Pumpkin is no longer just a fruit, but an ethos that borders on obsession. Many people are less enamored by the actual flavor of pumpkin than what it represents: changing leaves, crisp air, chilly temps. We love autumn because it makes us just cold enough to where the act of warming up is enjoyable. It’s few short months where we can cozy up in front of a warm, flickering fire with hot mugs of spiced cider.
Pumpkin pie is more than merely “some pie.” Pumpkin pie is the edible embodiment of our autumnal spiritual needs baked into a buttery crust. Aspiring to make a good pie is to aiming too low. This pie needs to be bigger than dessert, bigger than Thanksgiving, bigger than all the colorful leaves and mittens and seasonal lattes in the world. It’s not just the centerpiece of the table, but centerpiece of the entire season. Eating a slice of pumpkin pie is bending the knee at the Altar of Fall.
To create this recipe, deep meditation was needed. It was not just the usual soul searching that’s needed whenever you craft a pie (pie is very serious), but it required to light that fire within to truly feel the essence of the season in mind, body and spirit. And, where there’s fire, there’s smoke.
A good whiskey has many characteristics ideal for this pie. Its flavor, from being aged in charred wood barrels, gives you the full “cuddling up next to the fire” experience in liquid form.
The fall fun doesn’t stop with the whiskey. Any pumpkin pie needs to be sweetened, and if you’re not sweetening it with maple syrup, then I don’t know what’s wrong with you. This is an obvious pairing, just like peanut butter and jelly.
Pick up the darkest maple syrup you can find, which may be labeled B or C grade, depending on its point of origin. It’s the syrup harvested at the end of the season, whose maple flavor is so strong that it’s commonly deemed as “too much” for pancakes. In a pie with pumpkin and whiskey, though, it’s perfect.
Once these ingredients are whisked together, we bring in our secret ingredient: liquid smoke. Be careful, this stuff is highly concentrated. A single drop can add intense flavor, so add the tiniest increments possible and taste as you go (it’s safe to do this). You won’t need much. If you worry about your judgment, feel free to skip the liquid smoke all together. It’s only there for a little je nais sais quoi.
Once baked, let the pie chill in the refrigerator for a day or two, as it will improve with age. You can serve with plain whipped cream if you have company, but ideally, you’re eating this all on your own, tucked under a fleece blanket.
- 1 stick cold butter
- 1⅓ cup flour
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 2–4 tablespoons ice water
- 1 egg white, well beaten with 1 teaspoon water
Cut cold butter into flour, sugar, and salt using food processor or pastry cutter until it resembles small pebbles. Add ice water 1 tablespoon at a time, until dough just comes together. Place on large sheet of plastic wrap. Gather edges to make satchel, and squeeze so dough comes together in ball (if it doesn’t, add a bit more water). Flatten plastic-wrapped dough into a 1-inch thick disc. Refrigerate at least 1 hour.
Place dough on well-floured board. Let sit for 10 minutes. Roll to ¼-inch thick, and line dough into pie pan. Roll up edges to make decorative rimmed crust, then dock bottom and sides with fork. Freeze until solid. (Well wrapped, frozen shell will keep 3 months.)
Heat oven to 375°F. Place baking sheet into oven to warm. Line frozen pie shell with foil, and fill with rice, sugar, or pie weights. Place on baking sheet, and bake for 20 minutes. Remove foil and weights. Using pastry brush, glaze pie crust with egg wash. Bake additional 5 minutes. Remove pie shell and baking sheet from oven. Set crust aside, and reduce oven to 350°F.
- 4 egg yolks
- 1 egg
- 1 cup light brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
- 2 cups canned pumpkin
- 1 can sweetened condensed milk
- 3 tablespoons whiskey
- ⅓ cup dark maple syrup
- ½ cup heavy cream
- ½ teaspoon vanilla
- ⅛ teaspoon (or less) of liquid smoke (optional)
In bowl, whisk yolks and egg with sugar, cornstarch, pumpkin pie spice and salt until solidly mixed. Add pumpkin, sweetened condensed milk, whiskey, syrup, heavy cream and vanilla, and whisk until smooth. Place drop of liquid smoke onto spoon, and add to custard. Mix and taste for flavor. Add another drop, if desired.
Pour custard into pie shell Place pie onto baking sheet, and place in center of oven. Bake 45–50 minutes, or until pie is mostly set but looks slightly jiggly in center. Let cool, and refrigerate overnight. Serve at room temperature. Serves 6–8
Cossart Gordon 2008 Colheita Single Harvest Bual (Madeira); $34, 94 points. Though made on a Portuguese island, Madeira has a long, sweet history in the U.S. It was the toast of choice after the signing of the the Declaration of Independence, and is a worthy accompaniment to any occasion, whether a historic moment or a holiday gathering. Rich toffee notes are contrasted by refreshing acidity, getting you ready for that next bite of pumpkin pie.