Seasonal Pie Debate

Which is best? Sweet potato or pumpkin?

Cathy Barrow knows a thing or two about pies. So we tapped the author of Pie Squared and When Pies Fly (Grand Central Publishing) to settle the seasonal sweet potato vs. pumpkin debate. 

“Many folks see sweet potato and pumpkin pies as interchangeable, but they are so different!” Barrow declares. “Sweet potatoes are sweeter and have less moisture which means you’ll avoid a soggy bottom crust. But they can also get dry, so I’ll add an egg or egg yolk. And I love to add maple syrup to support that sweet potato filling.” 

Barrows prefers pumpkin pies chiffon-style, made with gelatin vs. custard. “This ensures the filling sets,” she explains. “They both represent autumn to me, but sweet potato pie represents breakfast. And pumpkin pie is always after dinner.” CathyBarrow.com


PUMPKIN CHIFFON SLAB PIE WITH AN AMARETTI CRUST 

Serves 12 to 16

I’m going to admit something. I’m not a fan of most pumpkin pies. When faced with a table full of options, it’s the last slice I’ll put on my plate. However, this chiffon version changed my mind. It’s an airy wisp of a fluffy pie, laced with the sultry flavors of fall and a rich almond cookie crust. Gelatin is the key to the cloud-like texture of the filling. 

There are two critical junctures, so play close attention: First, when beating the egg whites, find the place where they are fluffy and high peaked, but moist, not dry. Dry whites will cause graininess in the finished pie. 

And next, when cooling the custard, don’t let it set up before folding in the egg whites or it will never combine; but don’t fold in the egg whites if the filling is still warm or their lift will disappear. It’s a tightrope walk. Check the heat of the custard on the inside of your wrist. If it still feels warm, it’s too warm. 

Make Ahead: Plan for 4 hours or more to chill the pie before serving. The crust may be made a day or two in advance. The entire pie may be made 1 day in advance. 

AMARETTI CRUST 

  • 29 amaretti cookies (225 g), crushed (about 2 cups) 
  • 8 tablespoons (113 g) unsalted butter, melted 
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt

FILLING 

  • 1 tablespoon (7 g) (one ¼-ounce packet) powdered unflavored gelatin 
  • ¼ cup (60 ml) cool water 
  • 1 (15-ounce) can (425 g) pumpkin purée (1½ cups) 
  • ½ cup packed (100 g) light brown sugar 
  • 5 large eggs, separated 
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract 
  • ¼ teaspoon allspice 
  • Scant ⅛ teaspoon ground cloves 
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt 
  • ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar 

TOPPING 

  • 1½ cups (360 ml) heavy cream
  • 3 tablespoons powdered sugar

For the crust: Heat the oven to 350°F; if you have one, place a baking stone, Baking Steel, or inverted baking sheet on the center rack to heat (see here). 

In a large bowl, combine the amaretti crumbs, melted butter, and salt using a firm spatula and pressing the mixture against the side of the bowl until it is cohesive and the crumbs are thoroughly buttered. 

Dump the wet crumbs into the slab pie pan and press up the sides of the pan before filling in along the bottom. Take your time pressing the crust in, using the side of your hand or a metal measuring cup to form a good edge and a smooth base until the crust feels firm to the touch. 

Slide the pan into the oven (on top of the steel, stone, or baking sheet if using) and bake until lightly browned, about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool. 

For the filling: In a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over the cool water and let it absorb the water for about 5 minutes (this step is called blooming). Set up an ice bath with a large bowl filled with ice water. 

Place a medium saucepan half filled with water on the stove and heat until simmering. In a large heatproof bowl, whisk the pumpkin, brown sugar, egg yolks, cinnamon, vanilla, allspice, cloves, and salt until well combined and no streaks of yellow remain. 

Place the bowl over the simmering water. Cook the custard to 170°F, stirring with a rubber spatula as it thickens, dries out a bit, and becomes smooth, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove the bowl from the heat and stir in the bloomed gelatin until it melts. 

Place the bowl over the ice bath and whisk as it cools to slightly warmer than room temperature, about 85°F. To keep the custard from setting, remove the bowl from the ice bath while whipping the egg whites. In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment or in a large bowl with a hand mixer, whip the egg whites on high until frothy. 

Add the cream of tartar (which makes the egg whites more stable) and continue whipping until the whites are shiny, the beater leaves a trail, and when lifted, forms medium peaks, another 3 or 4 minutes. Stir one-third of the egg whites into the pumpkin custard until incorporated and the custard is lightened. 

