Or, as we say in Canada, ‘Thanksgiving’.
This year was a splendid, low-key, spontaneous affair. Jacquie, stage at the restaurant for six months and fellow Canadian, and I decided we needed to celebrate our shared heritage. The rules: friends, home-cooking, and pumpkin pie.
It was a fantastic mix of people from all different places, and everyone brought something to share. Brit, one of the pastry chefs, came early with some antipasti and kept us cooks company. Carlos, friends with Jacquie from UWC and friends with my sis Lisa from Vassar (weird?!), now studying abroad in Kbh, came with his boyfriend. The infamous Anne au Chocolat made an appearance, with a flourless chocolate cake in hand. Kevin, stage in the test kitchen, came with beer and white burgundy (how did he know!???!) and brought another stage along who in turn brought good good cheese and baked it in the oven. Ene, my awesome harbour-neighbour, took a break from work and made it out to Vesterbro too, with some saffron rock candy. A Couchsurfing friend and a designer friend later and we had ourselves a right little potluck.
The menu was simple. Cous cous with herbs and kewra (a South Indian aromatic water made from pandanus), mushrooms in butter and thyme, hokkaido pumpkin glazed with birch syrup, and a whole lot of underwater sauerkraut from the lab.
What made it a good meal were all the supplements: cheeses, meats, bread, beer, wine, cake, candy. What made it great was the company.
And my ultimate Thanksgiving challenge: making a pie even a shadow as good as dad’s.
It really is all in the crust. I asked my dad for his recipe a couple years ago, so, in his own words:
“Hi Josh………….I’m happy you want to carry on the ‘pie crust tradition’!
I’m not sure if Crisco brand shortening is sold in the States but it is the basis for the recipe. I suppose any shortening could be used. The Crisco box has a recipe on it but I use the ‘original’ recipe from a number of years ago which is simpler………….
2 cups flour
1 cup shortening
½ tsp salt
3 – 4 tbps COLD water
Makes a double crust, i.e. top and bottom ( or two bottoms, should you be making a pie not requiring a top crust! )
You’ll need a pastry cutter and rolling pin.
Cut the shortening into the flour ( with salt added ) and continue cutting until you have ‘pea’ size pieces. Sprinkle the cold water into the mixture as you continue to mix the dough with a fork. Shape the dough into a form which you’ll be able to cut in half, ensuring that you do not touch the dough with your hands. It is important not to impart any heat into the dough at this point.
I usually roll the dough out on wax paper covered with a fine layer of flour so the dough won’t stick to the board or counter. Ensure you keep the rolling pin and/or the dough dusted with flour as you roll it out so that the rolling pin doesn’t stick to it. To transfer the rolled pastry to the pie plate, place the rolling pin on one end of rolled-out pastry and roll the pastry around the pin. Transfer the pastry over to the pie plate by unrolling the dough into the pie plate.
Choose your filling, …….for berry/fruit pies, bake at 425 for the first 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 400 for another 35-45 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown. Make sure you crimp the edges around the pie crust so that the filling does not spill out as it cooks. For pies with no top crust ( pumpkin, lemon ) I usually cook at 400 for the entire time.
There you have it. If only I had more of the master baker’s blood in my veins. My sister was the lucky one in that regard I think.
But nonetheless I tried, my first true attempt in my effort to carry on the pie crust tradition (it goes back at least a few generations).
There were differences. To start with, Danes don’t do shortening. Here it is butter or bust. No matter, my dad assured me, I could replace it with equal parts.
Secondly, though the lab may have a centrifuge, an immersion circulator, a vacuum-packer, a refractometer, and real deal pyrex beakers, alas it has no pastry cutter. So I used a whisk. It took a little bit more effort and some de-buttering but in the end I got my pea-sized pieces.
Since we were cooking at Jacquie’s apartment I made the crust and left it in a ball, to roll out there. As for the filling, well, I wanted to do that from scratch too. Fillings from scratch might be labour-intensive, but I care what no one says, they’re worth it. It’s the work that makes them taste so good.
So: a huge whole pumpkin, halved, gutted, and baked til soft. Skinned, blended, and reduced on the stove. That’s what takes the time – too low and it takes years, too high and it bubbles and explodes. I began reducing it the night before, stirring to music, drinking tea. René came by during service; we ate the roasted seeds.
The next night, at Jacquie’s, I put the filling on the stove to continue the flavour- texture concentration. True to her South Indian roots, she takes spices – the good stuff – with her wherever she travels. We grated cinnamon, added dried ginger and pounded cardamom, toasted cloves and nutmeg. Some butter and a bit of brown sugar.
Meanwhile, I rolled out the dough.
Not perfect, not bad. The dish was quite deep but we managed.
In went the filling and into the 200˚c oven to bake.
Dinner continued, all of us piled in Jacquie’s living room. Many great conversations. Bodies slid further into repose as the night went on.
After an hour or so:
So, somehow it turned out. At least, it looked ok. The edges were a little too brown but other than that.
My biggest, most grave mistake, was cutting and serving while it was still warm. I KNOW, why would you ever do that. I know. But I was caught up in the moment, the time was ripe for dessert, Anne was garnishing her cake. I didn’t think and then it went to shit.
For a pie to be good, it has to cool fully. It has to set, the filling has to come together, the flavours have to sit and meld. It needs time to find itself. You cannot rush it into self-awareness.
A still-hot pie is a bland pie, and this I found out the hard way.
Our plates looked nice though. We whipped some cream with vanilla bean and folded in some skyr (icelandic yoghurt, likely my favourite cultured dairy product) for the chocolate cake, and some straight whipped cream for the pie.
Anne’s chocolate cake was fantastic. Rich, dense, and oh-so-chocolately. That girl is truly a talent. So putting them together on a plate didn’t help matters. Nor did the fact that I had spent the whole weekend looking forward to sharing pumpkin pie with a roomful of people, many of whom didn’t even know what it was, let alone how good it could be. I couldn’t contain my excitement throughout the night, which meant that after waxing lyrical to the uninitiated Danes about this curious Thanksgiving item, I was setting myself up for grand failure and everyone else for mushy, mediocre disappointment.
Well, at least it cut ok.
Nonetheless, the night ended with satisfied happy faces, fond farewells that lingered over the door, and a ride back to the boat with a much lighter load. The milk crate I’d strapped to the back of my bike to transport the goods was all but empty, save for some leftover sauerkraut, a few utensils extra plates, and the galette I’d made with the extra pastry and filling.
If the night had a saving grace, friends, this was it.
I thought little of it that night, but the next day the galette made a star appearance for staff lunch. The pastry was perfectly flaky, the filling flavourful, rich, and just sweet enough, and with a runny dollop of leftover vanilla-skyr-cream, I felt almost gratified, a sort of silent self-retribution.
I may have overcooked the crust on the pie, but here in the galette it stole the show. Thanks Dad, it was almost a taste of home.
Lisa will master the pie. She’s got what it takes. As for me, I think I’ll pursue galettes. Imperfection makes them only better.