Monday, November 23, 2009

Pumpkin Showdown : Pumpkin Pie

It's been A-WHILE, I know... Work got crazy. But not so crazy that I didn't find time for a few pies! Just no time to write about them.

But I will make up for it now with this ridiculously long post about pumpkin pie. (Seriously, this should be divided into two separate entries and would be if I had stayed on top of things.)

I have been really looking forward to making pumpkin pie using fresh pumpkin so as soon as I saw them at the store I bought four. You've seen the picture.

Pumpkin pie is not generally made with jack-o-lantern pumpkins (although you CAN do that, you just might want to add extra sugar); most people use smaller pumpkins labelled as pie or sugar pumpkins. They are apparently sweeter and less grainy. I say apparently because this what everyone says but as you will learn if you make it thru this ridiculously long post “everyone” is sometimes wrong and I have never actually cooked a jack-o-lantern pumpkin for any reason.

After purchasing these I did a little research to figure out how exactly I should go about this. I found this site to have lots of information and pictures and sort of used it as my guide. I also found some fresh pumpkin pie recipes at

First, you need to cook the pumpkin. It doesn't really matter how- steam it, microwave it, bake it. Whatever. There seemed to be some concern in my sources about drying it out so some directions called for baking or microwaving it in a bowl of water, but I thought that was a bit odd since one thing to keep in mind when baking with fresh pumpkin is that it tends to be more watery then the canned.

Me, I just baked it on a baking sheet until it was soft. Mostly because my microwave is way too small to fit a pumpkin and I do not have a put or steamer big enough to steam it. Despite some recent acquisitions my kitchen is still approx. 85% ghetto so I have to work with what I've got. This worked fine and did not dry it out. But steaming it is probably the fastest way to cook it. When it id done it will be totally soft and fall of the skin when spooned out.

At this point it needs to be pureed. Again, you can do this however works for you- blender, food processor, potato ricer, etc. I used my food mill and it worked out great.

Voila! You have fresh pumpkin.

Fresh pumpkin CAN be a little watery. I found two ways of dealing with this. #1, you can set up this little contraption with a pice of cheesecloth over a fine strainer suspended over a bowl. An hour or so seemed to be enough to remove most of the excess water. #2, and especially good for the minimalist kitchen, let your pumpkin sit in a bowl for a bit. If there is excess water it will be pushed out to the sides and there will be pure water surrounding the edges of your pumpkin. Place a paper towel at the edge and it will soak most of it up.

Here is also where I ran into my first problem. That helpful website, and many of the recipes I found, called for 1 pie/sugar pumpkin and gave the impression that it would yield plenty of puree. I did NOT find this to be the case. I realize there are different pumpkin sizes but since this experience I have looked around and have yet to find one big enough to do the job. Maybe it is just the area where I live that can't produce these mammoth pie pumpkins, but I always needed 2 – and this usually produced just enough for one standard 9” pie. For reference, a standard size pie should have 1 ¾ – 2 cups pumpkin, with 1 ¾ being the equivalent of a 15oz can.

So I cooked and pureed ANOTHER pumpkin. And then I had 2 cups. So I made the recipe at the website posted and scaled everything down because it uses the 3 cups(!) it claims will be produced by one of these pumpkins.

(I realize some of these measurements are a little weird, thats because two-thirds-ing a recipe is weird).

2 cups pumpkin puree

2/3 cup sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

2/3 tsp ground cloves

2/3 tsp allspice

~2/3 of ½ a tsp ground ginger

pinch of salt

2 extra large eggs

1 12oz can evaporated milk

1. Combine all ingredients

2. Pour into unbaked 9” pie shell

3. Bake at 425° for 15min, then lower to 350° and bake until knife inserted comes out clean, about 45-60min

Note: Canned pumpkin was heated on the stovetop and then allowed to cool before using. Why? Because I read in someone's comments on a recipe that doing this makes canned pumpkin taste better. I'm not sure if this is true, I haven't done a showdown for it yet, but I figured I had to give the canned pumpkin its best shot, so the safest thing to do was include this step JUST IN CASE it does make a difference.

And I was sooo excited for this pie, I didn't even care that I had to cook the pumpkin twice. Everything I read said that canned pumpkin does not even compare to fresh. (One source even mentioned that canned pumpkin is not made with pumpkin, but I think they are wrong because I checked the ingredients on a can and it listed just one thing: pumpkin.) I've never met a pumpkin pie I didn't like and I am pretty sure I never had one from fresh before, so I expected this to blow me away.

But it didn't. Don't get me wrong, it was good. But it didn't really taste significantly different from any other pumpkin pie.

(And...the crust was soggy. I tried to trust the recipe, even though the filling was like water. Lesson learned; I now par-bake pumpkin pie crusts.)

Obviously, it was time for a showdown.

What do I mean by showdown? 2 pumpkin pies, exact same recipe, one made with canned pumpkin and the other with fresh. I took hem both to work, and let the masses decide if one was better then the other.

I didn't want to use the same recipe, so I looked for a really high ranked one at allrecipes. I picked this recipe because of the rating and also because it was a little different from most, using sweetened condensed milk instead of sugar and evaporated milk. And I am pretty sure it was this one, if not exactly then really close.

1 3/4 cups pumpkin

1 (14 ounce) can Sweetened Condensed Milk

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 (9 inch) pie crust

1. Par - bake 9" pie shell

2. Combine all ingredients. The resulting mixture is completely liquidy

3. Bake for 15 min at 450. Turn heat down to 350 and continue to bake until a knife inserted comes out clean

I also decorated one pie, because I wasn't sure if I would be able to tell them apart. So, with the scraps left over from the bottom crusts I cut out all these little flowers.

Then I used them to decorate the crust edge like this. Its kindof pretty, I am still working on the decorating skills.

The results: again, 2 very good pies. And with par-baking the crust first the bottoms came out perfect.

So what about the showdown? My co-workers were awesome and once they knw what I was doing almost everybody tried both pies. The fresh pumpkin came out a little smoother, I think because I used the fine strainer of my food mill. The canned had a slightly stronger, more condensed flavor. But overall, they came out equal. One person (who have determined to be an outlier) found the fresh pumpkin one to be superior. Everyone else thought they were pretty much the same.

So canned pumpkin it is (at least for me). Because, seriously, there's no reason to work that hard if it doesn't taste better.

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