Add the remaining egg whites and, using a large, flat rubber spatula, gently fold the custard and egg whites together until thoroughly and carefully combined with no large white streaks, while not deflating the egg whites. Gently pour the mixture into the cooled crust, cover, and refrigerate until firm, about 4 hours. 

For the topping: In the work bowl of a stand mixer, whip the cream, increasing the speed as soft peaks form, until it begins to thicken, adding the powdered sugar one spoonful at a time. Beat until the whisk leaves a trail in the stiffened cream and forms high peaks. Spoon the cream on top of the completely cooled chiffon. Make peaks with the back of a tablespoon, smooth the whipped cream from edge to edge with an offset spatula, or add a dollop to each serving. Refrigerate again for at least 2 hours.

The pie is even better if it chills overnight and develops an even stronger autumnal flavor.


SESAME SWEET POTATO SLAB PIE WITH A GINGERSNAP CRUST 

Serves 12 to 16 

This sweet potato pie is shot through with miso and sesame oil for an umami-rich undercurrent offset by the spicy, sweet gingersnap crust. The pie may be made a day in advance, covered and refrigerated. Bring to room temperature before serving. 

GINGERSNAP CRUST 

  • 35 gingersnaps, (8 ounces, 225 g), crushed to a fine powder (about 2 cups) 
  • 8 tablespoons (113 g) unsalted butter, melted 
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt

FILLING 

  • 1½ pounds (680 g) orange sweet potatoes (about 3) 
  • ½ cup packed (100 g) light brown sugar 
  • 3 tablespoons (42 g) unsalted butter, melted 
  • 2 tablespoons white miso 
  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil 
  • ½ teaspoon ground ginger 
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt 
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 
  • 3 large eggs, separated 
  • 1 cup (235 ml) full-fat coconut milk 

TOPPING 

  • 1 cup (227 g) sour cream or labne 
  • 2 tablespoons or toasted sesame seeds

For the crust: Heat the oven to 350°F; if you have one, place a baking stone, Baking Steel, or inverted baking sheet on the center rack to heat (see here). 

Combine the gingersnap crumbs, melted butter, and salt in a medium bowl, pressing the mixture against the side of the bowl until it is cohesive and the crumbs are thoroughly buttered. Dump the wet crumbs into the slab pie pan and press the mixture evenly along the bottom. Crust should feel firm to the touch. Slide the pan into the oven (on top of the steel, stone, or baking sheet if using) and bake until lightly browned, about 20 minutes. The crust may emerge still damp, but as it cools it will firm up. 

For the filling: Increase oven temperature to 400°F. Roast sweet potatoes on a parchment-lined baking sheet for 50 to 60 minutes, until fork-tender. Reduce oven temperature to 375°F. Slice potatoes open to cool. Scoop out flesh and smash with a fork to remove lumps; there should be about 1½ packed cups. 

Place mashed sweet potatoe, brown sugar, melted butter, miso, sesame oil, ginger, salt, and pepper together in the bowl of a stand mixer and combine using the whisk attachment. Add egg yolks, one at a time, beating between each addition. Pour in coconut milk and beat until smooth and light. Pour the mixture into a large mixing bowl. Clean the bowl from the stand mixer. 

Place the egg whites in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat until medium peaks form, 3 to 4 minutes. Spoon a small amount of the egg whites into the bowl with the sweet potato mixture and stir well to until fork-tender. Reduce the oven temperature to 375°F. Slice the potatoes open to cool. 

Scoop out the flesh and smash with a fork or potato masher to remove most of the lumps; there should be about 1½ packed cups. Discard the potato peels. Place the sweet potatoes, brown sugar, melted butter, miso, sesame oil, ginger, salt, and pepper together in the bowl of a stand mixer and combine using the whisk attachment. Add the egg yolks, one at a time, beating between each addition. 

Pour in the coconut milk and beat until smooth and light. Pour the mixture into a large mixing bowl. Clean the bowl from the stand mixer. Place the egg whites in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat until medium peaks form, 3 to 4 minutes. Spoon a small amount of the egg whites into the bowl with the sweet potato mixture and stir well to lighten. Add the remaining egg whites and fold in for a mousse-like texture. It’s alright if a few white streaks remain. Gently scrape the filling into the crust and carefully smooth the surface. 

Bake, rotating halfway through, until the filling is set but still wobbly in the center, 30 to 35 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. For the topping: Once the pie has cooled completely, spread the sour cream across the surface with an offset spatula and sprinkle the sesame seeds around the edges. 

Store in the refrigerator and bring to room temperature before serving.


This article originally appeared in the October 2022 issue.

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