, it's just not Thanksgiving without it... I mean, it's okay, but in all honesty, one piece a year does me just fine.  It brings back fond memories of Thanksgivings past, celebrated around the big table at Grandma & Grandpa's, everyone making sure they saved room for dessert (a LOT of room too, because for whatever reason, my Grandma could only ever cut a pie into 5 wedges - unless you were full and only wanted "a sliver"... then she might cut it into sixths).  Served with a nice big dollop of freshly-whipped cream, it was the perfect finish to an incredible feast, before, stuffed like the fair bird ourselves, we all moaned & waddled our way through the kitchen to help clean up.

But for the last 18 years that I've been making the dessert this time of year, I also make Pecan Pie, because hubby doesn't like Pumpkin Pie, and because it is my absolute favourite.  I would probably eat Pecan Pie all year round, but the flavours and richness really are best in the cooler months.  A nice flaky crust, filled with sticky, chewy, syrupy good-ness, holding all those toasty pecans together, and topped with whipped cream.  It's heaven on a fork as far as I am concerned.  But don't try to give me any of that Maple or Chocolate Pecan Pie... no sir!  I'm a purist when it comes to Pecan Pie.  Besides, chocolate can have the spolight any day of the year.  Today is the Pecan's day to shine.

Now for the dilemma - how many of each pie do I make, and in what form?  One really nice thing about Pecan Pie is that the filling (it's not exactly a custard, though it does contain eggs - it's more of a syrup tart with nuts) is firm enough that you can serve it in just about any shape you want.  I've made the traditional round pie, to be cut into several wedges (hear that, Grandma?  I said "several" wedges!), an elegant rectanular tart, and even individual tarts, which is revealed to much "ooohhhh-ing" and "aaahhhh-ing", at the same time, eliminating the need for all that cutting and serving.  Yes, it's more labour intensive to make the tarts, especially when you only have 4 tart molds the right size, but you can actually prepare and blind bake the tart shells ahead of time and then it's not much work to fill them and do the final bake on the day they're to be served.  Of course, you can also just go buy more tart molds and save a bunch of time that way too (that's the route I'm going...)

Some words of advice for these recipes; Now is not the time to try and cut any caloric corners.  Margarine is *not* an option (nor should it ever be in my opinion), the pecans should be fresh (stale nuts go rancid and bitter), as should the eggs.  For the pumpkin, though I have yet to try it (but I want to) I would imagine that real pumpkin, roasted in your own oven, would be the best. That said, I do cheat and buy canned pumpkin.  If you want to go ahead and cheat like I do, then just be sure to buy just straight "canned pumpkin" and not pumpkin pie filling.  What's the difference?  The difference is that one contains nothing but pumpkin and the other also contains spices and seasonings, and I like to decide how much of which spices go into my pie, thank you very much.

Speaking of spices, I definitely recommend that your spices be as fresh as possible - even though spices are sold in bottles big enough to last until the next millennia, it actually shouldn't.  Do yourself a favour - toss them out and buy some fresh ones.  Also be sure to buy individual spices instead of that bottle of "pumpkin pie spice".  I also am a big fan of buying whole nutmeg and grating it fresh, just when you need it.... the smell s pure heaven to me, and it tastes so much better than any jarred stuff you can find.  For my Pumpkin Pie, I also opt for minced candied ginger over ground ginger.  It gives a little more personality to the pies, and the candied aspect of it pairs perfectly with dessert, without being overwhelmingly spicey.  Of course,  if you like a bit more kick, give fresh grated ginger a try.

Oh, and another thing (though as a reader of this blog, you should already know this): the cream should be REAL whipped cream - not from a can, and just so you know, anything called whipped "topping" that you can buy in a tub in the freezer section is NOT whipped cream, it's an "edible oil product".  HUH??  What kind of oil?!?  Corn oil? Sperm Whale oil?? Motor oil??? {*shudder*}.... and don't even ask me how they can make 'edible oil' into something fat free...

