Thursday, November 26, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving!


To be a little different or just for the hell of it, I thought I'd make individual pumpkin pie-ettes instead of the big one this year. You know, the one where the crust separates from the filling as soon as it hits the plate... I'm a big fan of crust, so figured the ratio of crust to filling would be even better this way.    Plus, individual sized things are portable (i.e. eaten in the car on the way home)!  Usually I would have actually roasted a couple of sugar pie pumpkins from scratch, but in the vain of "all things convenient," I decided to use canned pumpkin puree.  You see, lately I've been researching dessert recipes from the 1940's, as I'm making the pre-show and intermission snacks for my friend, Sharron Drake's live radio show style production of "It's a Wonderful Life" in a few weeks at the Dance Palace in Point Reyes Station (December 12, 2015).  I figured it would be cool to do "period" post war snacks, as the play was written and performed in 1946.  There were a lot of canned food items in that era,  a lot of Crisco, and rationing, so I've been experimenting... I'll give credit for my use of canned pumpkin to our wonderful U.S. Government.

I found a basic recipe online for the filling (sweetened condensed milk (yikes), pumpkin puree, pumpkin spices etc.)  I bought my ingredients at Whole Foods, so the recipe wasn't on the back of the can.  If you buy a more mainstream pumpkin puree, the recipe will be found on the can.  You see, the thing that really interests me is the crust!   I don't understand why people find crust so challenging.  I constantly read recipes online that call for "premade pie crust" and most recently  a comment that followed stating "because pie crust is so hard."  What? Who says??  Who are these people and why is the most amazing thing to make such a big challenge?

I say "amazing thing to make" because what could be better than putting your hands into flour and working in the butter, crumbling and flaking it just right, and then putting just enough liquid to get it to come together?  Okay, I get it, not so interesting.  The point is, though, it is pretty much that easy!

I'm a big fan of the "galette" or free form pie.  There is something about the flat nature of it that crisps up just right, the proportion of crust to filling a little higher and therefore more satisfying. Unfortunately, this loose shape doesn't work for pumpkin or custard type pies.  Pretty much all my life I've used the Joy of Cooking's basic pie crust recipe (flour, crisco/butter, salt, water).  But when I started making galettes, I realized the need for a dough that has a little more elasticity to keep everything together.  I decided to throw all caution to the wind and use the galette dough as pie crust. (I know, super daring, right?)

Okay, so here's the recipe:

1 Cup plus 2 Tablespoons All Purpose Flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 heaping T sugar (more or less)
1 cube unsalted butter
1/3 cup sour cream
1 egg yolk 
1 egg white mixed with a little heavy cream, milk or half and half
Mix together flour, salt and sugar in a large bowl.  Cut butter into smallish cubes.
Use a pastry cutter to break the butter into smaller pieces, or, better yet, just use your fingers, working each cube to break them up and squeezing the butter chunks between thumb and fingers into flakes.  You are done when the mixture looks crumbly (about 5 minutes or so).  Many recipes say when the mixture looks like "small peas" - don't get too anal. 
In a separate bowl,  whisk together sour cream and egg yolk.  Drizzle this mixture over flour/butter mixture.  With a fork, combine well.  It will be necessary to get your hands in there and press and combine flour with liquid ingredients to evenly distribute.  You may need to add a little cold water to get all of the flour to stick.  Knead a few strokes to make sure your ball is well mixed.  You will see little chunks of butter throughout.  That is okay and actually good, as this is why your crust will turn out flaky!
Wrap  in plastic and refrigerate for at least a half hour (but can be for days if wrapped tight).  
Flour a pastry cloth, kitchen counter, wooden board or what have you, well.  Flour your rolling pin also.  Begin to roll the dough out, first in all four directions by starting in the middle of the disc and working your way forward and backward, rotating 90 degrees and working your way forward and backward.  In order not to stick, turn dough over, dusting the board with flour in between.  Continue to roll back and forth and turn over (so it doesn't stick) until the dough is about 1/8" thick.   Back in the day, when I was a kid and had a pastry cloth, they used to say to roll the dough out until you could see the writing on the pastry cloth through the dough.  You don't have to go that far!  
Voila, finished.  Simply use a round lid or large biscuit cutter and cut to desired size (bigger than muffin tin opening by 1.5" all around, depending on the depth of your pans).  press into ungreased muffin tins.  Fill all the way up with your filling.
Use any excess dough to make extra shapes for the top.   Whisk together the egg whites and a little cream or milk (a couple of tablespoons).  Using a pastry brush, lightly brush decoration feature and edges of dough.  Bake at 425 for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 for another 30  minutes or until crust is nicely brown and a knife stuck into middle comes out clean.  Served with whipped cream or just straight up!