Dealing With Pumpkin Pie


Thanksgiving is not Nancy Silverton’s favorite time of year. This is because Thanksgiving means pumpkin pie, and Silverton, the baking brain behind Los Angeles’ Campanile and La Brea Bakery, does not like pumpkin pie. In fact, it would be fair to say she hates pumpkin pie.

“First,” she says, “the canned stuff is awful, then there are those atrocious pumpkin spices, and the texture is so gummy and it never sets up right. . . .”

For the record:

12:00 a.m. Nov. 19, 1997 For the Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday November 19, 1997 Home Edition Food Part H Page 2 Food Desk 3 inches; 88 words Type of Material: Correction
Pie in Our Face: The recipe for Campanile Thanksgiving Pie (“Dealing With Pumpkin,” Nov. 16) failed to indicate when to add the browned butter and vanilla bean seeds. As soon as the butter has browned, add the butter-vanilla mixture to the pumpkin-yam mixture.
In the recipe for Lemon Meringue Tart With Champagne Vinegar Sauce, the sugar-egg white-flour mixture should be beaten on high speed for 3 minutes.
Also, the ingredients given for the filing for the lemon meringue make enough filling for one tart. The dough, meringue and sauce make enough for two tarts. To make two tarts, simply double the ingredients for the filling.

Well, you get the idea.

But Silverton has to make hundreds of pumpkin pies every year about this time, because the truth is, a lot of other people do like pumpkin pie. And every year she tries to come up with a recipe that she would like to eat.


This year, Silverton says, she thinks she’s done it. “I followed my instincts,” she says. And her instincts said: Use less pumpkin.

It was a sweet potato pie after a particularly good barbecue-rib dinner that inspired her. She decided to use mostly Jewel yams (which are not true yams, of course, but dark sweet potatoes) and just enough pumpkin to be able to tell customers who ask that, yes, there’s pumpkin in the pie.

“I would prefer to make it only with yams,” she says, “but then we wouldn’t sell it.” Her name for the un-pumpkinish pie: Thanksgiving pie.

Other than the high yam content, what else is different? She uses butter in the filling. “Why doesn’t anyone want to make a pumpkin pie with butter?” she asks. Sure it adds fat, but no one ever accused a pumpkin pie of being diet food.

As for the usual pumpkin pie spices, she uses them sparingly. Her filling has vanilla bean, maple syrup, brown sugar, brandy and, for spice, white pepper, ginger and the barest amount of clove. No nutmeg.

But she makes a concession to conventional tastes. “This is what I do,” she says. “I sprinkle cinnamon, sugar and fresh-grated nutmeg just on the top so it perfumes the pie.”

The result is a subtly flavored, wonderfully textured pie. It sets up perfectly and has a beautiful burnished bronze color just out of the oven. But we do have to point out that there was controversy about this pie among the pumpkin pie lovers in The Times Test Kitchen. It didn’t taste like pumpkin pie. As Silverton would say, isn’t that the point?

“And who said we have to have pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving anyway?” Silverton digresses.

One of the best ways to disarm the nutmeg-loving pumpkin pie eaters is to feed them a slice of Silverton’s lemon meringue tart from her new book, “The Food of Campanile” (Villad, $35). Once again, Silverton goes against the grain by making her meringue smooth and flat instead of fluffy and high. And she serves the tart with a Champagne vinegar sauce that emphasizes the sour over the sweet.

The Test Kitchen was certainly disarmed. The consensus was that this tart was among the year’s best recipes and might just find a place on the Thanksgiving table in some of our homes right next to the pumpkin pie.


