6:30 a.m., Halloween Morning
Two sticks of unsalted butter stared me dead in the face as I reached into the refrigerator for my coffee creamer. I had a task to perform, they told me wordlessly. It was time to conquer the pie anxiety. So with a hot coffee and a clean kitchen island, I set myself to the task first thing in the morning.
I am, regrettably, a morning person. The sun had yet to rise, and pie crust came together on my kitchen island while my husband continued to sleep in. The process of making a pie crust remains intimidating to me, but Dessert Person continued the strong tradition of very detailed images to display each step, just like it did in the first pages of the book for very basic techniques.
Cut the cold butter into pieces. Chill the butter in the fridge. Press it into the flour with your fingers, and then bring together with ice cold water. I still had many areas within my pie dough where you could see solid leaflets of butter inside, but I didn’t worry about it at the time. The fact that it came together as a dough at all filled me with some pride as I put it into the fridge for its first two hour chill. My husband woke up at the end to watch me roll it out and do the first letter fold.
I was as proud of that pie dough as I was when I passed my Certified Professional Coder exam earlier this month. I remained proud of it when I pulled it out and rolled it into a circle. I was proud of it when I put it into my pie plate, and a little less proud when I cut one side a little too close to the plate. The pleating process after cutting the round left one side shorter than the other, but it could have been worse. It was a pie dough.
The first par bake went just fine, and I remained proud of the crust that came out. It would turn out that the crust was a little tough, which I’m sure is some kind of user error on my part. I may not have broken down the butter far enough or maybe I allowed the parbaked crust to sit too long before turning it into a full pie. It’ll take another pie for me to figure that out.
The actual pie filling remains one of the coolest processes I’ve ever attempted in baking. The twist of this pumpkin pie is the caramelized honey addition to the actual can of pumpkin and spices that normally goes into a pumpkin pie, a process that begins with browning butter in a pan. This takes a lot of patience, and you can’t walk away from it. When the butter turns brown, and the solids have also browned, you are instructed to remove it from the heat and pour in 1/3rd of a cup of honey.
After mixing the honey into the browned butter and returning it to the heat, it starts to bubble up into this gorgeous freaking concoction that smelled AMAZING. I never let it go too dark, but I could have watched it bubble away a few minutes more. Part of me imagines that’s what it’d look like if I was trying to make homemade honeycomb, and that magic ends with six ounces of heavy creamed poured in and incorporated. You add that to the pumpkin puree, eggs, and spices. Boom, filing done.
325 fahrenheit for about 55 minutes in my oven, and I had a pie and a giant container of filling that I had to bake off separately since it couldn’t all fit in my pie. You are instructed to allow it to cool in the oven with the door propped open by a wooden spoon, so we let it go for about an hour and a half before my husband couldn’t resist anymore.
A second container of heavy cream became whipped cream, and my husband had his first slice. He declared the pie crust a little tough, as I mentioned before, but the filling was something special that he really liked. I am not personally a pumpkin pie person, so I didn’t take a slice for myself just yet.
That said, I have learned by trying to do this with Claire Saffitz’s recipes that it is something I am capable of and can conquer relatively easily if I just put my mind to it. The images she uses in each section for the base doughs of her many recipes are a good guide for people like me with anxiety related to any number of pastry doughs. It’ll take practice to get good at it, but there is a definitive guide in my house now to help me get to where I want to go.
My traditional Thanksgiving bake is a pumpkin cheesecake in a premade graham cracker crust that I took off of allrecipes.com more than a year ago, but if I ever became the pie baker, this would probably be the recipe I would fall back on to see me through it. I imagine that doing this recipe with a premade dough wouldn’t be the end of the world, but the practice of making my own dough certainly helped me get over my fears of pies.
We have a tasty breakfast available to us this fine daylight savings time morning, and it will go nicely with a hot cup of pumpkin spice coffee while the sun actually rises as a fucking reasonable hour. That’s probably the best part about pies and pastry: breakfast the next morning.
The recipe comes together pretty easily, and I’m sure that my own personal error is what created a tough crust. There may be a day where I come back to this and try to do it with a premade crust and my second attempt at a handmade pie crust just to see what the difference is. It takes time, patience, and a little babysitting of the caramelized honey concoction.