The perfect antidote for working so hard that you honestly don't know what day it is anymore and the sun rises and sets without you even noticing? Old friends and good food.
Two of my wonderful linguist friends from college came to
For lunch, we whipped up a vegan feast, gossiping, giggling, and reminiscing with each other while cooking away in the kitchen:
arugula, pomegranate, toasted walnut, and candied ginger salad with lemon-tangerine vinaigrette
roasted acorn squash with sage, meyer lemon zest, cherry wood-aged balsamic vinegar
sauteed kale with onions and fresh cranberries
mint and licorice tea
Danish chocolate wafers and coconut-cinnamon sorbet
After living on almost nothing but frozen pasta'n'cheese, peas'n'carrots, and strawberry lemonade from Chez Trader Joe's for the past few weeks of paper-writing and finals, this meal was exactly what I needed: fresh, in-season, minimally and beautifully prepared greens and reds and oranges and whites, with a side of lovely conversation, familiar company, smiles, and laughter. Food for the soul, indeed.
In the evening, after one of my friends had to leave, my other friend and I were commiserating about both having sadly missed out on pumpkin pie this year for Thanksgiving when it hit us: we clearly needed to right this wrong and make pumpkin pie. And so we did, and I have to say, this pumpkin pie with caramel brandy hard sauce is probably my favorite pumpkin pie I've made to date. The crust is super flakey, brushed at the last moment in the oven with heavy cream and sprinkled with turbinado sugar to give it extra gloss and crunch. The filling is the perfect custardy consistency, packed with spices and not overly sweet at all. But what really, really makes the entire pie is the caramel brandy hard sauce very generously drizzled on top. Caramel on its own is good, but caramel with brandy? We were eating the stuff straight out of the pot before it even hit the pie.
So if you feel overworked this holiday season, here's my prescription for you: old friends, raucous laughter, a fresh, hearty meal, and caramel brandy hard sauce (really, the pie is optional). That combination will cure a lot.
Read on for recipe...
Pumpkin pie with caramel brandy hard sauce
makes two 4.5" pies
for pumpkin puree:
1 small pumpkin
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
2. Split the pumpkin in half and scoop out the seeds. Discard the seeds.
3. Place the pumpkin halves face down on a baking sheet with sides.
4. Bake for 1 hour until fork-tender. Remove from oven and let cool.
5. Puree the pumpkin pulp in a food processor until smooth.
1 1/2 cups AP flour
1/4 tspn salt
1/2 cup butter, cold, in small cubes
4 Tbspn water, cold
for pumpkin filling:
3/4 cup pumpkin puree
2 Tbspn dark brown sugar
white sugar, to taste
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup whole milk
pumpkin pie spices, to taste (try: ginger, clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, cardamom, white pepper)
heavy cream, opt., for crust
turbinado sugar, opt., for crust
1. Combine the flour and salt in a bowl.
2. Using a pastry cutter, cut the cold butter into the flour until the size of small peas.
3. Gradually add the water, 1 Tbspn at a time until, when you press the dough between your fingers, it holds together. Do not overmix!
4. Wrap the dough in parchment paper or plastic wrap and chill for at least 1 hour.
5. Meanwhile, make the pumpkin filling. Combine the pumpkin puree, brown sugar, white sugar (if using), eggs, 1/4 cup heavy cream, and 1/4 cup whole milk into a bowl and mix thoroughly. Set aside.
6. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
7. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and roll it out, about 1/8" thick. Place the dough into the pie plates and crimp the edges. Using a fork, pierce the bottom of the crust several times.
8. If the dough has become soft from rolling, place in the freezer for about 5-10 minutes.
9. Line the inside of the pie crusts with parchment paper and fill with pie weights or dry beans.
10. Bake for 15-17 minutes, then remove from oven. Remove the beans and parchment paper and, if desired, line the edge of the pie crust with foil. Return to the oven for 5-7 more minutes until the crust is golden. Remove and fill with pumpkin filling.
11. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F. Bake the pumpkin pies for 30 minutes, then brush the exposed crusts with heavy cream and sprinkle with turbinado sugar, if using. Return the pies to the oven and continue to bake for ~10-15 additional minutes until pie is mostly set but jiggles just slightly in the middle when gently bumped.
12. Remove from oven and let cool briefly. Serve warm with caramel brandy hard sauce (recipe below).
[pumpkin pie filling recipe adapted from Chez Panisse Desserts]
Caramel brandy hard sauce
1/2 cup sugar
3 Tbspn butter
1/4 cup heavy cream
1-2 Tbspn brandy, to taste
1. Have all ingredients pre-measured and ready next to the stove.
2. In a small light-colored saucepan (with tall sides, preferably), wet the sugar with just enough water to make it the consistency of wet sand (~1 - 1 1/12 Tbspn water).
3. Cook the sugar on medium heat. Do not stir once the sugar starts boiling--swirl the pan around gently instead to insure even cooking. Cook until the sugar is a deep amber color. Immediately add the butter and whisk thoroughly. Be careful--this will splutter!
4. As soon as the butter has completely melted, remove from heat and carefully add the heavy cream, whisking continuously.
5. Once the cream has incorporated, pour the caramel into another heat-resistant container to cool, straining through a fine mesh sieve to remove unevenly cooked sugar, if necessary. Let cool briefly and whisk in brandy to taste. Caramel will continue to thicken as it cools.