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Mini pumpkin chiffon pies

Time1 hour
YieldsServes 12
Mini pumpkin chiffon pies
(Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times)
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Short of any family drama, the biggest dilemma most of us face at the holiday table revolves around dessert. Specifically: Which pie do I choose? (Or, rather: Why do I get to try only one?)

Why stop at one? Friends and family, there is a solution: the mini-pie.

At first glance, it looks exactly like a traditional pie ... but miniaturized. Same rich and buttery crust with that tell-tale flake, same flavorful filling. All scaled down, “Mini-Me”-style. It may even have the same artfully crimped edges, only they’re tiny. Delicate even.

Call them what you will -- tiny pies, muffin tin pies, cup-pies (a la the show “Pushing Daisies”) -- they’re essentially pies baked in muffin tins. And you can bake batches at a time.

You don’t need anything fancy to make the cute little guys -- a couple of standard nonstick muffin tins will do, maybe one or two tiny cookie cutters if you want to get fancy. As for ingredients, a single standard pie’s worth of filling and two to three single pie crusts are enough to give you a dozen or so mini-pies.

They make a perfect project. Though mini-pies are a bit more involved than throwing together a standard pie -- you are, of course, forming and filling a bunch of smaller pies rather than one of, well, normal stature -- they are fun to make. Vary the crimping for the crusts, add little lattice tops if you’d like. Use tiny cutouts baked from spare bits of crust to garnish the pies. Let your creative juices flow, albeit on a size-restricted scale.

Probably the only thing more entertaining than actually making the pies is watching your guests gleefully devour them. The little pies are great when you’re planning for company or potlucks. Did I mention holiday dinners? And they make perfect homemade gifts, each treat individually wrapped for family and friends.

Of course, you could just keep a batch all to yourself. No dilemma there.

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.

The filling is adapted from a recipe in “The Pie and Pastry Bible” by Rose Levy Beranbaum. The filling uses uncooked egg whites.