Pie people are a special breed. We treat most days as if they were made for pie. We know what we like and we’re not afraid to play favourites or defend our pie choices. Hello there sour cherry! So I guess it’s no surprise that there are few things more hotly debated amongst us this time of year than, “Which is better: pumpkin pie or sweet potato pie”? There are a lot of (very) strong opinions on the subject from both sides of the aisle and I have no intention of stepping into the fray. Instead, as my holiday gift to you, I present a pie that combines the earthy sweetness of pumpkin with the light and airy texture of sweet potato. There. Who said achieving world peace is hard?
But … before we begin, I have something to tell you. This is not your last-minute, five-ingredient pumpkin pie. It takes a bit of time and effort to make, including roasting your own fresh pumpkin and sweet potato, but do not flake on this by buying canned filling. Not only does roasting help with caramelization (= yummy caramel flavour), it also adds a depth and sweetness that you just aren’t going to get out of a can. Adding real ginger, butter, brown sugar and a couple of cinnamon sticks to the roasting pan amps up the flavour to the point that I wouldn’t blame you if you just quit right there and ate the puree out of the baking dish. The sweet potato is wrapped in foil and tucked in next to the pumpkin. Yes, they may be rivals for the pie plate but these two get along like a house on fire when it comes to this pie!
The ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon provide a deep spiciness to this pie. Maple syrup and brown sugar adds exceptional flavour and just the right amount of sweetness. And the heavy cream and eggs brings out its creamy texture. What more could you ask for?
Scroll through the seemingly endless number of recipes for pumpkin pie on the internet and you’ll get an equally endless range of opinions about why it is/isn’t necessary to blind bake your pie crust first. I’m squarely in the ‘do it’ camp for the simple reason that you are dealing with a loose, egg-based custard that can make your bottom crust really soggy if you’re not careful. On the other hand, when you start with a crisp, fully baked pie shell, you’re creating a barrier that can ward off the potential for an underbaked or soggy crust. So, why wouldn’t you do it?
To prevent excessive pie puffing (it’s a thing!) in the oven … something that can cause ugly cracks in your beautiful creation… I bake this pie at a low oven temperature. Don’t panic if it does puff up a bit in the oven. It will settle down once it begins to cool.
Now, let’s talk about the fun part ….. decorating your pie! There are lots of different ways to get the job done in style, from scattering leaf cut-outs across the top of the pie, to creating a pretty leaf border that you attach to the pie edge. There are no hard and fast design rules here. Use any leave cutters that you have. If you can, however, use different sizes and shapes to add dimension and interest.
If you’re feeling a bit ambitious, however, why not make the highly decorative lattice pie top shown here? For this pie, I made the leaves with cutters, handmade the acorns by shaping the acorn nuts and then added a cap that I crosshatched using a knife. I used this fondant mat to get the woodsy embossed look on the lattice pieces.
Because pumpkin pie is a custard-based pie, it needs to set before you can add anything to the top … unless, of course, you like your decorations served at the bottom of your pie. I say this because they will sink. And I speak from experience. If you’re going to do a decorative finish that sits on top of the pie, I recommend baking those pieces at the same time as your pie shell on a separate baking sheet and then placing them decoratively onto the baked pie.
To keep my wreath where it belongs here, I baked it separately from the pie and then added it to the top of the pie after it came out of the oven.
To keep the wreath from breaking as it’s moved to the pie top, I suggest using a tool like this. Alternatively, a bbq flipper will definitely help make the job easier. Just be sure to carefully slide your sliding tool under the wreath to gently loosen it from the parchment, and then transfer it gently onto the pie. If you build your lattice in a similar way to mine, you should have a fairly sturdy wreath that will support itself when moved. No engineering degree required!
Maple Ginger Pumpkin Pie
This exceptionally flavourful pie is my favourite pumpkin pie recipe for the holidays. Rich and smooth, it’s perfect with a dollop of whipped cream!
Makes one 9-inch, deep dish pie
Adapted from The Big Sur Bakery Cookbook: A Year in the Life of a Restaurant
- 1 1/2 batches (3 discs) All Butter Pie Pastry (save the extra disc for another purpose)
- 1 Sugar Pie Pumpkin (approx 2 1/2 lbs)
- 1 thumb-size piece of ginger, cubed into 1/4″ pieces
- 3 tbsp unsalted butter, cubed into 1/4″ pieces
- 1/4 cup light brown sugar
- 2 cinnamon sticks, broken into quarters
- 1 pinch salt
- 1/4 cup water, room temperature
- 1 medium sweet potato, whole, skin on
- 3 large eggs, room temperature
- 1 large egg yolk, room temperature
- 1 1/2 cups 35% or heavy cream
- 1/2 cup light brown sugar
- 1/2 cup pure maple syrup
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- 1 pinch salt
- 1 large egg
- 1 tbsp milk
Preparing the shell:
Prepare the dough as directed in the recipe.
On a piece of parchment paper, roll out one disc of dough to a 11-inch circle. Transfer and fit the dough into a 9-inch pie pan and trim to a 1/2-inch overhang all around. Tuck the excess neatly under the lip of the pie plate. Transfer the pastry-lined plate to the refrigerator while you make the puree. Add any pie dough scraps to the bottom of one of the other pie dough discs.
