I know there are many of you, like myself, who drag ourselves through the stalls of the farmers market rain or shine. As the season turns from summer to autumn and finally into winter, it takes a real effort to patronize the farmers markets this time of the year. Especially here in Seattle where the perpetual drizzle begins in September and ends in June.
The effort is needed not just in motivating yourself to get there and waltz around in the rain, but also in envisioning the dish hidden in the markets offerings. The produce available takes an additional effort once in your kitchen. No longer is the food ready to eat out of hand, rather we are seeing vegetables that need a lot of heat to be rendered edible, hearty greens, earthy potatoes, and plenty of root vegetables. This leaves a pastry chef with few choices.
Oh sure, there’s honey and hazelnuts, they’re always there, and the apples and pears we have been waiting for all year. But we are looking at a long stretch, and one can begin to tire of these things quickly. This leaves us to wonder, “what else can we make dessert with?” Pumpkin is nice, but what of the other squashes they tumble around the oversized bins with? Is the long necked butternut that much different than our pie pumpkins in flavor?
Not much, but just enough to make a classic thanksgiving pie better.
The flesh of the butternut is a little easier to deal with, and provides a creamier and more flavorful puree for pie. Now I doubt any who eat this pie will be able to differentiate between the squashes. Our palates are so accustomed to the trio of cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove spicing pumpkin pie, that it is common to associate those flavors more with pumpkin that the flavor of pumpkin itself. Have you ever had a pumpkin pie latte? No pumpkin there, but it sure tastes like it.
I once read in a magazine that there is absolutely no reason to extract your own pumpkin rather than using canned squash. This statement, said with too much authority, really rubbed me the wrong way. Anyone who walks the farmers market can give you a reason for each beautiful squash spilling out of the cardboard bins. They were correct, however, in assessing the difficulty of making your own puree by comparison to opening a can.
However, roasting the squash makes this task a bit easier. Simply quarter your butternut, rub it with a little neutral flavored oil to prevent the skin from drying, and pop it in a 400 degree oven. Now, walk away for about an hour. When the squash is nice and tender, allow it to cool to a temperature your hands can tolerate, and scrape the flesh from the skin. If you have a food processor, puree the squash for a minute or two, or do your best job with a potato masher. Now, freeze the squash overnight.
This step will add another day to your pie making, but your pie will be better for it. Drawing from a previous post, this additional step is a perfect example of controlling water. When freezing, the water molecules expand, and loosen themselves from the starchy puree. As they thaw and contract, they seperate and bleed out of the puree. If thawed over a strainer, the liquid drips away, leaving us with a thicker, denser, richer puree.
A benefit to taking this extra step in a restaurant, is that I can process a large amount of squash at once, store the puree in the freezer, and take what I need out over the season, ready to thaw.
This puree is going to make our chiffon more intense. A classic American pie, the family of chiffon is lightened with an egg white meringue, giving it the delicate texture it takes it’s name for. While i love the delicate texture, the flavor of the egg white isn’t quite right for me, so I have exchanged the meringue for a light, whipped cream. A caloric increase to be sure, but this pie is a rare treat, coming to us in a season of
celebration and reward buffets and gluttony.
A chocolate crumb crust laden with ground hazelnuts holds this chiffon in place, offering a deep, bittersweet balance to the richness of the pie. While on Veil’s menu the dish is accompanied by two sauces, a vanilla bean anglaise and a swipe of nutella sauce, along with hazelnut praline, pie spiced whipped cream, and nutella powder. However, when it makes it to my own thanksgiving table as it has for 3 years now, a simple vanilla whipped cream will be served aside the pie, along with dare I admit, coolwhip, a family favorite with my inlaws.
All in all, this pie should be started the two days before you want to eat it. I know it’s quite a time frame to ask of you, but most of it is wait time. It’s just that time of year, when an effort has to be made for everything from going outside to cooking the seasons offerings. I suppose this pie is a good excuse to stay in!
Butternut Chiffon Pie
One chocolate crumb crust, home made or purchased
One butternut squash, roasted, pureed, frozen, and thawed as described above
1 1/2 cups cream, kept cold to whip
2 cups butternut puree
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp clove
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup whole milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
5 sheets of gelatin, re-hydrated in ice water. (approximately 4 tsp granulated gelatin sprinkled over 1/2 cup water until hydrated, and melted over low heat.)
1. In a medium saucepan, cook the squash puree, brown sugar, and spices over low heat. Stir to avoid scorching for about 2 minutes, until the puree is glossy.
2. Transfer the puree to a food processor, and turn it on. Spin the puree for 2 minutes.
3. Add the milk and spin for 1 minute. Scrape the sides of the work bowl down and add the eggs. Pulse until the eggs are evenly distributed.
4. Transfer the pie filling back to a medium sauce pan, and cook over low heat, stirring constantly. Continue cooking until the mixture thickens a bit, as a custard would, about 3-5 minutes. Add the softened gelatin and cook until it is completely dissolved evenly distributed.
5. Transfer the squash filling to a bowl, and cool it on the counter until it is cool enough to fold in whipped cream without melting it, about room temperature.
6. When the squash filling is cool, whip the cream to soft peaks. Fold the whipped cream into the squash in 3 additions. Transfer the chiffon to the prepared pie crust and chill for 4 hours, or overnight.