I enjoy reflecting back on some of those fun, heart-warming memories of holidays gone by, like baking pumpkin pie with the ones I love; it’s a wonderful feeling to wrap myself up in good memories, in order to make the present moments taste that much richer.
I often find myself thinking about how time passes in the blink of an eye, and just how quickly one holiday after another goes by year after year.
It seems like it was just yesterday that my son and I were in the kitchen together, elbow deep in pumpkins, seeds and stringy bits strewn about everywhere, making a plethora of from-scratch pumpkin pies, at his request; but in reality, it was more like 4 or 5 years ago already, when he was 14 or 15 years old, and not the manly 19 year old Marine that he is now.
I remember him coming to me and telling me that rather than purchasing already-prepared pies from the store, he wanted for us to make our very own homemade pumpkin pies from some sugar pumpkins we had on hand; he wanted the experience of making a pumpkin pie completely from scratch, to see what the process was, and to then be able to enjoy his scrumptious labor of love—pumpkin pie has always been one of my son’s absolute favorites.
And so from scratch we made our pumpkin pies, and what a blast we had!
I can’t tell you how thrilled and excited I was to have him want to get into the kitchen with me to do some baking like that, because as anyone with teens that age (not to mention sons) knows, it’s a very rare thing.
It was a heck-of-a-lot of work scraping the seeds out of those pumpkins, then roasting the flesh until tender, and then pureeing it.
We even made our pie dough from scratch and blind-baked the shells, filled them with our perfectly-spiced and silky-smooth filling; and then, we eagerly waited for the pies to bake, then cool, before finally enjoying bite after sweet bite.
Indeed, it was a long process, but well worth the effort.
At first, we made two pies, but those were almost immediately devoured; and so the next day the process was repeated (mainly by only me this time around), and a couple more pies were baked off and once again polished off shortly afterwards.
And though it was indeed tedious work, it was also sweet work, glorious work, the most rewarding sort of work that I could ever ask for, because we did it together.
Now of course, after doing some research, I eventually found that using a good-quality, canned pumpkin puree is arguably the best way to go—it saves time and additional mess!
But our time together in the kitchen was a precious moment in life, one of those cozy holiday moments that when I think back upon it, it just warms me to my center, and fills me with gratitude and an abundance of love.
And so this is where I find myself this year, in this particular Thanksgiving season: reminiscing a little about the sweet stuff of Thanksgivings past and missing it all a little.
And with our son on a deployment for many upcoming months, our holiday season won’t be quite like any other we’ve had.
So the plan for us this year is to celebrate our holidays in unique and perhaps unconventional ways, ways that’ll be special to my husband and I, that we can create some sweet and fun memories unique to this phase of our lives, unique to the two of us.
Reflecting on some of those special moments of holidays past is a wonderful way to fill the present with joy, warmth, and gratitude for the goodness that surrounds; it is a way to wrap one’s self in the comforting blanket of memories of togetherness and of connectivity and unity.
And may we continue to create new memories, ones full of hope and love that we can look back upon at some point down the road with reverence and with fullness of heart.
So from my kitchen to yours, I truly hope you enjoy my son’s and my easier version of the perfect, classic pumpkin pie from scratch!
Taste what’s good and pass it on.
Perfect Pumpkin Pie with Vanilla-Bourbon Whipped Cream
by Ingrid Beer
Yield: Makes 1 pie
Pie Crust Ingredients: (slightly adapted from Cook’s Illustrated)
• 1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 6 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut up into pieces
• 1/4 cup cold vegetable shortening (I use “Spectrum” brand organic), cut into a few pieces
• 2 tablespoons vodka (80 proof)
• 2 tablespoons ice-cold water
• 1 egg white, whisked
-Into the bowl of a food processor, add ¾ cup of the flour and the salt, and pulse to combine; add in the cold butter pieces along with the shortening, and pulse or process until a crumbly dough comes together.
-Sprinkle in the remainder of the flour, and process for a several moments to incorporate that flour in.
-Dump the flour/butter/shortening mixture into a bowl; drizzle in the vodka/water mixture in small increments, and using a rubber spatula, fold the vodka/water into the dough, pressing it down until it is slightly tacky and moist, and comes together.
-Turn the dough out onto a large piece of plastic wrap, and form into a disc; place into fridge to chill for at least 45 minutes to an hour, or until ready to roll out and blind bake. (Can be done ahead of time, and kept chilled.)
-When ready to bake, roll out your chilled dough disc on a lightly floured work surface, until it is quite thin and slightly larger than your pie dish (I use a 9.5” glass pie dish, and place it into the freezer to keep it chilled); place the dough into the pie dish, and cut off any long overhangs, leaving just enough so that you create a fancy or rustic-style crimp by pinching around the dough with your thumb and forefingers; place into the freezer to chill and firm while you preheat the oven 350°.
-To blind-bake the crust (which you need to do with a custard-style filling like this), place a piece of parchment paper into the chilled crust, and pour in some dried beans or pie weights; place onto a baking sheet, and bake for 1 hour on the middle rack; then, remove from oven with the baking sheet, and allow to sit for 10 minutes, with the parchment/beans still in. (This is a longer, lower-temp method, but I find it works best; and leaving the parchment/beans in the whole time ensures you will have a flat and nicely baked bottom.)
-Remove the parchment and beans and allow the shell to slightly cool, then brush very lightly with the whisked egg white (it will cook to the surface with the residual heat—this will help create a barrier between the filing and crust); cool completely before filling, about 40-45 minutes, total. (This can be done ahead, as well, for convenience.)
Pumpkin Pie Filling Ingredients:
• 1 (15 ounce) can pumpkin puree (not “pumpkin pie filling”!)
• 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons brown sugar
• 1/4 cup granulated sugar
• 1 tablespoon corn starch
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
• 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 1/2 teaspoon (slightly heaping) ground ginger
• 1/4 teaspoon (slightly heaping) ground nutmeg
• 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
• 1 1/4 cups heavy cream
• 3 whole eggs
-Into a large bowl, add the pumpkin puree, along with the remainder of the ingredients up to and including the ground cloves; using a whisk, combine the ingredients until completely smooth and silky.
-Add in the cream along with the eggs, and gently whisk those in just until everything is well-blended; take care not to whisk too aggressively, as you do not want to incorporate air into the filling—this will cause it “souffle” up as it cooks, and get those cracks; use filling immediately, or if preparing a day ahead, keep covered and in fridge until ready to pour into blind-baked pie shell.
-When ready, pour the filling into the cooled pie crust, and bake at 350° on the oven rack in the lower third of the oven for about 55-65 minutes (mine was closer to that 65) or until the sides of the filling are set but the center is still a bit wobbly/jiggly, which is good—it’ll continue to cook as it cools.
-Allow the pie to cool at room temp completely (for about 5-6 hours) before chilling in fridge, ideally overnight. Serve with Vanilla-Bourbon Whipped Cream.
Vanilla-Bourbon Whipped Cream Ingredients:
• 1 1/2 cups cold whipping cream
• 1/4 cup powdered sugar
• 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
• 1 tablespoon bourbon (you can omit this, if you prefer)
-Add the cold whipping cream to a medium-large bowl, and using a hand mixer, whip the cream until it begins to thicken; sprinkle in the powdered sugar and continue to whip, and once it gets close to being a thick cream, add the vanilla and bourbon, and finish whipping until a creamy and thick consistency.
-Keep cold, and use as soon as possible for best results.