Pumpkin Pie + Homemade Pie Crust

pumpkin pie

OK, I know what you’re thinking: pumpkin pie in December? Why don’t I just put on a Halloween costume and sing the Star-Spangled Banner while I’m at it? Listen, I know. Pumpkin pie is traditionally associated with Thanksgiving, and I know, here we are, a few days from Christmas—a time decidedly post-Thanksgiving.

But I’ve thought this one through, and I’m bringing it to you today, anyway, despite the backwards holiday timing and seeming ignorance of appropriate blog content. I’m doing it for two reasons:

  1. This is the best pumpkin pie I’ve ever had.
  2. I can’t stop making it.

(Oh and PS: pie pumpkins are currently on sale at my grocery store, so hello?)

homemade pumpkin pie

I’m also posting this now because it includes a pie crust recipe! for a homemade crust! (Once you start making excuses, it’s hard to stop.) I’ve posted this dough recipe before, with a quiche in early November, but I’ve since made it with all my pumpkin pies, as well as another version of that creamy pear pie, and I’ll be darned if it hasn’t been flaky, buttery goodness every. single. time.

If you remember nothing else from this post, remember this: if you have a cup of flour and a stick of butter, you have a pie crust. No kidding.

homemade pumpkin pie

And the final thing, the one that really sends this post over the top, is that it comes with a story. See, once upon a time, a year and a half ago, my friend Wendi made a pumpkin pie for a party. She said it was based on this five-star (and 258 reviews) version from AllRecipes, with just a few tweaks that she was happy to pass along. Shortly after that, my brother made the pie. I made the pie. It couldn’t turn out bad. The key seems to be that creamy, spiced, custard-like filling—made with real pumpkin, not the kind from a can—and even though the original is supposed to be best after sitting overnight, I think there’s nothing like a hot, steaming piece fresh out of the oven.

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Gruyère Quiche with Caramelized Red Pepper, Red Onion and Greens

I bought a new purse last week, for the first time since 2006, all because I asked a stranger in a bathroom where she got hers, and she said Target. I enjoy mushrooms now, after 27 years of hating them, because reading this blog post made me want to. I like reading Bon Appetit because I like reading how this girl writes. I’ve taken a photo almost every day this year because I’ve watched other people do it and been motivated.

In cooking as in life, inspiration to try new things can come from almost anywhere. It can be a conversation with a stranger, an article you notice, something quick you look at, maybe sometimes something you read on a blog like this one. For me, with this quiche, it was even simpler: a solid white pan.

ingredients for quiche

The white dish I’m referencing is not mine, but it’s my brother’s, one he set on the counter the other day, and every time I’ve walked into the kitchen and seen it, I’ve thought, Quiche! That pan needs a quiche! So although making homemade pie crusts is not high on my life’s to-do list, I saw no way around it: a store-bought crust could make a quiche, but a store-bought crust could not use that pan. I knew what I had to do.

quiche crust

Turns out the process couldn’t have been simpler. Tuesday night, I mixed flour and salt, cut in butter, added water, and formed the dough into a ball, wrapping it in plastic and sticking it in the fridge. I think it took 15 minutes. Wednesday, I pulled out the dough, rolled it out on parchment (with the confidence that only making perfect homemade apple strudel could have given me) and pressed it into the quiche pan, cutting the edges off the sides.

finished quiche

Choosing the type of quiche was even easier. I looked at what I already had in the kitchen—a red pepper, a red onion, gruyere, some random greens—and found a recipe that made the most of those things. Inspiration by necessity! It begins with caramelizing the vegetables, a step that fills your kitchen with the most incredible aroma of browning peppers and onions mixed with coconut oil. Then you saute the greens, mix all those things with eggs, milk, and cheese, and bam: a golden, flaky quiche with the colors of Christmastime.

sliced quiche

The only change I’d make next time is extra salt—the original recipe said to add to taste, but you add the salt to the cooking peppers and onions, so it’s hard to judge at that point, so now I’d just say to be generous—because when I pulled this out of the oven, it was not only delicious but utterly beautiful, the kind of beautiful that makes you want to take a picture when you don’t have a food blog or have someone over for brunch although it’s not Saturday morning or, you know, make a quiche even without this pretty white pan to put it in.

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Pear Custard Pie in Spelt Pie Crust

Once upon a time, a girl decided to surprise her boyfriend for the weekend. It’s a classic story: she booked a plane ticket, got his friends involved and, hardest of all, fought to keep from spilling the beans beforehand. There were two months of wait time from idea to fruition, which meant lots of vague conversations and deceptive communication meant to throw him off along the way. But finally, early November came.

three pears for pear pie

She made phone plans with him for the day she was to arrive—or really, and maybe she should have seen this as a clue or as the thing we’d call foreshadowing in English class, he made phone plans with her, to cook something at the same time, from their separate cities. When she’d talked about her blog and how she’d been lacking inspiration for it (as those of you on Facebook know all about), he’d suggested this idea, and she’d said, Something with pears! Because they’ll be on sale! And she’d laughed to herself the whole time thinking, aha! he has no idea I’m coming!

making pear pie

That Saturday, after she’d landed at the airport and after she and her friend and ally had driven to his house, analyzing every option of how to actually work out the moment of surprise, they drove up to his door, ready for the sure shock that was to come, and surprise! The joke was on her—and at least it was on her friend, too—because are you ready for this? He had known the whole time, had accidentally read a Facebook message on her phone months before. So there he was, greeting her at the door. With flowers. And an entire meal. Of homemade ravioli, tomato sauce and braciole.

