There are very few recipes that debuted on my first Thanksgiving menu 16 years ago that are still going strong today. Roast turkey, cranberry sauce and mashed potatoes are staples year after year, as is a traditional pumpkin pie. Despite all my rantings about how destructive sugar is to your health, I honestly can’t imagine Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie. I wouldn’t even care if no one liked it, I would still make two of them. I remember the first pumpkin pie I ever made when I was in high school. I followed the recipe on the can of Libby’s pumpkin puree and poured it into a store-bought pie crust. Heaven.
Since then I have adjusted the recipe to be much more wholesome, and dare I say, much more delicious. I traded in store-bought piecrust for homemade, canned pumpkin (bye-bye BPA) for freshly roasted (hello yummy rich pumpkin flavor), refined sugar for maple syrup (and much less of it), and canned evaporated milk for heavy cream. Sure, heavy cream is rich in saturated fat, but I would rather eat a couple of spoonfuls of a high quality organic cream than canned milk. Would you ever drink canned milk or feed it to your kids? I didn’t think so. I use organic raw cream when I can get it, or I buy a nonhomogenized, but pasteurized organic cream from Straus Family Creamery. I have made a dairy-free version of this pie using coconut milk and it’s just as delicious (it does not taste like coconut, either.) Of course there’s still lots of butter in the crust. Last year, I made one pie with a white flour-based crust and another with a whole wheat pastry flour-based crust. Only my sister-in-law and I liked the whole wheat one. As my mother-in-law says, “You two like anything that you know is good for you.” Partially true. This year I will go back to all white flour pie crusts and the wholesomeness comes to an end right there.
Speaking of which, I am quite conscientious about consuming very little sugar during the year, but come Thanksgiving I feel like I have earned a piece of pie (or two) and I don’t feel bad about enjoying it. The problem comes the next day when I’m looking for that sugar fix again at 4:00 in the afternoon. And the next day. And the day after that. Guess what? I’m not alone. Thanksgiving starts not only the beginning of the holiday season, but a time when lots of people pack on a few extra pounds from overindulging too often. I love celebrating just as much as the next person, but I definitely don’t love trying to lose weight (it’s not as easy as it used to be!) I look forward to Thanksgiving dinner and dessert, especially after I’ve worked so hard to make it special and delicious, but this year I’m going to be a little more mindful the next day. At least until Christmas.
makes one 9-inch pie
1 ¼ cups unbleached all-purpose white flour or spelt flour
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
½ cup (1stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
2-4 Tablespoons ice water
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
pinch of ground nutmeg
1 cup heavy cream or coconut milk (not light)
1 3/4 cups fresh or canned pumpkin puree (1 15-ounce can)
3 large eggs
6 Tablespoons pure maple syrup or brown sugar
- Make the crust: Place the flour and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Add the butter and pulse 10 times.
- Turn the food processor on and slowly pour in 2 Tablespoons ice water. Stop the machine and carefully (watch the blade!) grab a small handful of dough and squeeze it in your hand. If it holds together well, you’re done. If it’s crumbly, add another tablespoon of ice water and blend. The goal is that when you squeeze the mixture in your hand that it forms a moist, but not sticky ball of dough. Transfer the dough to a piece of parchment paper or plastic wrap and shape into a disc. Wrap well and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. On a lightly floured work surface, flour a rolling pin and roll dough into a 12-inch round. While you’re rolling out the pastry, you should always be able to move it easily around the work surface without sticking. Add additional dustings of flour as needed. Fit the circle into a 9-inch pie plate and crimp edges. Refrigerate if it feels too soft.
- Prick the bottom of the crust all over with a fork. Line the crust with a piece of parchment (like the one the dough was wrapped in), and fill it with pie weights or dried beans (the ones in the photo I’ve had since college!). Bake until lightly golden around the edges, about 20 minutes. Remove parchment and weights. Return crust to the oven and bake for another 5 minutes until light golden all over. Cool completely on a wire rack (this can take up to an hour so you may want to turn the oven off.)
- Preheat the oven again to 375 degrees. In a small bowl, whisk together the salt and spices (if you are using brown sugar instead of syrup, add the sugar now.)
- In a large bowl or with a mixer, whisk together cream, pumpkin puree, eggs and maple syrup. Add spice mixture and combine thoroughly.
- Pour mixture into the cooled crust and bake until filling is set (it will jiggle like gelatin, but it will be a little soft in the center), about 50-60 minutes. The filling will firm up as it cools. This can be made the day before. I like to keep it refrigerated.