My mom saved an article for me from the November "Saturday Evening Post", Sarah J. Gim's "Pumpkin Pie and I" because she knows I like to bake, and that I love pie. Gim thinks that pumpkin pie is okay, but has never understood why others love it, so when she found this version in "Cook's Illustrated" she felt she'd found the answer. There are a couple of things interesting from the start of the recipe -- supplementing the pumpkin with canned sweet potato for "more flavor complexity" and using a tablespoon of vodka in the crust to make it more tender. Now, I'm one of those who likes pumpkin pie the way it is, so I don't really understand Gim's kick against its "mealiness", but I thought I'd give the recipe a try. What's the worst thing that could happen? a plateful of pumpkin pie?!
Right off, let me warn you that this version is much more labor-intensive than the usual pumpkin pie. In order to maximize flavor, Cook's Illustrated says, you need to "concentrate the pumpkin’s liquid rather than remove it," which involves cooking the pumpkin purée and mashed sweet potatoes with the spices and maple syrup on the stove, stirring constantly, for 15 to 20 minutes. The mixture was noticeably less liquid afterwards, but 20 minutes is a long time to stand there stirring, even if you are listening to Christmas carols. Then to avoid that "grainy texture that plagues most custard" (really? "plaguing"?) you run the mixture through a strainer. It sounds so easy in the instructions -- but after you've cooked out a good deal of the extra water it doesn't want to go through a strainer very easily, I can tell you; it took me a good ten minutes of pushing it with the back of a spoon, and scraping off the underside of the strainer, to get it all through.
(I also found that this recipe makes quite a lot of filling, enough to fill my 9-inch crust and two oven-proof serving bowls in addition.)
I also found it a bit of a balancing act to get the crust ready at the same time that the filling was ready. "If you’re tempted," they warn, "to bake the pie crust way ahead of time, don’t. It’s imperative that the pie crust is warm when you add the hot filling" or the pie will be soggy. It isn't entirely clear in the recipe, but I assumed from the context that they want you to not partly-bake but fully bake the crust before filling it, and I found that mine took some time longer than the recipe said to get a "deep golden brown", and then became a little too golden-brown with the additional time spent in the oven after filling.
I've not had any problems before with pumpkin pies being unevenly baked through, so perhaps it is this version -- which is noticeably different in texture -- that requires the blast of 400 °F for 10 minutes, then another half-hour or so at 300°F, but mine was beautifully done throughout once it had cooled; I did take very seriously the advice to take the pie out of the oven when only the center 2 inches or so was still jiggly.
Aside from my crust being a little toasted, it was very tender and flaky, so I will definitely try the vodka trick again, though it did shrink noticeably. I thought it a little funny that Gim is so revolted by pumpkin pie's having the "mealy, squishy consistency of baby food" when this version is pretty soft and baby-food like too. It is lighter than usual, though, almost chiffon-like, and certainly very pleasant in itself -- I wonder if this is from the sweet potatoes? the only way to tell would be to make this version again with all-pumpkin -- but I'm not sure that the effort it takes is really worth it, as I found that I missed the heft and substance of the traditional pumpkin pie.
Good? Yes, very good! Perfect? Well....