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In The East County Observer’s quest for the perfect pumpkin pie this Thanksgiving, we asked five of our community’s top chefs to share their culinary tips.
Although none of them makes this traditional favorite exactly the same, most agreed that the crust is the most critical component of a successful pie.
“You have to start with the crust,” Pastries by Design owner Lyndsy McDonald said.
Read below as McDonald, Polo Grill and Bar owner Tommy Klauber, Grandma Yoder’s owner Russell Yoder, Steamykitchen.com chef Jaden Hair and award-winning Lakewood Ranch Golf and Country Club executive chef Paul Evans share their secrets for making this holiday favorite extra scrumptious.
McDonald: “In my opinion, the best crust is one you use half butter and half shortening. I love the taste of butter. But the shortening has a higher melting point, which gives you a crispier crust.”
Yoder: “A scratch crust is always the best. Our crusts are mad of lard, flour, eggs, vinegar and ice water. You want to use all-purpose flour.”
Hair: “Not everyone likes to make their own pie crust. I like to use puff pastry sheets and make small hand pies. I’ll take puff pastry and cut it into thirds and fold the pieces over each other (with the pie filling inside). I’ll (also) make a pie filling and use those ready-made phyllo cups and put the filling in a piping bag and pipe it into the phyllo cups. I try to use things that are very, very easy and don’t take a lot of time.”
Evans: “I like to use some lard in my pie crust. It makes the crust a little flakier.”
McDonald: “The real basic recipes all use evaporated milk. My favorite recipes call for sweetened condensed milk, which makes it creamier.”
Klauber: “I like a light filling — not one that feels like the whole pumpkin is in the pie. You can add a little pure maple syrup to the filling. It adds a nice flavor.”
Yoder: “We use fresh eggs from a dairy. There’s a world of difference. You get what you put into it.”
Hair: “I’ll mix pumpkin with ricotta cheese and the regular spices.”
Evans: “I make my pie as a custard base and put a lot of cream in it. It makes it more like a cream pie — fluffier and creamier. I use traditional spices — cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, ginger (etc.). I like to add a touch of curry to mine. It gives it a different smell and a little more modern taste.”
McDonald: “It’s really tempting to buy Cool Whip, but (using real) whip cream makes a huge difference. You take cream, sugar and vanilla and whip it up with a hand mixer or a stand mixer. If you try to do it by hand, you’ll be there all day.
“The canned puree is the most consistent product. If you are making (your pumpkin puree) from scratch, you need to set aside a significant amount of time. You can tell a difference, but some people don’t think the difference is worth the effort.”
Klauber: “A lot of people like to bake it with nothing on top, but I think that tends to make it dry. It’s fun to doll it up.”
Yoder: “Don’t overheat your oven. (The pie will) cook too fast and get too brown on top. Each oven is a little different (so pay attention). (For example) we bake our pies at 300 degrees.”
Evans: “Bake (the pie) until it’s just set. You don’t want it to start cracking. (Plus), the pies lose moisture over time.”
Hair: “I’ll flavor the whipped cream with a drop of vanilla extract and a little bit of cinnamon or nutmeg.”
McDonald: “Fresh whipped cream and coffee. I can eat it without coffee, but I have to have my real whipped cream.”
Klauber: “I like to add a little cinnamon to the whipped cream. It gives it a little flavor.”
Yoder: “I warm the pie for about 15 seconds, so it’s slightly above room temperature, and add a big pile of whipped cream and a little bit of cinnamon sprinkled on top. Plus (I drink a) cup of coffee. It’s good for breakfast, lunch and dinner.”
Hair: “I love homemade whipped cream.”
Evans: “I like to eat it with a little whipped cream and that’s it.”
BACK IN THE OLD DAYS
Polo Grill and Bar owner and chef Tommy Klauber remembers learning to make pie crusts from his grandmother when he was just 5 years old.
Jonnie Brown, his grandmother, was representative for Crisco when it first came on the market and would travel around the country teaching people at supermarkets and other locations about how to use the product and its benefits.
“She would cut the top so it would look like lace,” Klauber said. “I always liked that. That was my favorite thing to do — to lay the strips, the cross-hatch.”
Curried Pecan Pumpkin Meringue Pie
Courtesy of Tommy Klauber, Polo Grill and Bar
3 large eggs, plus 1 egg yolk
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
41/2 Teaspoons pure maple syrup
11/2 cups pecan pieces
1 all-purpose pie shell, unbaked
16 ounces pumpkin pie filling
2 teaspoons curry powder
1/2 cup heavy cream
3 egg whites
1/3 cup granulated sugar
• Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
• Combine eggs, yolk and brown sugar in a medium bowl. Stir until sugar is dissolved and mixture is smooth. Blend in butter, vanilla and maple syrup until well incorporated. Sprinkle pecan pieces evenly over the bottom of the unbaked pie shell. Pour pecan filling into pie.
• Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes, or until golden brown. Cool to room temperature.
• Whip pumpkin filling in a medium bowl with the curry powder, cream and set aside. In another large bowl, beat the 3 egg whites until frothy. Gradually add the sugar and continue beating until whites form stiff peaks. Fold meringue mixture into pumpkin mixture. Gently spoon pumpkin mixture on top of pecan pie and smooth topping.
• Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until filling is firm. Remove from heat and cool. Serve cold and garnish with unsweetened whipped cream.