THE TROUBLE BEGAN HERE: an attractive photo in a cooking magazine for “pumpkin caramel tart with toasted hazelnut crust.” It was just before Thanksgiving, when I was considering what I could bring for dessert — and it was tempting.
I should have known better. Our Thanksgiving hosts, Nellie and Marc, had said their theme for the food this year was “tried and true.” Which really should be a theme every year for Thanksgiving, in my humble opinion. I mean, so many people look forward to those traditional foods — maybe with a few tweaks here and there — why disappoint them?
So why couldn’t I just make a good old pumpkin pie — the kind I’d made many times before? But no, lured by the glossy photo and the promise of “ease,” I gave in to temptation.
Two days before Thanksgiving, I made the crust, and it really was pretty easy. So far so good.
My plan was to make the filling and bake the pie the next morning. I’d just change one or two little things. Wouldn’t it be nice, I thought, to add a little sweet potato to the pumpkin filling? However, I hadn’t baked the sweet potato quite long enough, and it wouldn’t blend in, even when attacked with the mixer. Since lumpy filling just would not do, I walked to the store to buy another can of pumpkin puree.
The morning was gone by the time I got to the next step, making the caramel sauce. I melted sugar and swirled it in the pan till caramelized, then added the cream. No, not really cream. As I wanted a lactose-intolerant guest to enjoy this pie, I had decided to use coconut milk. But I had only light coconut milk, and I wasn’t sure this was going to work as well as cream. Oh well, I was NOT going to go back to the store. I mixed up the ingredients and put it in the oven.
The recipe said that the filling would be firm on the sides and slightly jiggly in the middle after 30 to 35 minutes. I checked after 30 minutes and panicked. It was totally liquid — like pumpkin soup! No way would it be firm in another 5 minutes. I turned the springform pan this way and that, closed the oven door and set the timer for 10 minutes. To my amazement, in 10 minutes the filling had actually set, and the tart was ready to come out of the oven.
But now there was a BIG problem. While some of the muddy-looking filling had slopped over the crust, a large sinkhole had developed — and weirdly, not even in the middle of the pie/tart, but off-center. ( I couldn’t fill the crater with whipped cream, as that would have defeated the no-lactose attempt.) Meanwhile, I had tried to caramelize some hazelnuts for decoration but this effort failed too, and the nuts ended up crusty with sugar rather than the shiny caramelized ones of the photo.
IN SHORT, THIS WAS NOT the pretty pie of the glossy photo! Not at all. I debated starting over and making a regular pumpkin pie but I was thoroughly sick of being in the kitchen at this point. I gave up and went to my yoga class.
The next day — Thanksgiving — I opened the refrigerator and witnessed a semi-miracle. The contents of the pie seemed to have shifted so the sinkhole had diminished. It was now merely a depression. I still didn’t know how it would taste, but the kitchen seemed welcoming again as I cooked another batch of cranberry sauce and blanched some green beans. I nestled the pan into a box for its trip to the Thanksgiving feast.
By the time we got to Thanksgiving dessert, I wasn’t too worried — perhaps an effect of the abundant food and wine. So what if it wasn’t the world’s best or prettiest pie? I’d dressed up the top with candied (not caramelized) hazelnuts and you could barely see the former sinkhole. What’s more, it tasted pretty darn good, and the slices quickly disappeared off the platter.
But would I make this recipe again? I already knew the answer before I even took one bite. No, no, and no.
I gave the magazine away right after I took the photo for this blog post. I have learned my lesson. A pumpkin pie would have been just as good (allowing for my usual tweaking and minor experimentation) — and I wouldn’t have had all that stupid agonizing.
So I’ve resolved: from now on, I’m not going to be a sucker for the glossy photos and complicated new recipes– especially on the big occasions, like Thanksgiving.
My new motto: Keep it simple. Keep it classic. Keep enjoying the cooking.
p.s. That filling that I couldn’t use because it seemed lumpy? I used it today in a classic little pumpkin pie that really was easy to make (and the filling wasn’t lumpy after all). The experimental part was a cornmeal crust that I saw on the wonderful pie blog, Nothing in the House. So good!