This year, spending Thanksgiving with a good friend, I got to do lots of lovely cooking. I made four pies: two pumpkin and one buttermilk, all with butter crusts, and one apple with a cheddar-butter crust. It was my first time trying an all-butter crust, and all of the pies came out excellently, crust and filling. The titles for each pie link to close-up pictures of them.
Butter crust: For this, I used the recent New York Times recipe, which seemed to be basically equivalent to Martha Stewart’s pate brisee, sans a bit of sugar. My friend didn’t have a food processor, or even a proper pastry cutter, so I cut up the flour and butter with a potato masher and finished mixing it with my hands, leaving the butter in nice crumbly chunks, the largest ones pea-sized. (As a result, when I rolled out the dough, it was nicely flecked and spotted with butter, like a leopard’s skin.) I used extra chilling to make up for the slower hand-mixing: I put the butter cubes in the freezer for a while, and rotated everything into the freezer when I wasn’t actively working on it, even the pie pans. I also took the advice to go ahead and roll out the dough soon after forming it, then let it rest/chill when already in the pie tins. The crusts came out beautifully, tender and buttery and flakey/crumbly. At some point I’d love to experiment with beef suet, leaf lard, or European butter, but even ordinary butter worked well.
Pumpkin pie: To keep things simple, I used the basic recipe from a Libby’s pumpkin can, with a few modifications. I added some molasses (essentially replacing the sugar with brown sugar), added a dash of nutmeg and vanilla, and left out the ginger (only because we didn’t have any). I also followed the suggestion of several online sites and cooked the pumpkin in a saucepan with all the other ingredients, except the eggs, letting it simmer for a little while to blend the flavors and remove the canned taste. I let the mixture cool for a while, tempered the beaten eggs with a bit of the pumpkin, then mixed the eggs in and baked the whole thing. The results made me very happy. While I’m not sure if the pumpkin itself tasted significantly different, the custard cooked more quickly than usual, which meant that the crust wasn’t over-browned by the time the filling was ready. Moreover, unlike some of my previous pumpkin pies, neither pie cracked or split, which I attribute to the pre-simmering; they both came out firm, smooth, and delicious.
Buttermilk pie: Oh, buttermilk pie. For the life of me, I don’t know why this pie isn’t more well-known; it’s absurdly easy to make, and every single person to whom I’ve served it has loved it. (It was probably the popular favorite this year, too.) I’ve always used this recipe, and it’s always served me well. Don’t bother with the “less sweet” version; the tartness of the buttermilk makes the ordinary version perfect, even for those who don’t like their pies too sweet.
Apple pie: So, a confession here: I’m not normally an apple pie person. I’ve made it before, but it’s never been a big part of my Thanksgiving tradition. However, at the bottom of the aforementioned pie crust recipe, the Times gave directions for a cheddar cheese crust and suggested using it for apple pie, and the combination sounded too interesting to resist. This one was probably my most mixed effort; the crust came out absolutely gorgeous, even more delicious than the regular butter crusts, and when I baked leftover scraps with a bit of Tabasco, they tasted rather like good cheese straws. However, the pie filling was only average. I mixed the apple pieces with the juice from a lemon, and layered them with heavy sprinklings of mixed flour, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. The texture was fine, but the taste just wasn’t that special; next time I’ll add a bit of molasses, bourbon, or other fruit.
And that was my Thanksgiving baking. I also made contributions to the main meal, but, while they came out well, they were fairly standard – mushroom stuffing, sweet potato casserole, gravy, cranberry sauce. Still, it was a lovely Thanksgiving, all told. The traditional foods are often the best, when they’re prepared well, and good times with good friends make any meal special.