1 1/2 cups Jewel or Garnett yams

1/2 cup canned pumpkin

1 vanilla bean

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter

2 eggs

1 yolk

3/4 cup cream plus extra if needed

2 tablespoons milk plus extra if needed

1/3 cup maple syrup

3 tablespoons brown sugar

1 tablespoon brandy

1/2 to 1 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 to 3/4 teaspoon salt

1 to 2 pinches ground cloves

1 pinch freshly ground white pepper

Baked crust for 1 (9- or 10-inch) pie

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

Bake sweet potatoes at 450 degrees until knife inserts easily, about 40 minutes. Cool and peel. Puree yams and pumpkin in food mill into large bowl. Set aside.

Melt butter over medium heat in small skillet. Split vanilla bean and scrape seeds into butter and brown butter with vanilla, 3 to 5 minutes.

Combine eggs, egg yolk, cream, milk, syrup, brown sugar, brandy, ginger, salt, cloves and pepper in separate bowl until thoroughly mixed. Add to pumpkin-yam mixture. Strain. Mixture should be fairly thin and smooth. It will probably be necessary to thin mixture with 1/4 cup to 6 tablespoons equal parts milk and cream. Mixture should be pourable.

Pour into 9- or 10-inch pre-baked, crimped pie shell.

Combine granulated sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg in small bowl. Sprinkle evenly over pie. Bake at 325 degrees until slightly puffed and set in center, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

6 to 8 servings. Each of 8 servings:

440 calories; 312 mg sodium; 134 mg cholesterol; 29 grams fat; 39 grams carbohydrates; 5 grams protein; 0.58 gram fiber.


Warm water

6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter, chilled and cut in pieces

2/3 cup shortening, chilled and broken up

2 cups unbleached pastry or unbleached all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting

1 teaspoon kosher salt

2 to 4 tablespoons ice waterUnlike most pie doughs which are best made by hand, this dough, from Silverton’s new book “The Food of Campanile” (Villard, $35), actually comes out better made in a machine. Silverton isn’t sure why this reverse method works so well, but it always produces exceptional results.

Fill bowl of electric mixer with warm water and let stand 2 to 3 minutes. Empty warm water from mixing bowl and wipe dry with kitchen towel.

Cream butter and shortening by beating in mixer bowl until smooth, 1 to 2 minutes using paddle attachment. Start on low speed and increase speed to medium as it starts to soften; scrape sides of bowl as needed. Reduce speed to low and add flour and salt, mixing just until dough is consistency of coarse cornmeal.

Soon after ice in water has melted, add water, mixing just until dough comes together. Add 1 tablespoon water if flour is not completely incorporated. (Amount of water required to produce completely combined dough will depend on moisture in flour and humidity of working environment.)

Lightly dust smooth work surface and hands with flour. Turn dough a few times and form into ball. Flatten slightly into disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate until firm, 2 to 4 hours, before rolling out for 9- or 10-inch crust. (Dough can be kept in refrigerator up to 2 days or in freezer for several weeks.)

6 to 8 servings. Each of 8 servings:

330 calories; 383 mg sodium; 23 mg cholesterol; 26 grams fat; 22 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams protein; 0.09 gram fiber.



2 3/4 cups unbleached pastry or unbleached all-purpose flour plus more for dusting

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup (2 sticks) butter, chilled and cut in small pieces

2 extra-large egg yolks

1/4 cup heavy cream plus more as needed


2 cups lightly packed powdered sugar

4 extra-large egg whites

1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour


2 cups granulated sugar

1/2 cup water

1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise

1 cup Champagne vinegar

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, cut into pieces


1 cup lemon juice (10 large lemons)

1/2 cup granulated sugar

4 extra-large eggs

1/2 cup heavy cream


Put flour on smooth work surface, add sugar and mix to combine. Add butter and toss to coat. Crumble butter with fingertips to coarse cornmeal-like consistency, keeping butter well-coated with flour to prevent it from becoming greasy.

Form mixture into mound and make large well in center. Add egg yolks and cream to well. Briefly stir eggs and cream together with fingers, then begin to draw in butter-flour mixture. When completely incorporated, dough will be very sticky. Gather dough into loose ball. It may be necessary to add as much as 2 tablespoons extra cream to make dough moist enough to shape.

