Pumpkin Cutie Pies

There are endless food-focused theories detailing how best to promote health and wellness. Some preach eating a diet that is protein rich, others carbohydrate free. The only way I have ever been able to eat is moderately.

If we are what we eat, then I want to be balanced and complex, mostly hearty, and often sweet.

I practice moderation by indulging every so often in decadent miniatures as I know neglecting dessert is not easily done. Thus, this week's edition of Northern Skillet is a set of Pumpkin Cutie Pies using my Lodge Mini Cake Pan. This pan embodies my belief that a little bit of something lovely, is superior to none at all. 

As I endeavor to become a better baker and cook, I've been reading more cookbooks and refining my techniqueWhile any pie crust and pumpkin filling recipes will do for this "cutie" pie, I used a recipe from a recent acquisition from Williams-Sonoma called Bake Good Things. It's a concise collection of traditional, dare I say basic, recipes for the everyday. After all, it's quite a feat to beat a classic. 

Ingredients 

Pie Crust 

  • 1 1/3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
  • 4 tablespoons ice water, plus more if necessary 

Filling 

  • 1 can pumpkin puree (15 ounces)
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2/3 firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 2 whole large eggs plus 1 large egg yolk, room temperature 
  • 4 teaspoons all purpose flour 
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • pinch of salt

To prepare the crust

Combine the flour and salt with a fork in a bowl. Add the butter cubes and toss with a pastry blender, or two knives. I picked up a pastry blender along with this book, as I knew the pie crust making would be habitual. It's a very helpful tool. 

Cut in the butter until the mixture forms large crumbs. Drizzle the ice water and toss with a fork until the dough is evenly moist. If the mixture is too crumbly, add additional water, a spoonful at a time until the dough comes together in a rough ball. Form a disk and wrap the disk in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 30 minutes before using. 

Turn out the disk onto a floured surface, and flatten with a rolling pin. I used my late grandmother's rolling pin, an old able beauty. It felt comforting to channel her as I rolled. 

Cut out circles that are roughly 5 inches in diameter. I used a bowl and a pasta cutter here. 

Coat your Mini cake pan with Pam, and line each section with a dough round. Form a decorative edge as desired. Freeze the dough lined pan for 30 minutes, and preheat your oven to 425 degrees.

While the crust is setting, use the remaining scraps to cut out the word "Cutie" repeatedly, with cookie cutters. Reserve your crust cutouts for later. You may want to refrigerate them. NoteIf you have not yet gotten your mini cake pan, you may use a cupcake or muffin tin. Adjust dimensions accordingly. 

Remove the pan from the freezer. Line the pies crusts with foil, and fill with pie weights. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove the weights and foil, and return to the oven for an additional 5 minutes until golden.

weights.jpg

 To prepare the filling

Let the crust cool while you prep the filling and reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees. Combine the pumpkin, cream, brown sugar, eggs, yolk, flour, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Pour roughly 1/3 cup of filling into each crust. 

Bake the pies for 50 minutes. At 50 minutes, remove the pan and quickly but gently spell out cutie on each pie. Return to the oven and bake for an additional 5-8 minutes until the filling is set, and letters cooked. Let cool. 

Once cool, the pies come easily from the pan. Impress your loved ones with these darling cutie pies. The guilt that accompanies these treats is proportionate to their size - very small. 

Contentment is a pop tart

I've developed such a strong affection for food over the years firstly, because it is sustaining and essential. Loving the things that we need to survive is pragmatic and rewarding all at once. Food nourishes our bodies, it pleases us, and is subjective. I may love one herb, and another person may not. They may avoid this herb like an infectious disease and view it with furious disdain. BUT, we will not war over it as our disagreement is not polarizing. In these turbulent days of division and labeling, this is a powerful attribute. 

The pastry dough was flaky, truly delightful. I used the recipe from the "Megpie" feature in  Sweet Paul's Fall 2014 issue . 

The pastry dough was flaky, truly delightful. I used the recipe from the "Megpie" feature in Sweet Paul's Fall 2014 issue

Secondly, it reminds us of who we are and the memories we've made over time. Some bad, others joyous. Pangs of hunger during difficult times or the abundance charactertistic of holiday gatherings and festivities. I can swear I recall the cake I had on my first birthday. This is highly unlikely and I have been heavily influenced by the pictures I have seen from the event, but the notion is the same. We remember where we were, who we were with, and what we ate. 

I live with James in my late grandmother and grandfather's home where my dad grew up. We called them Nonny and Homer. Nonny, the gentle Calabrese grandmother, and Homer for his days as a baseball player. The amenities in the kitchen are not elaborate, but what they lack in modernity they more than compensate for in memories.

I adapted  Joy the Baker's pumpkin pie filling  around what was in my pantry and spice preferences. 

I adapted Joy the Baker's pumpkin pie filling around what was in my pantry and spice preferences. 

The counter top, a vintage swirly pattern, is worn away in the corner closest to the sink as Nonny likely did the majority of her preparation there. As a young woman, she came to this country not having known English or ever attending school. She made a great life for herself and her family, and fed them generously despite being far from wealthy. (My dad, her son, is 6 foot 3, 290 pounds, so I would say he was nurtured adequately.) 

There is no dish washer. In the evenings, and sometimes the mornings depending on what is cooking, I stand firmly in front of that sink and wash away. Often it takes an entire hour to finish them all as James is a chef and creates lots of dirty dishes, and I follow in close second as his sous chef. I let the dishes air dry, so if you visit for a meal there may be water streaks on the glassware. As a person that is hard on myself, I like these pockets of vulnerability in my life to affirm that flaws are beautiful, and make us relatable, even more appealing. 

I've taken to rising early in the morning to spend time alone in the dimly lit kitchen. The sunlight pours in the windows in front of the sink. I sip on coffee and plan the meals for the day. If I had my way, there would be a warm cake every morning; I settle for three days out of the week. Standing where Nonny would have stood, I affix a small garbage bag to the utensil drawer, like she did, to prevent walking back and forth to the garbage pail. There is always an excess of vegetable peels, egg shells, and packaging so this little practice she left with us is ingenious. The people that leave us, never truly do.

Recently, I made a childhood favorite as a reminder of my upbringing: pop tarts! They were also inspired by my time living in DC, frequenting Ted's Bulletin on Capitol Hill and eating copious amounts of their to-die for pop tarts. I cut the dough into hearts with a large pancake mold, filled them with pumpkin pie filling, and topped them with a maple glaze. The fall flavors have been in full swing in this house. 

After distributing to family and friends, one lone pop tart was left for me to enjoy. I had it with a cup of coffee served in one of my prettiest mugs. Nonny was tasting it too I am sure.