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It's Pumpkin, Under an Elegant Puff

Pumpkin pie three ways: far left, store-bought; encased in puff pastry, left, and  spiked with apple butter.
Pumpkin pie three ways: far left, store-bought; encased in puff pastry, left, and spiked with apple butter. (Photos By Julia Ewan -- The Washington Post)
By Joe Yonan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 19, 2006

Enough time has passed since the anti-French days of "freedom fries" for me to make a confession: For the past six years, when it's time for pumpkin pie on the most American of holidays, I've been making Tourte au Potiron.

Like many of the food-obsessed, I certainly have my moments of Francophilia, especially when it comes to pastry. I can discuss the finer points of tarte tatin. I know the difference between Chantilly cream and mousseline.

And when it comes to traditional Thanksgiving desserts, I'm usually disappointed. Too many pecan pies are cursed with the sweet goop between crunchy nuts and flaky crust, and too many pumpkin pies leave a bad taste in my mouth: of nutmeg, clove, allspice and cinnamon, rarely anything resembling actual pumpkin. No offense to my Indiana-born mother, who had enough on her plate trying to get the holiday meal together for seven kids (some with kids of their own) without too much fuss, but hers was no exception.

Paris chef Guy Savoy's approach came into my world none too soon. Featured in a rapturous Saveur magazine article by the late, great R.W. Apple Jr., it is two-thirds pumpkin, one-third apple. Rather than call for the cook to reach for a can, it celebrates a vegetable that is gloriously in season. Rather than whip puree into a custard and weigh it down with those heavy spices, you cook fresh pumpkin with tart apples and a healthy dose of vanilla bean, then combine with pecans for crunch.

Best of all, you wrap it in puff pastry before baking. The result is bright, buttery and none too sweet. And it actually tastes like pumpkin.

As a new culinary school graduate who insisted on everything from scratch, I made it the first couple of times with my own puff pastry: rolled, turned, chilled, repeated. That insistence, especially after peeling, seeding and chopping up the pumpkin, certainly made the dessert into a project. Now that I'm a busy editor, frozen pastry dough makes it a breeze.

The pie has been on the menu at my Thanksgiving feast of choice, hosted by my sister and brother-in-law in southern Maine, virtually since I read about it in 2000. A French-style pie might sound too highfalutin for semi-rural New England, but that's only because you haven't been to their place on Heart's Content Road.

Last year, I roasted a spatchcocked turkey in under an hour in their wood-fired bread oven. This year, I think the same intense heat will be perfect for a puff pastry that shows off the fruits of their huge organic garden.


Tourte au Potiron (French Pumpkin Pie)

8 servings

Bake this nontraditional pumpkin pie the same day you plan to eat it, but feel free to make the pumpkin-apple filling the day before and refrigerate it. The crust turns out best if the filling and puff pastry dough are almost frozen when the pie goes in the oven. Serve with unsweetened whipped cream or creme fraiche. Adapted from the November 2000 issue of Saveur magazine.

6 tablespoons ( 3/4 stick) unsalted butter

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