I know Thanksgiving is over. It doesn't matter. You have to go, now, to buy yourself some butternut squash and make this pie. Because it could be among the greatest squash pies ever made. If I had stars on this blog, this pie would get most of them. It's better even than Rose Levy Beranbaum's pumpkin pie with gingersnaps spread out over the crust, which was my all-time favorite up until this Thanksgiving. Move over, Rose. There's a new pie in town.
Last Thanksgiving, Kay Rentschler wrote an article about the glory of butternut squash. I clipped only the pie recipe (and the squash roasting recipe, which was a total dud, but more on that beyond this parenthesis), and produced it with a flourish when my stepmother kindly agreed to let me take over the Thanksgiving baking this year (I made three pies, dear readers. Three. In one day. My brain exploded neatly onto my plate after that.).
The pie has the usual holiday spices - ginger, cinnamon, fresh nutmeg, but then the filling gets punched up with a pinch of cayenne pepper. The pie would also be my first foray into cooking with vegetable shortening, something my nutritionally-sound self would normally wrinkle her nose at. What could be better than an all-butter crust? Well, the joke's on me. Apparently, ones made with (trans-fat-free, thanks to Whole Foods) vegetable shortening and butter are delicious.
A note on the recipe now. I don't know what kind of oven Ms. Rentschler was using. But instructions to bake chunks of butternut squash in a 200-degree oven will not do. A 200-degree oven will warm plates or dry out meringue. It will not roast squash to a melting, caramelized state. I was foolish enough to try this temperature out for an hour and a half before cranking up the dial. So, note on your printouts of the recipe that the squash should go into an oven at 350 degrees, for an hour or so (you'll know when your squash is done - it will be caramelized and soft). We don't have a foodmill, so after the roasting I put the chunks of squash in a food processor and blitzed them to a velvety puree.
I made the crust in the food processor the night before, and chilled the round of dough overnight before rolling it out (and developing some serious triceps. Did I mention the three pies I made? DID I?) and fitting it into a pie plate and fluting the edges.
This crust was fitted with aluminum foil and filled with dried beans before going into the oven to bake partially.
Incidentally, the recipe calls for a pizza stone to heat up in the oven and for the pie to be baked on this stone. We did away with this, and the pie was a revelation, so unless you have a pizza stone lying about, don't bother with this step. While the crust was baking, I beat together the filling, and also put together a handy-dandy mise-en-place - look closely and you might even see the cayenne peeking out amongst the spices. I filled the hot crust with the filling and stuck the whole thing into a 300-degree oven, as per the recipe.
If you're wondering, you guessed right: this is too low for pie-baking (unless your pizza stone does all the work?). After 40 minutes, I had to turn the temperature up to 325 degrees. The pie was done after another half hour. It had puffed up nicely, and still jiggled in the middle a bit.
When it cooled, the filling sank down a bit and a little crack developed. I'm not obsessed with cracking pies - I think it gives them character.
I was eating leftover slices of this until yesterday. It was so good, even cold and a few days old. The freshly-made pie had a bit of heat and warmth to it, but nobody guessed what the secret ingredient was. The squashiness of the butternut shone through beautifully, and the custard was firm but light.
Butternut Squash Pie
Yields 1 9-inch pie
For the crust:
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
Scant 1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons solid vegetable shortening, chilled
5 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, in 5 pieces
4 teaspoons beaten egg from 1 large egg
For the filling:
2 large eggs plus 2 egg yolks
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Pinch cayenne pepper
1 1/2 cups roasted squash purée, packed (see below)
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
1. For the crust: Combine flour and salt in food processor bowl, and pulse. Remove lid, scatter vegetable shortening and butter over surface, and pulse 5 or 6 times.
2. Combine beaten egg and 3 tablespoons ice water. Pulse liquid into dry ingredients, continuing until mixture is evenly moist and dough looks curdy, 10 seconds. Turn onto work surface, and press firmly into disc, adding drops of water if dough feels dry. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 30 minutes or overnight.
3. Roll dough into 15-inch round on lightly floured surface, and fit into shallow 9-inch pie pan. Trim and crimp edges. Refrigerate 1 hour. Meanwhile preheat the oven at 425 degrees.
4. Line chilled pie pan with aluminum foil and fill with dried beans or pie weights. Bake 25 minutes. Remove foil, and bake until crust dries out and crimped edges begin to color, 3 to 5 minutes. Lower heat to 325.
5. While crust bakes, prepare filling: combine eggs, vanilla, sugars, salt and spices in food processor, and process until smooth. Add squash purée, and process until smooth. With machine running, pour in heavy cream, and process to combine. Scrape filling into hot prebaked shell and until filling is set 2/3 in from perimeter and center still jiggles, about 30-40 minutes. Remove from oven, and cool to room temperature on rack. Garnish with whipped cream if desired. Serve.
Yields 3 cups
2 3 1/2- to 4-pound butternut squashes, scrubbed
Grapeseed oil spray
1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 12-by-15-inch rimmed sheetpan with aluminum foil, and spray with grapeseed oil. Trim off stem end, then cut through squashes horizontally where bulb begins. Reserve bulb for another use. Cut squash necks in two lengthwise. Slice into 1-inch sections and arrange on sheet pan.
2. Bake, turning occasionally, until squash is tender and beginning to caramelize, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Cool slightly, trim skin away with paring knife, and force flesh through food mill. Use immediately in pie or place in plastic container with lid, and refrigerate up to 4 days; freeze up to 2 months.