There is a distinct rank and file to my Thanksgiving table:
1. Pumpkin Pie
2. Pumpkin Pie
3. Oyster dressing
Nothing upstages pumpkin pie in my book. About three weeks before Thanksgiving, I find myself drawn to every magazine at the grocery store. “Your best Thanksgiving Ever!” (Yes!) “A Pumpkin Pie to Wow Them!” (Of course!) “The Best of the Best Pie Recipes for Your Table!” (This is the one!). And every year I set out to find the best pumpkin pie recipe – one that people will talk about for years to come. It never fails, the chosen recipe tastes like, well…pumpkin pie. I was starting to feel like Linus waiting for the Great Pumpkin to come, each year hoping that the recipe Gods would pick me as the most sincere baker of all. That is until last year when Dorie Greenspan and her Caramel Pumpkin Pie entered my life.
If you own only one baking cookbook, I say it should be Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan. She’s the author of Baking With Julia (yes, Julia Child) and knows her stuff. Her technique of caramelizing a portion of the sugar before adding it to the pumpkin mixture gives this pie a depth of flavor that will knock your socks off. It’s like a pumpkin pie has hit puberty – that soft, sweet, creamy pastry grows up to be a deeper, darker, more mature dessert that means business. If you’re like me and always looking for that next best thing – this is your year!!
Caramel Pumpkin Pie
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan, Baking: From My Home to Yours
1 single 9 inch crust of your choice
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup half and half
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
pinch of allspice
pinch of salt
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs
Ahead of time: make dough and refrigerate for at least 1 hour
Roll dough into a 13 inch circle and place into a 9 inch pie plate. You will want to leave a one-inch over hang by cutting the dough to even it out. Tuck edges under and sculpt an upstanding ridge if desired.
Refrigerate the crust for at least 15 minutes while you preheat the oven to 350.
If you want to get crafty…
Use your dough scraps to make cut-outs. Using a leaf or other seasonal cutter, place shapes on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Brush with milk and sprinkle with sanding sugar. Bake while pre-baking the pie crust until lightly browned. Use as a garnish, or use corn syrup as glue to attach to the crust as decorations.
In a large non-stick skillet or small pan, sprinkle 1/2 cup of the sugar evenly and cook over medium-high heat without stirring. Continue to cook the sugar until it starts to turn a deep amber. This is the fun part. It will start to bubble and foam and then it will start to smoke. You haven’t gone too far – this is good. Watch the sugar until the color deepens and you have large bubbles (you don’t want to burn it).
When it’s ready, lower the heat to medium and add the pieces of butter, stirring constantly. Once the butter is blended in, pour the cream into the mixture slowly. It will hiss and bubble and probably clump a little, but it will even out as you keep stirring. Pour into a heatproof bowl and cool for about 10-15 minutes.
While the caramel cools, make the rest of the filling. In a large bowl, whisk together the pumpkin, remaining 1/2 cup sugar, spices, vanilla and eggs until smooth. Add the caramel, pour into crust and bake at 350 for 45-50 minutes. You will know it’s done when the filling puffs and the middle does not jiggle. A knife inserted into the middle should come out clean. Cool on a wire rack. Will keep for 2 days lightly covered in the refrigerator. Enjoy!