Monday, January 7, 2013
Pumpkin Pie Goes Greek
To die your while life. Despite the morbidity, I can't think of a better definition of the writing life. There's something about writing that demands a leave-taking, an abandonment of the world, paradoxically, in order to see it clearly. This retreat has to be accomplished without severing the vital connection to the world, and to people, that feeds the imagination. It's a difficult balance.
-Jeffrey Eugenides (Posthumous)
To say that balancing the writing life with real life is difficult strikes me as a bit of an understatement. The Greek and I returned to California late on Friday night and, come this morning, I already found myself again in the thick of things: struggling to articulate my thoughts, to explain statements and ideas that exceed my level of comprehension, to create a narrative out of thin air (perhaps I'd even call them "thin ideas"). But I'm trying and that's what matters. And although I recognize that the bulk of my writing energies has to go to my dissertation this semester, I still plan on being here, too. There may not be as many photos and you may discover a much more concise me, but consider the next few months an exercise in minimalism at its finest.
This recipe for Greek Pumpkin Pie is something I've wanted to share with you all for a while now. I first made this kind of pumpkin pie last winter for a night of Downton Abbey viewing with a friend. Given the season and the purpose, something traditional seemed in order, but then, despite both my best intentions and enjoyment of the pie, I didn't manage to write the post up while things were still fresh in my mind (these things happen more than I would like to admit).
But when we were in Pennsylvania, the Greek suggested--on a snowy day made for baking--that we make another Greek Pumpkin Pie with the phyllo dough in my grandma's freezer. This pie was a little different from the one I made earlier in the year...As much as I liked the walnuts, raisins and brown sugar that flavored mine, I'm happy to admit that his was simply better (his phyllo-working abilities leave me in the dust). He suggested grinding the almonds with cinnamon and sugar and then spreading it between the layers of phyllo; I really liked the result and could see this working well with traditional (i.e. American) pumpkin pie, adding a nutty, caramelized layer between the filling and the crust. He also, going the way of Greek tradition, opted to cover the pie with a sugary syrup. While I sometimes find these syrups to be too sweet and somewhat unnecessary (if the filling is already sweet, who really needs more sugar? I recognize, however, that this is not a very Greek question to ask), this syrup was made with a teaspoon of vanilla extract and a cinnamon stick, which undercut the sweetness. The pie was a big hit with my family--such a big hit that, come next Thanksgiving, I wouldn't be surprised if this pie made a reappearance.
Then again, given my well-documented love of pumpkin, I don't think there's any reason to wait until November. The time for pumpkin pie is whenever you get a craving.
P.S. The two photos that are decidedly not of pumpkin pie are from a trip the Greek and I took to Pittsburgh. We went to top of the Cathedral of Learning on the Pitt campus, where we took a few pictures of the city at dusk.
Greek Pumpkin Pie
Yields about 20 square slices (depending on how you cut the pie)
This pie can be easily made vegan; when preparing your phyllo sheets, you can use olive oil (the traditional Greek way), vegetable or any nut oil. Also, any simple syrup you have left--you can use the whole cup of simple syrup if you'd like, but I think about half a cup will do the trick-- would work well in a cocktail that requires sweetness and spice.
Essentially it's a very easy pie to make, although, given all of the greasing and layering, it may seem more difficult than it actually is. Just keep in mind that the bottom layer consists of 4 plain phyllo sheets, then 3 layered with cinnamon/almond/sugar. The pumpkin filling goes on top of one of the phyllo sheets covered with cinnamon/almond/sugar. For the pie's top, the pattern repeats in reverse, i.e. 3 more cinnamon/almond/sugar-layered sheets, followed by 4 plain phyllo sheets.
For the pie:
1/2 lb phyllo (1 package frozen phyllo sheets)
one 15 oz. can of pumpkin purée
2 cups almonds
1 cup oil or melted butter
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup sugar
Zest of one orange
1 tbsp cinnamon
whole cloves for decoration (optional)
For the syrup:
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cinnamon stick
-Preheat oven to 350 F.
-Grease a 9x13 baking dish.
-Coarsely grind the almonds with the sugar and cinnamon and set aside.
-Mix pumpkin purée with orange zest and 2 tsp of vanilla extract.-Lay a phyllo sheet on the baking dish.
-Grease the phyllo sheet with a brush.
-Repeat previous two steps three times.
-Then, spread some of the almond/sugar/cinnamon mixture on top of phyllo sheet.
-Lay a phyllo sheet on top of the mixture.
-Grease phyllo sheet and repeat the previous two steps twice.
-Pour the pumpkin mix onto the phyllo and spread evenly.
-Lay a phyllo sheet on top of the pumpkin mixture.
-Grease phyllo sheet.
-Spread some of the almond/sugar/cinnamon mixture on top of phyllo sheet; do this two more times, greasing the sheets in between.
-Lay a phyllo sheet on top and repeat three times.
-Cut the pie into squares.
-OPTIONAL: Stick a clove in the middle of each square.
-Bake for 45 minutes or until golden brown on top
-As the pie is baking, mix all the components of the syrup and heat for 5 minutes or until sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from heat and let the cinnamon stick steep in the hot liquid for about 5-10 more minutes.
-Once the pie comes out of the oven, drizzle syrup over it. You can add more or less, depending on how sweet you want your pie to be.