I get a lot of questions from readers I meet about my husband. The main one is, “why is he called the Pie?” Well, I’ll tell you why. And this goes back about nine or ten years, back when we had first met, and long before we started dating. It’s really a great story. I’ll tell it to you here:
One day, he told me that he really liked pie.
Yep. That’s the whole story. That’s why he’s called the Pie. And now you know. I hope you aren’t too disappointed.
Sometimes, the Pie’s favourite pie is blueberry. Sometimes it’s apple. I can’t keep track. But I know that pumpkin pie, even though it doesn’t qualify as a “true pie”, is at the top of my husband’s list of favourite pies. And now that I have sort of mastered the art of vodka pie crust, and especially considering the amount of pumpkin purée I have in my possession, it is a logical choice, and this recipe looks lovely. So here it is, a pumpkin pie that is so from scratch with its home-made pastry crust and fresh pure pumpkin that it’s almost like I made it entirely by hand-stitching individual atoms together (I can do that, you know).
So, now. It’s been a while since I made that vodka pie crust from Smitten Kitchen/Cooks Illustrated, so I think I’m going to lay it all out for you again, just so we both can get some practice. If you like, you can take some more of Smitten Kitchen’s tips on better pastry from her second tutorial. Like her, I’m not a fan of shortening, so I went with an all-butter version of the crust today. And this dough recipe makes enough dough for two single crusts, so I guess that means I HAVE to make two pumpkin pies. I will try to sneak one into the freezer so the Pie doesn’t eat it too fast. That way later on when he grumbles about having no more pie I can dramatically reveal that he is wrong. I like doing that.
For the pastry, you need to make sure everything is cold. If your kitchen is frigid, like mine, this is easy. For everyone else, just keep chucking stuff in the refrigerator if need be. Ingredients. Tools. Bowls. You name it.
In a large bowl, whisk together 2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour with 2 tablespoons sugar and a pinch of salt.
Cut 1 1/4 cup cold butter into cubes and make sure it’s cold (re-chill it after you cut it before adding it to the mix).
Dump that into the flour and use a pastry blender to chop it into tiny buttery-floury pieces. You want to keep going and going and going, using a knife to clean off your pastry blender occasionally, until you end up with a mixture that closely resembles cornmeal.
Put a dishtowel under the bowl to keep it from sliding around on you.
Here’s the right consistency. You still need whole chunks of butter in there but you want them small.
Drizzle 1/4 cup cold vodka (keep that baby in the freezer) and 1/4 cup ice water over the mixture.
Use a big rubber spatula and a folding motion to bring everything together.
You don’t want to stir so much as squish and squash everything into one big blob. It will be pretty tacky, but that stickiness will disappear when the vodka burns off in baking. You can use your hands to gently squish the remainder together, but don’t work it too much. If you feel you need to add more liquid, drizzle a bit more vodka onto it, but just a little.
Divide your blob into two even pieces and flatten them into disks. Wrap them tightly in plastic wrap for at least 15 minutes, and for up to 2 days.
When your dough is sufficiently chilled, lay a piece of plastic wrap out on your work surface. Unwrap one of the disks (keep the other in the fridge) and place it in the centre of the plastic wrap. Place another sheet of wrap over top.
Working from the inside and moving out, use a rolling pin to flatten your disk into a nice round piece of pastry. You’ll need a rough circle of about 12″ in diameter to fit in a 9″ pie pan. Most plastic wrap is about 12″ wide, so you can use that as a guide.
Notice how you can see gobs of butter in my dough? That means I will have some lovely flaky pastry. As the butter melts it will leave a little open space, which will fill with steam from the vodka and water, which will in turn expand the empty space, making the proper pastry flake.
Chill your flattened pastry again for a bit. If you put it on a baking sheet and chuck it in the fridge you should be good. When you’re plopping it in your pie pan, make sure to remove the bottom layer of plastic wrap before rolling it over a rolling pin or folding it into quarters to place it in the pan. I’ve done both methods here, so you can see what I mean.
Gently lift the edges of the dough to make it easier to press into the bottom of the pan without tearing.
Trim off the excess pastry from the edges of the pan.
I used a fork to press the edges more firmly down onto the glass. Chuck those back in the fridge when you’re done.
I had some scraps left over from trimming, so I cut up a small apple, sprinkled it with cinnamon and sugar, and rolled out the scraps again to form a small circle.
I put the fruit on one half, folded it over, and pinched the edges shut. Then I put it in a sprayed pan and baked it with the pie.
For the pie filling, you need some pumpkin purée. You can be lazy and buy the stuff that already has the eggs and spices in it and whatever and just dump that in your pre-bought frozen pie shell but that’s just not cool here at Ali Does It. Make sure if you’re using canned pumpkin that it’s pure pumpkin, without the sugar and salt and all things spicy.
Now, you American folks are likely working from the 14 oz can of Libby’s or whatever it is you have. Fourteen ounces is about 1 3/4 cups of pumpkin goodness. Here in the FAR NORTH of Canada we have E.D. Smith pumpkin, which comes in 28 oz cans (~3 1/2 cups), so we generally use half a can for one pie, a whole can for two. And of course I’m working from a I-have-way-too-much-pumpkin-purée-in-my-fridge perspective. So I will be using that instead of the canned stuff.
Preheat your oven now, to 425°F and position a rack in the centre of the oven.
Beat up 4 eggs in a large bowl. Whisk in 3 1/2 cups pumpkin purée, 2 cans (300 mL) sweetened condensed milk (I believe some countries sell condensed milk in 400 mL cans — I would just use the whole can anyway for a slightly sweeter pie), 1 cup packed brown sugar, and 4 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice.
Take your pie shells out of the fridge and divide the mixture between them. You may end up with extra filling (lord knows I always do). I emptied it into a smaller pie pan and baked it as-is, for a sort of pumpkin pudding.
Chuck the pies (and whatever else you now have on the go) in the oven and bake for 15 minutes. Then reduce the heat to 375°F and keep baking for about 35 more minutes, until the pastry is all golden and lovely and you can stick a knife in the centre of the pie and bring it out clean again (i.e. the filling has set). You can see that our crustless pie and the turnover turned out equally well, though with them in the oven everything took an extra 15 minutes or so to cook. Let the pie cool completely on a rack and refrigerate until ready to serve. You can heat it up again if you like. We enjoy ours with a dollop of whipped cream or ice cream. Yum!