Sunday, September 28, 2008

To Autumn

My goodness, have I enjoyed the last few days. A cool front rolled into Fort Lauderdale on Friday morning, inviting us to turn off the A/C and open our windows. I read a lot, then picked and chose among our household chores. That's a privilege of autumn cleaning, I think.

I purchased a new disposal for our kitchen, but I did not clean out the closet in our home office. I washed and ironed the curtains in our bedroom, but I did not end up weeding our front flower beds.

I did not end up painting my guest room after all, but I did do a lot of cooking.

In fact, I was inspired to try something I've never done before.

I made a pumpkin tart--from actual pumpkins.

If you live up north, sugar pumpkins may be everywhere around this time of year. Piled in huge decorative mounds, on top of straw underneath a reddening maple, waiting to be picked up by a pink-nosed shopper in long-sleeves. . . perhaps you detect a note of longing?

Autumn is my favorite season. When I lived in Massachusetts, I loved the golds and reds in the trees, the way I could see my breath in the mornings, and the totally different wardrobe that I could haul out of storage. I'd jog along the Charles River in a fleece, watching collegiate eights row toward the Basin in the quickly-darkening evening. I miss all of this in the autumn.

Ah well, here in South Florida, we can get a tan in January.

Sadly, though, we come up short in pie-worthy pumpkin department. We end up using those ochre-colored cans of pumpkin puree instead.

On Friday, however, I lucked out and found these chubby little beauties.

My recipe called for 1 1/2 cups of solid-pack pumpkin. After some reading, I decided to roast the pumpkins in the simplest manner possible: cut in half, seeded, and sitting cut-side down on a baking sheet at 375 degree for about 50 minutes.

I love the smell of roasting pumpkins. The aroma was the base note of my afternoon, while I prepared the tart pastry shell and listened to Michele Norris on All Things Considered.

If you are a pastry novice, here are a few suggestions: First, always use cold butter cut into 1 tablespoon amounts, and do not use a food processor--you'll end up with dense, chewy dough. Second, make sure that you have a few tablespoons of ice-cold water on hand for adding to the flour. The water must be ice-cold, not room temperature, and not just a little cool. Finally, use a fork to incorporate the water into the flour. You won't be stirring so much as "fluffing" the flour with the tines of the fork. The dough will be very crumbly when it is done. You'll know that your dough has enough water when you can pinch a bit of the dough together and it holds. It's work, but it's worth it.

Later on in the evening, my husband and I watched the presidential debate and scooped golden pieces of pumpkin tart into our mouths. I decided that when Keats wrote about that "season of mists and mellow fruitfulness," he might have been talking about a pumpkin tart with cranberry jam.

Pumpkin Tart with Cranberry Jam
Adapted from this recipe and this recipe at Gourmet

In terms of special equipment, you will want to have the following:
A 9-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom
A rolling pin with a pastry sleeve
Pastry scraper
Pie weights or dried beans heavy enough to weigh down the crust during its first baking

For the tart shell
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 stick (1/2 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1 tablespoon pieces
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 to 5 tablespoons ice water

For the tart filling
1 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 cups canned solid-pack pumpkin (not pie filling)
2/3 cup packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup cranberry jam (I used FiordiFrutta)

To make the tart shell
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Toss the flour and the salt together in a medium bowl until combined. Cut in the butter in 1 tablespoon amounts until finely crumbled. You can do this either using two knives or a pastry blender, but do not use a food processor (see the note in my narrative above).

Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of ice-cold water over the mixture and fluff it with a fork to incorporate. Continue doing this until the dough holds together when you pinch a piece with your thumb and index finger. The dough will remain very crumby at this point. If the dough does not hold together, add an additional tablespoon of water and try again.

Flour a clean work surface generously and turn the dough out onto it. Shape the dough gently with your hands into a disk and use a rolling pin to begin to flatten the dough out. Continue rolling out in all directions until you have a disk large enough to cover your tart ring. with 1 - 2 inches of extra dough on all sides.

Gently pick the dough up (using the pastry scraper if needed) and lay it over the tart ring. Press the dough against the edges of the tart ring and trim any excess. Chill for 30 minutes, until the dough is firm.

Prick the dough on the bottom of the tart pan lightly with a fork, then line with foil and add the pie weights or beans to keep the foil pressed down against the dough. Bake for 25 minutes, until the crust is golden. Allow the crust to cool in the tart ring for 30 minutes.

To make the filling
Whisk together the cream, the pureed pumpkin, the brown sugar, the eggs, the cinnamon, the ginger, and the salt until smooth.

To put it all together
Place the tart pan on a baking sheet. Spread the cranberry jam evenly over the bottom of the tart pastry shell, then pour pumpkin mixture over preserves until it almost fills the shell to the top.

Bake the pumpkin tart until the filling is set, 50 minutes to 1 hour. Cool the tart in the pan on a rack, about 1 hour. Remove the tart from the tart ring before serving.

Serves: 8

* With thanks to John Keats for the title of this post


Foodycat said...

I love the addition of cranberry jam! That is a beautiful tart. I've never had a pumpkin pie made from pie filling - you just don't get it in Australia - but I do love pumpkin pie. I've already decided that I am going to make one this autumn! although not from home-grown because we misplaced the seed packet and they didn't get planted...

Aggie said...

I just picked up a sugar pumpkin at Publix today! I've been seeing so many good looking pumpkin recipes in magazines this week I felt inpired! Now I have another one to add to the list! Your tart looks delicious!

Grace said...

this is clearly the perfect thanksgiving dessert. and good for you for making it all from scratch! it looks amazing.

noble pig said...

Wow, I have been wanting to try this! I have always wanted to cook with real pumpkins, this is my year.

muddywaters said...

You've inspired me. I've never roasted a pumpkin, so I'm giving it a shot next week. I bet it's much better than the canned stuff. I'll post the experience on my blog.

Forget potpourri - I love the scent of simple good food being roasted.

Things I love to roast:

1. carrots
2. brussel sprouts
3. cauliflower
4. green chiles

muddywaters said...

I roasted my pumpkins last night. I even managed to roast some seeds for a little afternoon snack.

Tonight I made some pumpkin butter, so you might see it pop up in a post soon.

I'm also pondering making pumpkin waffles this weekend for my girls.

Thanks for the inspiration.