When I first began to cook and bake almost 13 years ago, Epicurious might have been my greatest teacher. My fondness for the site spoke to my love of aesthetics — I would never create a recipe without seeing a visual first. I would pore over the reviews obsessively, which also spoke to my perfectionism. Perhaps I had too much time on my hands, being a young wife and mom with an infant at home and no career to speak of, but more so, I just wanted to create delicious food. I wanted to create food that would simply blow me away, teach me something in the process, and swoon my guests. Anything less than stellar was simply unacceptable to me. So guided by this rather stringent set of rules, I read each and every review before deciding to make a recipe. Often I would combine recipes, taking the sauce from one with the braising technique from another, or mashing together various bits and bobs from one dessert and mixing my unique version with yet another. And what’s funny now that I think about it is how Victor’s career at the time was heavily focused on remixing — he was creating dance tracks for Madonna, Sting, and Beyoncé, taking their lyrics and rewriting the music for a club version. In a way, what I was doing was whipping up my own remixes in the kitchen.
Well, today we have a Thanksgiving EyeSwoon remix coming at you. It’s reminiscent of my old baking habits, as I have truly concocted a mélange of a few recipes here. So pumpkin pie happens to be one of my absolute favorite desserts at this time of year, but truth be told, I had never made one that knocked my swoony socks off until this iteration! I really needed a smooth and creamy filling that was not too dense, and bursting with flavor and spice. I found exactly that and more when I came upon this bourbon-maple pumpkin pie recipe from Bon Appétit. I promise you THIS is the only pumpkin filling you will ever need. The bourbon and maple swirling together with just the right level of spices elevate the silky filling to swoon status! So, this became my base.
I also needed a ridiculously flaky crust. Lucky for me, last week at a Friendsgiving I attended at the Food52 test kitchen, I got to chatting with Food52 co-founder and CEO Amanda Hesser about pie dough. She was singing the praises of a recipe from her newest cookbook that originated from baker and blogger Rose Levy Beranbaum. The secret ingredient is cream cheese, which she swears by, thanks to its tender and flaky results. In my kitchen I have no use for a soggy crust. So to help combat the age-old limp pumpkin pie crust problem, there are two surefire tricks. One is blind baking the crust, which is a fancy way to say to bake it first, before adding the filling. You will also always want to weigh down the dough, lining parchment with pie weights, beans or rice to press down on the dough to avoid puffing. Another guaranteed tip for flakiness is to brush your dough with an egg wash, which acts as a sealant so that the loose pie filling does not penetrate the crust. Presentation-wise, I also wanted to elevate the classic pie just a touch by making it in a removable tart pan instead of a pie tin. And finally, I always need texture in my food, so I chose to toast up some kasha in butter and threw in a few salted pepitas for variation.
I suppose the moral of this story is, get creative when reading recipes. Allow yourself to borrow from others and be inspired by others. No one has your exact palate, and while many recipes are developed, tested and studied in test kitchens in order to provide the swooniest of results, sometimes your spin on someone else’s idea can result in your own version of perfect. Do your research, read reviews, play with flavors, and have fun along the way. While I love developing my own recipes and just got through more than 100 for my cookbook, stepping into my husband’s line of remix work this Thanksgiving pretty much rocked my world. And for that, I have gratitude. I will be making this again for Turkey Day, and perhaps I will play a remix from Madonna’s Ray of Light album as I serve it!