A sweet custard crevasse…
Two days ago I was trouble-shooting the unhappiness on my assistant’s face when he was pondering a batch of watery, curdled creme brulee. We decided the cream mixture was too hot to be tempered into the whisked eggs and sugar. My best advice: Have an inquiring, scientific mind and a small ego. Start over.
I’m living my own advice. The pastry goddess has her arms around me. That’s what I told myself each of the six times I failed to bake a perfect Creme Fraiche Pumpkin Pie. The dreaded pumpkin pie crack. Ugh.
Research and experimentation are two of the things I enjoy most about being a pastry chef. Ingredients are notes on a page of music to me. I love evaluating ingredient performance. Nonetheless, my good humor spiraled downward each time I tweaked my recipe and had the same failure.
And tweak I did. Unbaked enriched crust; par-bake; fully pre-bake. Reduce whole eggs; increase yolks. Evaluate ratio of eggs to pumpkin custard. Evaluate ratio of sugar(s) to pumpkin custard. Does it stabilize or weaken? Analyze what effect the creme fraiche had as a liquid ingredient. I did a spreadsheet of three recipes to evaluate ratios of all the ingredients I wanted in my pie, and was prepared to swallow the frog of releasing or scaling down an ingredient, if warranted.
A major x-factor is my oven. I have the luxury (also interpreted as a curse) of using a combi oven… that is, a combination of convection and humidity. For the first three months I worked in the restaurant, the oven was smarter than me. Very humbling. Now, we hold hands. It only pokes at me occasionally, just often enough to ensure my ego never inflates.
Does a baked custard benefit from humidity? What percentage humidity? Is convection a detriment or an asset because it accelerates cooking? Set the (raw) crust and custard at a high heat as I do with my hazelnut cheesecake, then turn the heat down? To what temperature? 25 degrees less than a still oven? 50 degrees? How do you test for doneness? Dry edges and a slight jiggle in the center? None of this worked for me.
When I finally satisfied myself about ingredient ratios and a fully pre-baked crust, I remembered a blurb of advice from a pastry chef about baking any type of custard at a temperature below the 212 F boiling point in a convection oven. This was after the 6th failure. I also remembered the reco to bake to an internal temp (175 F), not a visual cue.
The alternative at this point was to bake the pie in a still oven, a deck oven, and, frankly, that would have felt like another failure. So I loaded the pastry gun with every gram of steely determination I had left and went for it. Fully pre-baked the crust. Creamed the egg, yolks, sugars, flour. Roasted the pumpkin to remove excess moisure; processed pumpkin puree, evaporated milk, creme fraiche, spices, vanilla extract and salt in the Robot Coupe; blended custard and egg mixture together. Baked at 200 F for 1 hour, 30+ min; no humidity. Visual cues were not present. No dry outer ring. No jiggly center.
Creme Fraiche Pumpkin Pie
1, 200-g recipe enriched pie dough
4 egg yolks
1/4 C brown sugar
1 T all-purpose (AP) flour
2 1/2 C [610 g|7 oz] pumpkin puree
3/4 C [155 g|5.45 oz] sugar
3/4 C [175 g|6.15 oz] evaporated milk
1/4 C creme fraiche
2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1/2 tsp vanilla extract (VE)
1 tsp kosher salt
Roll enriched pastry dough to generously fit a 9″ glass pie dish, leaving 1/2″ excess. Turn excess under itself to form a small rim. Freeze dough for 10-12 min, or until thoroughly frozen. Fit a sheet of aluminum foil tightly over entire surface of pastry, snugly fitting foil over pie rim. Bake in 310 F convection oven for 12-13 min, rotating halfway through baking time. Remove foil. Bake for 2-3 min more until pastry is matte.
While pastry is baking, spread pumpkin puree onto parchment-lined sheet pan. Bake for 8 min at 310 F to remove excess moisture. Move warm puree to food processor. Add evaporated milk, creme fraiche, spice, VE and salt. Process until smooth.
In either a stand mixer or by hand, beat eggs, sugar and flour until smooth and somewhat light. Fold pumpkin mixture into beaten eggs.
Reduce heat to 200 F. Pour pumpkin mixture into warm crust. Bake until custard tests at 175 F on an instant-read thermometer, rotating every 20 min to promote even baking. Bake time is 1 hour 30-40 min.
Cool at room temp for 2 hours. Chill thoroughly.