Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Pumpkin and Sweet Potato Pie

As part of the pre-Thanksgiving potluck feast with our friends, I made a pumpkin pie, recipe for which I pulled from SmittenKitchen.  Love that site.

I've made this pie several times over the past couple of years, but I can't call it tried-and-true.  Something always manages to go a little funky, particularly in the cooking time.  Mine always takes a *lot* longer than in the recipe--as in, 3 times longer for the pie to set.  I'm not sure why I never remember this problem, and why I never try turning up the heat in the middle of the baking process, but c'est la vie.

My "big change" to this recipe is to substitute 1 cup of canned sweet potato puree for the candied yams.  The first time I made this recipe I couldn't find candied yams, and I stuck with the sweet potato puree because it makes the recipe a little easier (with the original recipe, you have to strain the custard mixture to get out any lumps of candied yam).

First, let's start with the pie crust. Note: You know how people say that you shouldn't be intimidated by pie crust? Well, I've made many a pie crustand it still intimidates me.  The actual steps are fairly simple, but I have a real problem figuring out how much liquid to add to the dough.  Too much and you work up the gluten and get a tough dough--too little and you can't handle the dough because it's so crumbly.  That is my life dilemma.

Adapted from SmittenKitchen for a single-crust pie
  • 1 1/4 cups flour
  • 1/2 TBS sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 stick butter, cut into 1/2" cubes, and very cold (I cut my butter (and shortening, if I'm using it) before starting the recipe, and put the cut pieces in the freezer until I'm ready to use)
  • 1 cup ice cold water (literally, put ice cubes in the water.  You won't use all of this, but since the amount varies on a lot of factors like your other ingredients and humidity, it's good to have enough on hand)
I forgot to take some pictures of the first step, which is to mix together the flour, sugar and salt. Groundbreaking.

Then take your cold-ass butter and put it in the flour mixture.  Lightly toss to coat and then mix with a pastry cutter or your hands. I usually use my hands, which means working quickly and gently, but I have a pastry cutter that I haven't used in so long so I decided to haul it out. 

Work the butter into the flour mixture until they become the size of peas.  These little chunks of butter are good because when you bake the crust, the butter will melt, releasing steam, which in turn creates little air pockets that contribute to a crust's flakiness.

Drizzle about 1/2 cup of the ice water over the mixture.

Work the water into the dough.  I usually stir it with a fork and once in a while pinch the dough to see how it's coming together.

The important tip in this step is to not work the dough too much.  Water + flour = gluten, and gluten = tough pie crust.  Gluten is what you want in bread, to make it chewy and stretchy.  You don't want that in a pie crust.  Or maybe you do. In which case, work away.

Work the dough until it just holds together in a ball.  Keep in mind that I tend to use too little water so my dough may look different than yours. I basically have little idea what I'm doing at this point anyway.  There has been many a time where I start to pull the dough together into a ball, only to realize that I'm waaaay off the mark in terms of adding enough water, and I pull the ball apart to add more water, in the process building up gluten. See paragraph above.  Sweet.

But since I do tend to make my dough pretty crumbly, I push down and slide the heel of my palm over the dough just once or twice to incorporate the ingredients so that I can actually handle the dough.

Flatten the ball into a disk, wrap with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes (there is inevitably some gluten that gets worked up, and it's too stretchy that this point to roll out--it would shrink big time when you bake it).

Meanwhile, work on the filling.

Adapted from SmittenKitchen 
  • 2 cups half and half 
  • 3 large eggs 
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin puree
  • 1 cup canned sweet potato puree
  • scant 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon table salt
Combine the half and half, eggs, yolks and vanilla extract in a bowl.  

In a medium/large saucepan (at least 3.5 quarts), place the remaining ingredients.

Mix together and cook over medium heat, making sure to scrape the bottom well, until the mixture sputters.  Then lower heat and continue to cook for about 7-10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  To be honest, I don't know if this step is necessary because I used a sweet potato puree instead of candied yams, and I think the cooking step in the original recipe is to get the candied yams and the pumpkin puree to meld.  But, I still think this gives a bit of nice caramelization.  Maybe I'll skip it next time and see what happens. 