Making the puree:
Preheat the oven to 375° F and adjust the oven rack to the middle position.
Using a sharp knife, cut the sugar pumpkin into quarters and then cut each quarter again so you have a total of 8 segments. Place the pumpkin pieces, skin side down, in a baking pan and sprinkle the butter, ginger and brown sugar over top of the pumpkin. Nestle the cinnamon stick pieces between the pumpkin pieces. Sprinkle the salt over the pumpkin. Add the water to the baking tray and cover tightly with aluminum foil
Wrap the sweet potato tightly in aluminum foil. Place the baking tray and the wrapped pumpkin next to each other on the middle rack of the oven.
Bake the pumpkin and sweet potato for 45 minutes or until they are easily pierced with a knife (the pumpkin may be ready before the sweet potato. If so, remove from oven while you wait for the potato to finish baking). Let both cool until they can be handled.
Using a spoon, scrape the flesh from the skin of the pumpkin and place in a food processor bowl. Carefully unwrap the sweet potato (it may be steaming inside), and run a knife down the length of it to split it like a baked potato. Scrap out the flesh and add it to the processor bowl. Scrap the ginger that was in the pan into the bowl with the flesh. Discard the cinnamon sticks and skins. Puree the pumpkin and sweet potato until it is completely smooth with no lumps. Allow the puree to cool to room temperature before proceeding. You should have approximately 2 cups of puree. While you’re waiting for the puree to cool, build the pastry wreath (if making)
Making the pastry wreath:
On a piece of parchment, roll out one disc of dough to a 11-inch square (or as close as you can get). If you are using the wood fondant embosser, lay the embosser over the dough and press to make the wood impression. Move the embosser around the dough, repeating this process, until the dough is covered in wood impressions.
Using a sharp knife and a ruler, cut the following pastry strips: four 1″ width X 10″ length strips and fourteen 1/2″ width X 10″ length strips. Use six of the 1/2″ strips to make two braids (3 strands each). Carefully place the braids and your remaining strips on a parchment lined baking tray and set to one side.
Mark out a 9″ circle on a piece of parchment. Turn the parchment over so the circle marking shows through. Working from left to right, lay your pastry strips top to bottom, across the parchment circle marker in the following order (use the photo for reference on spacing): two 1/2″ strips (side by side), one 1″ strip, one braid and two 1/2″ strips (side by side). Turn your circle a quarter turn, and weave the remaining strips in the same order, left to right top to bottom so they intersect with your first set of strips. Set the lattice circle on the parchment to one side.
On a fresh piece of parchment, roll out the third disc of pastry to a 10″ circle. Using fall leave cutters of your choice, cut out approximately 40 leaves (the actual number will depend on the size of your cutters). Use a knife to vein the leaves. Start arranging your leaves decoratively around the edge of your lattice circle,using the circle marker as a guideline and bending some to give them dimension and flow. If you wish, handroll some acorn shapes and caps and small berries and tuck into the leaves. Once you are happy with the placement, trim the edges of the lattice to the edge of your marker circle. Slide the parchment sheet onto a flat baking sheet and place in the freezer for 10 minutes.
Blind baking the pie shell and pie top (if using):
Reduce the oven temperature to 350° F. Make an egg wash by whisking together one whole egg with 1 tbsp milk.
Arrange two oven racks in the middle and lower middle positions. Line the pie shell with a piece of parchment paper and fill with uncooked rice, dried beans or pie weights. Remove the wreath from the freezer and brush with some of the egg wash. Place the pie shell on the middle rack and the wreath on the lower rack. Bake the shell and wreath for 30 minutes until golden brown. Watch both carefully. If the wreath browns sooner, remove it from the oven first. After removing the pie shell from the oven, carefully remove the pie weights. Allow the shell and wreath to cool to room temperature.
Making the filling:
While your pie shell and top are baking, make the filling.
In a large bowl, whisk the cooled pumpkin/sweet potato filling puree with the eggs, egg yolk, heavy cream, brown sugar and maple syrup until well combined. Whisk in the cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and salt.
Baking/decorating the pie:
When the pie shell and wreath have finished baking, reduce the oven temperature to 325° F. Pour the filling into the pre-baked pie shell until it reaches the top of the pie plate. Place the pie on a baking sheet (this will make it easier to move the pie in and out of the oven) and transport it carefully to the centre rack of the oven. Bake for approximately 50-60 minutes. The pie is done when the edges look dry but it wobbles in the centre ever so slightly when you nudge it. Do not overbake. It will continue to bake as it cools. If you have a digital thermometer, place it in the centre of the pie to check for a temperature of between 175° and 180° F.
Add your baked decorations to the top of the pie. Let the pie cool on a rack for at least one hour and then refrigerate until chilled.
If you don’t have time to tackle this pie at all once, do it in stages.
Day One: Make Filling and Pastry (store in fridge), Create lattice wreath if using (cover and store in fridge)
Day Two: Blind bake shell, bake wreath and pie
Use the egg white left over from the egg yolk used in the filling to create an extra barrier against sogginess. Immediately after taking your pie shell from the oven and removing the weights, brush the pie bottom and up the sides with a light coat of egg whites. This will cook slightly and help to seal the pie pastry off from the custard.
Be sure to cool pie to room temperature before refrigerating to avoid condensation building on top of the pie.