Ok - back to the pies:
For the pastry, I stick with the Pâte Brisée (or flaky pie pastry) that I always use, and posted a while back - occassionally, when baking an apple or pumpkin pie, I might get a little crazy and add a small amount of cinnamon to the flour, just to compliment the spiced fillings, but the choice is yours.  Also, because these are open pies (sans top crust), filled with very 'wet' fillings, I blind bake the pastry before filling, ensuring a nice crisp crust.  As I said, you can do this the morning of, or you can make the pie shell a few days ahead and store them in an airtight container until you're ready to fill them with.....

Pecan Pie
makes one 9-inch pie, but this recipe is easily doubled
226g  (2 Cups) Pecan halves
90g (6 Tbsp) unsalted butter, melted & cooled
264 ml  (3/4 Cup) light corn syrup
3 large eggs, at room temperature
200g (1 Cup) brown sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
15 ml (1 Tbsp) vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350F and place rack in centre of the oven. 
Scatter pecans on a cookie sheet and place them in the oven for about 8-12 minutes to toast them, stirrung and mixing them every couple of minutes, and keeping a watchful eye that they don't burn.  A good rule of thumb when toasting nuts - as soon as you can smell them, they're done.  Immediately turn them out onto a wooden cutting board or kitchen towel, so they don't stay on the hot cookie sheet where they will continue to cook and potentially scorch.  Using a very sharp knife, roughly chop the pecans until the pieces and set aside.
Reduce oven temperature to 250F
In a medium mixing bowl, stir together the remaining ingredients, until well combined. 
Add the chopped pecans and stir until the nuts are well incorporated.
Pout the mixture into your pie shell and bake for 50-60 minutes, until the filling is puffy, and the centre just barely jiggles when the pie gently shaken.
Remove from oven and allow to cool fully before serving.
Best served at room temperature with as much whipped cream as you like!
** NOTE: If baking individual tarts, be sure that the pecans get evenly distributed amongst all the pie shells, and bake for 20-25 minutes

Pumpkin Pie
makes one 9-inch pie, but again, this recipe is easily doubled

180ml (3/4 Cup) heavy cream
120ml (1/2 Cup) milk
1/2 tsp vanilla
908g (2 Cups) canned pumpkin puree (unseasoned)
200g (1 cup) dark brown sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp fresh grated nutmeg
1 tbsp (15g) candied ginger, finely minced
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves

Preheat the oven to 375˚F, and place a rack in the centre of the oven.
In a small saucepan, gently heat the milk, cream & vanilla, but do not allow it to boil.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the pumpkin puree, eggs, sugar and spices, until well blended.
While continuously whisking, slowly pour the heated cream mixture into the pumpkin mixture, until it is fully incorporated.
Pour the pumpkin filling into the pre-baked pie shell and bake for 20-30 minutes, until the center of the pie wiggles slightly when the pie is gently shaken.
Allow to cool fully, 1-2 hours.  Serve at room temperature with as much whipped cream as you like!


tease-spoon of sugar said...

I'm a fan of pecan pie myself. Your pie/tarts look amazing! My mouth is watering. Happy Thanksgiving!

nancy@skinnykitchen.com said...

Wow...pie looks delish. Happy Thanksgiving!

Jamie said...

Your pecan pie is so perfect and beautiful! I've never made one before! Now pumpkin pie is one of our favorites and I make it several times throughout the season. Oh we can eat many many slices. And never canned pumpkin! Your recipe is pretty close to mine and looks delicious! Happy Thanksgiving, darling, and pass a slice of pie!

Danielle said...

Our version of being a little crazy this year was adding a touch of pumpkin pie spice in the (of course) FRESH whipping cream. HEAVEN!

Just like you, members of my family (mainly my father and brother) get quite upset when things are traditional they way they're "supposed" to be. BUT Jamie and I both agree that next year your pecan pie is making an appearance!

On a sidenote, we had a bit of a "friends" thanksgiving. Had to rush my new brother-in-law to the Elk Point emerg because he almost cut his finger off slicing and dicing for dinner. I mention this because he was so excited to finally purchase the same "samuri sword" knives that you love and adore! Whoops!!!