I know.

pear pie ready to bake

As if that wasn’t enough, two days later, they still made pear pie. And it was delicious.

streusel topping for pear pie

So to keep me from any further gushing about things other than food, let’s talk about that pear pie. Have you ever had a pie with pears? I hadn’t. Actually, I’d never even heard of it until last week, researching pear recipes. People say it’s a little like apple pie or, as in this version, like a Dutch apple pie because of the creamy custard and streusel topping.

pear pie

Since generally speaking I like pears more than apples and since there’s nothing quite like the creamy, sweet tang of a good custard, this pie is a brilliant combination.

We just used a simple store-bought pie crust (there are spelt ones in the frozen section at Whole Foods, if you’re looking for a good option), so all that was involved with this was peeling and slicing the pears (me) and mixing up ingredients (him).

piece of pear pie

It bakes for about an hour and fresh out of the oven, it’s hard to slice, so if you can wait, it’s better to let it cool and chill for a while before cutting a piece.

If you can’t wait, though—and hey, we’d get along well—then scoop it out and enjoy the creamy goodness right away.

Eating it with someone you like even more than the pie? That’s entirely optional.

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How to Make the Perfect Apple Strudel

apples

After three attempts, two days and one satisfying result, I can honestly say I know something today I didn’t know a week ago—well, make that, I know a lot of somethings, and they all have to do with one thing, the kind of thing that’s no small feat, especially when you’re a slow learner (hand raised!) and prone to catastrophe (why yes, that was me that put wax paper in the oven on attempt #1)—I now know how to make the perfect apple strudel. There are bigger accomplishments to be made in life than this, I know, but there are few I’d be more happy about and few I’d be more excited to share with you.

So here is the story.

green apples in basket

You could say things began last Saturday, at an evening wedding on the lake, where all the tables in a big white tent in Michigan were topped by gorgeous, green apples and a certain beautiful bride insisted we take a whole basket home with us, because have you read her blog? she’s always generous like that and, our arms full while we walked to the car, we brainstormed what to do with them.

chopped apples

But in another way, you could say the story starts even earlier than that—decades earlier—in a small Maywood kitchen where my grandma liked to bake and in the house I grew up in, where my mom liked to make her recipes. I found the original version of this strudel, one in Grandma’s writing, one in Mom’s, tucked into an overflowing cookbook, the kind you have to hold carefully or papers start falling out, and although there were many [crucial! important! why-don’t-you-guys-write-this-stuff-down?] instructions missing, my third attempt at following it was a charm, particularly when I enlisted my mom’s trained eye for help.

strudel filling

Secret #1: With apple strudel, it’s all about technique.
There are many things you can fudge on: slice the apples, dice the apples; add nuts and raisins to the filling or leave them out; make one strudel or make them two at a time (the way the women in my family liked to). But one thing you can’t alter is the way you roll out the dough and spread the filling in a compact, uniform mountain right in the center. It should be high and even and just in the center of the dough. This is key.

strudel ready to bake

Secret #2: You don’t have to chill the dough. This is mind-blowing. I mean, the original instructions insist you refrigerate the dough, in wax paper, for eight hours or overnight, but: Mom has never done this, and now I’m just guessing Grandma didn’t either. I could launch into a long aside here about how home cooks really should write their recipes down accurately! for posterity! for struggling granddaughters! But I already whined about this to my mom, so I’ll just assume you all know this and we’ll move on.

baked strudel

Secret #3: You control the dough. I could have called this one, Use lots of flour or This is why you don’t have to chill it, but I like mentioning control because it emphasizes how the power is in your hands, literally. The dough will seem very sticky and elastic when you first work with it, but you are free (as free as can be!) to add flour to get stuck pieces off the parchment paper, to make the dough move around better, to just get it feeling the way you want. You’ll know when it’s the right amount because the dough will roll out easily and yet not stick uncontrollably. It’s magical.

slice of apple strudel

Secret #4: It’s OK if it leaks in the oven. Listen, the pastry dough is thin (that’s what makes it all flaky and buttery and mmmm), and the filling is wet, so you may have some leakage. That’s totally fine. Use a rimmed baking sheet, and make a little parchment paper wall around the strudel if you want, rolling up the edges. It will still taste good.

apple strudel and a fork

All these secrets would mean nothing if it weren’t for the results: a long, golden strudel with flaky crust surrounding hot, apple-pie-like insides with nuts and raisins and gooey sweetness. Have it with hot coffee! Top it with vanilla ice cream! Eat it on its own! This is an apple strudel to be excited about. And I am.

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