Maybe the Best Pumpkin Pie You Ever Et

Made from a real winter squash, not a can…imbued with American bourbon…crunchy with pecans and caramelized sugar…a holiday confection fresh from the earth—and my mother and grandmother.

Squash Custard Filling: (8 to 9 servings)
2-1/2 cups pureed baked butternut, cushaw, pumpkin, or other winter squash, 3 pounds whole
2 tablespoons light oil, such as sunflower or walnut
1-1/4 cups half-and-half or favorite non-dairy milk
¾ cup (firmly packed) light brown sugar
3 large eggs, room temperature
½ tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground mace or grated nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground allspice or ground cloves
Heaped ½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup bourbon

Start by baking the squash while you prepare the pastry (baking rather than steaming enriches the flavor). Peel off the skin. Cut squash into 2-inch pieces (set aside seeds to roast?), toss in a bowl with oil to moisten, turn onto a baking sheet. Bake at 400 degrees until very tender…start testing after about 35 minutes. Puree in the food processor, through a food mill, or mash with a potato masher till smooth. Measure.

When ready to bake the pie, heat the oven to 450 degrees, set the rack in the top third of the oven, slip a baking sheet onto the rack.

In a large heavy saucepan, combine the squash puree, half-and-half, and brown sugar. Whisk over low heat until the mixture feels lukewarm to the touch. Remove from the heat and whisk in the eggs, cinnamon, ginger, mace, allspice, and salt. When smooth, blend in the bourbon. Pour into the partially baked pastry shell.

Set the pie on the hot baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 300 degrees. Bake until a circle in the center the size of a silver dollar jiggles when you gently move the baking sheet—and when a thin knife inserted at the edge of the circle comes out with specks of the custard on it—not entirely clean—another 25 to 35 minutes. Be careful not to overbake, because the custard will continue baking after it’s out of the oven. Remove to the counter. Heat the broiler. Immediately make the topping.

Pecan Topping:
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup (firmly packed) light brown sugar
1 cup (about 5 ounces) broken pecan pieces, toasted
Pinch of ground cinnamon

In a smallish heavy skillet over low heat, melt the butter. Add the brown sugar, the pecans, and cinnamon and stir until the sugar caramelizes—turns deeper brown. Spoon this hot mixture evenly over the pie. Broil about 5 inches from the heat until the sugar melts and darkens further, about 2 minutes—watch that it doesn’t burn. Set on a rack to cool.

Serve warm or at room temperature with ice cream or whipped cream, ideally within 4 hours of baking.

­Flaky Pastry (For 1 9-inch pie pan)
May be prepared and kept refrigerated up to three days in advance.
A great secret in making flaky pie pastry is the less handling the better.

¾ cup unbleached all-purpose flour, lightly spooned into the cup, plus more for rolling
6 tablespoons cake flour, lightly spooned into the cup (you may substitute a scant 1/3 cup all-purpose flour)
¼ teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons vegetable shortening or lard, cold
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold
2 tablespoons beaten egg, cold
1-1/2 tablespoons ice water
1 teaspoon cider vinegar or lemon juice
Combine flours and salt in a food processor, blend by processing about 10 seconds. Cut in shortening in 10 blobs, butter in 10 chips, pulse until pieces of fat are pea size, about 12 times.

In a small bowl, whisk together egg, ice water, and vinegar. Pour over the flour and pulse until the mixture becomes crumbles, 8 to 10 times. Working quickly–especially if you have warm hands–turn crumbles onto your work surface and smoosh with the heel of your hand into a ball. Pat into a 5-inch round, wrap in foil, refrigerate in the vegetable crisper drawer for 30 minutes—2 hours is better. (If prepared days in advance, remove from the fridge an hour or so before planning to roll out.)

Cut two 12-inch-squares of waxed paper and roll out the dough between them…rolling away from you…to make a 12-inch round. When patching, press pieces together without water. Drape in the pan and flute the edges.

Now follow directions in a standard cookbook for PARTIALLY BAKING the pastry in the pan (or look online–Food52.com has a very helpful entry). This is standard operating procedure for custard filling which would otherwise sog a soft unbaked dough .

*”Winter Squash/Pumpkin Pie” from The Kitchen Garden Cookbook, Bantam Books, New York, 1995.

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