Total time: 1 hour, plus chilling time for the pies
Note:The filling is adapted from a recipe in "The Pie and Pastry Bible" by Rose Levy Beranbaum. The filling uses uncooked egg whites.
1/4 cup water
1/4 ounce (2¼ teaspoons) powdered gelatin
1 1/4 cups (a 15-ounce can is 1¾ cups) fresh or canned pumpkin puree
3/4 cup sugar, divided
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, preferably freshly grated, plus extra for dusting the finished pies
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk
3 eggs, separated
3/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
12 pre-baked mini-pie shells, still in the muffin tins
Whipped cream, for garnish
1. Put the water in a small bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over the top. Set aside until the gelatin is fully moistened , at least 3 minutes.
2. In a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan, stir together the pumpkin, one-half cup of the sugar, the ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg, and the salt. Over medium heat, bring the mixture to a sputtering simmer, stirring constantly. Reduce the heat to low and continue to cook until the mixture is thick and shiny, 3 to 5 minutes.
3. Scrape the mixture into a food processor fitted with the metal blade and process for 1 minute. With the motor running, add the milk, processing until incorporated. Add the egg yolks one at a time, processing just to incorporate, about 5 seconds after each addition. Add the gelatin mixture and pulse in.
4. Return the mixture to the saucepan and heat over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thickened slightly (160 to 170 degrees), about 3 minutes. Pour the mixture into a medium bowl and set aside.
5. Chill the pumpkin custard by placing the bowl over a larger bowl of ice water, with about 1 tablespoon of salt added to the ice water to speed chilling. Stir occasionally for the first 10 minutes, then slowly but frequently for about 10 minutes longer.
6. No more than 20 minutes before you put the pies together, make the meringue: In a mixing bowl, beat the egg whites over low speed until foamy. Add the cream of tartar and beat at high speed until soft peaks form when the beater is raised slowly. Gradually beat in the remaining one-fourth cup sugar, beating until stiff peaks form when the beater is raised.
7. When a small amount of the custard dropped from a spoon mounds very slightly on the surface before disappearing, immediately remove the bowl from the water bath and, using a whisk, fold in the meringue just until blended. You will have about 5 cups filling.
8. Place the filling in a pastry bag fitted with a large tip, and fill each pie with a generous one-fourth cup filling . Refrigerate until set, at least 2 hours, before serving. Garnish with a dollop of whipped cream and a dusting of nutmeg.