Lightly dust work surface and 1 hand with flour. Using heel of floured hand, begin to smear small portions of dough away from you. (Process is messy and sticky, but it blends ingredients together with least working of dough.) When all dough is smeared out, use dough scraper to collect dough and reincorporate it into one mass. Scrape work surface clean.

Clean and completely dry hands. Lightly dust hands and work surface again, knead dough few times, form into smooth ball, flatten slightly into disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate until firm, 2 to 4 hours, before rolling to desired shape. (Dough can be kept in refrigerator up to 2 days or frozen several weeks.)

Roll out dough to fit 2 (10-inch) tart pans. Refrigerate 1 hour. Line pastry shell with parchment paper then weight with dry beans. Bake at 350 degrees until edges are lightly browned, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove beans and parchment paper and let cool.


Cut circle of parchment paper 10 inches in diameter, fold into eighths, cut into 8 individual wedges and set out on smooth work surface.

Combine sugar and egg whites in large mixing bowl over saucepan of simmering water and whisk until smooth and warm to touch, 1 to 2 minutes. Off heat, push flour through fine-mesh strainer into egg white mixture and whisk to combine completely. Beat at high speed 30 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes.

Spread meringue in 1/8-thick layer over parchment wedges, taking care to completely cover parchment.

Distribute wedges on baking sheet about 1-inch apart and bake at 350 degrees until meringue rises and top is smooth, shiny and lightly brown, about 10 minutes.

Peel paper away from meringue; paper should separate cleanly. Let wedges cool.


Combine sugar and water in large saucepan over medium heat and bring mixture to boil without stirring. Scrape pulp and seeds from vanilla bean into saucepan.

When mixture boils, it will throw sugar onto sides of pan. At this point, wash down sides of pan with pastry brush dipped in water.

When the sugar starts to color, after 4 to 5 minutes, swirl pan gently if needed to ensure even coloring. Continue to cook mixture until it turns translucent caramel color, just before it begins to smoke. If mixture becomes opaque and slightly grainy, continue to cook, gently swirling pan until sugar completely melts and mixture becomes clear. If the mixture seizes completely and becomes solid and white, it must be discarded.

Remove from heat and add champagne vinegar; mixture will spatter and part of it may seize and harden.

Return pan to medium-high heat and cook until sugar melts again and the mixture reduces slightly, 3 to 4 minutes.

Remove from heat and stir in butter. Mixture will foam up and become cloudy. Return to heat and cook, 3 to 4 minutes, to reduce mixture.

Using fine-mesh strainer, strain sauce into mixing bowl and place bowl in larger mixing bowl of ice water to cool sauce. Discard vanilla bean. Sauce must be whisked occasionally to prevent butter from separating and hardening. As soon as it is slightly thickened, about 5 minutes, remove sauce from ice bath. Sauce should have appearance and texture of thin, emulsified caramel sauce. Serve sauce at room temperature.


Whisk together lemon juice and sugar in medium saucepan over medium heat and cook until sugar dissolves, 1 to 2 minutes.

Whisk eggs and cream in large stainless-steel mixing bowl just to combine.

Slowly add lemon juice-sugar mixture to egg-cream mixture and whisk to incorporate completely. Strain custard through fine-mesh strainer into second large mixing bowl.

Pour custard into pre-baked Sweet Tart Pastry and bake on middle rack of oven at 275 degrees until center still jiggles slightly when gently shaken, 30 to 40 minutes. Let cool 15 to 20 minutes.

Cut tart in wedges same size as meringue pieces, top with meringue and serve each portion with few tablespoons Champagne Vinegar Sauce.

2 (10-inch) tarts, 16 servings. Each serving:

438 calories; 123 mg sodium; 126 mg cholesterol; 15 grams fat; 73 grams carbohydrates; 6 grams protein; 0.07 gram fiber.