Give the egg mixture another whisk just to recombine, and starting with a drizzle, whisk into saucepan puree.

Set puree mixture aside, and let's return to the dough.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Roll that sucker out into a 13-inch circle on a well-floured surface, turning occasionally to prevent sticking.

Sometimes at the beginning of the rolling out process, I kinda smoosh the dough instead of rolling, because rolling from the get-go on a thick disk doesn't always work for me.

Transfer dough to a 9-inch pie plate.  I do this several ways, and this time I loosely rolled up the dough on the rolling pin...

...then set the rolling pin at one edge of the pie place (center as best you can), and unroll.

Trim the edges so that they hang off no more than 1/2", tuck the edges under, and crimp or use a fork to push down the edges.

Refrigerate dough for about 15 minutes.

Place a large piece of foil over the dough, and put in pie weights (I use dried garbanzo beans, which I reuse).

Place pie plate on baking sheet and put in oven, baking for 15 minutes.  Remove the foil and weights, and bake until crust is golden brown, about 5-10 more minutes.

Yeah, it's not perfect. What is.

Pour the puree mixture into the baked shell.

Place back in oven, still on the baking sheets, and bake for about 10 minutes.  Lower heat to 300 degrees and bake until edges are set and the center moves only a little (it will finish cooking after you take it out of the oven), or until the internal temp reaches 175 degrees, about  "20 to 35 minutes".  This is the part where this recipe kinda kicks me in the ass.  It usually takes my pie an additional hour, so next time I might try jacking up the heat a little bit.

Remove and let cool completely on a cooling rack, about 2 to 3 hours.  I forgot to take a solo shot of the pie, but here it is next to a cranberry apple crisp.

Ta-da! Typing out this recipe makes me realize what a pain in the ass it is.


  1. i cook mine at 350 for about 50 min total, but don't cook the crust first. Yours isn't burnt at all--did you use a protector or foil?

  2. what are you talking about. that is a PERFECT PIE.

  3. Mm! The pie looks so good w/that rich dark orange color. But to be honest, you lost me at "make your own pie crust." What?

  4. lattelove: i didn't use a crust cover or anything--which is unusual now that you pointed it out. i think because the oven was on such low heat, the crust didn't get too brown. i guess if i want my pie to cook faster by turning up the heat i may have to cover the crust with foil. which is such a pain with a custard pie--don't you think?

    sashacleo: thanks! the loyal fan.

    lobster: i lost myself while writing the crust part, so i know how you feel.

  5. I am so not confident in my baking skills enough to make my own pie crusts. Yours looks great to me. One day! My Mom's sweet potato pie is amazing. I think she boils fresh sweet potato and adds her magic. I still have some at home. I need to finish it off. Hmmm....

  6. terri: say no more, i'm coming over tonight to help you with that sweet potato pie.

  7. Wow! That pie looks scrumptious! I suck at making pie crust, mine always burn, but filling I can do. Our pumpkin pie failed this year. The center refused to bake so it was gooey... and we all know the color or pumpkin pie... wasn't appetizing.

  8. Please send a slice. I don't even like pumpkin pie, but I'd like a slice of yours.

  9. Wow, that looks delish, it's so smooth and moist looking! And I don't even like pumpkin pie (I know, turning in my American card today)!

  10. That looks so yummy! I am so intimidated by pie crust that I just buy it pre-made. Is that cheating?

  11. I never make my own crust, I get scared. I will let you make mine from now on. Consider this my order for ten pie crusts. With ten you throw in a free pumpkin/sweet potato pie right? Good.

  12. Yum! That looks delicious! I love smitten kitchen too! So many great recipes to try out! I'm gonna have to try it with your substitution.

  13. ali: i had a bag of them lying around for so long that i didn't feel like cooking with them, and this has turned out to be the perfect way to use them!

    nellie: mine was a little gooey in the center as well, but i made people eat it anyway.

    hot cocoa and tiffany: what a nice compliment!

    mintedlife: nothing wrong with store-bought crust. you're not a cheater!

    jessica: you're the boss. will start work on order immediately.

    lajo: i know, smittenkitchen is great!