Giving thanks for the bounty of the harvest is observed in many parts of the world with a feast. In the United States and Canada the savory aspects of the traditional Thanksgiving dinner (turkey with all the trimmings) are fairly well known but the desserts that follow are not as familiar. American pie maker Sara Randant recently shared with us her from-scratch recipe for pumpkin pie.
A pre-school teacher from Illinois, Sara first visited Prague as a teen. After finishing college and finding no job opportunities at home, she took to traveling and teaching, spending time in China before finding her way back to the Golden City over four years ago. In addition to teaching she is developing her own baking business, “2 Little Spoons”.
When asked about the differences between Czech and American sweet treats she says, “I think both are incredible and fantastic. The main difference is that Czech sweets are very beautiful and precise and complicated with layers and various sections – the sweets here look like they were made in a factory – US sweets, by comparison, look like they were made by clumsy hands and are really messy and lumpy looking.”
Sara always has a good stock of baking supplies in her cupboard and fresh veggies and parsley fills her fridge. For her everyday cooking needs her favorite shops are the small independent fruit and vegetable stands and for specialty baking ingredients she goes to Marks & Spencer, the bio shops or, a rather unusual resource, the VIVA LA VIDA Mexican e-shop. She also recommends the spice lady, who has a stall with a great selection, at the I.P. Pavlova farmer’s market.
Her biggest challenges in the Czech kitchen? Sara finds that certain spices and grains can be hard to locate here. In addition, “US ovens usually have multiple shelves so you can bake more than one tray at a time, while most European ovens only have a single shelf so cooking time is often doubled.” Actual oven temps (i.e. the temperature stated on the dial) are usually lower than the actual oven temperature which can lead to burning.
(Sara shared one very useful kitchen hack with us for converting US measurements: One standard coffee mug is approx. 1 cup; a large kitchen spoon is 1 tbsp and a small spoon is equal to a teaspoon.)
Sara has had to figure out how to bake a number of her favorites from scratch and the pumpkin pie she baked for us during our visit, a modification of an on-line recipe, is no exception.
American Pumpkin Pie by way of Prague
NOTE: As far as special tools go, to make this pie you will need a flat baking sheet, a pie pan and an electric mixer (whipping can be done by hand with a fork but will take longer).
For the filling:
1 medium pumpkin (approx. 2.5 kilos)
1 tbsp vegetable oil
3 eggs, lightly beaten
½ cup whipping cream
½ cup brown sugar
½ tsp nutmeg
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp salt
For the pie crust:
8” or 9” pie pan (approx. 20-25 cm)
2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
2/3 cup + 2 tbsp shortening (Sara uses “margarine mit robstiffen auskb/a” from the bio shops)
4-5 tbsp cold water
For the topping:
1 full container whipping cream
Powdered sugar, to taste
Preheat oven to 175°C. Cut the pumpkin into quarters. Scrape out the seeds and disard or save for roasting. Rub the pumpkin flesh with vegetable oil and place on a baking sheet flesh side up. Bake for approximately 1 hour or until fork-tender. Allow to cool a bit. Scrape the pulp from the pumpkin shell into a bowl. Mash with a fork then use an electric mixer to mix the pulp until it is smooth and no longer stringy.
While the pumpkin is baking, make the crust. Combine the flour and salt in a mixing bowl, add the shortening. Mix well with a fork and gradually add the water 1 tbsp at a time until all of the flour is moistened and the dough is no longer sticking to the sides.
Dust a flat work surface with flour. Use a rolling pin to roll the dough into a circle large enough to fit the pan. Use the rolling pin to lift the flattened dough from the work surface by pinching it against the pin and rolling it up off the table. Lay the dough over the ungreased pie tin and use your fingers to push it down firmly against the pan, making sure to get it into the corners. Trim off any excess. Use your knuckles to pinch the edges to create a thicker crust. Refrigerate until chilled.
For the filling: Combine the pumpkin, eggs, whipping cream, brown sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger and salt in a bowl. Blend until smooth then pour into the pie pan – fill to just below the edge of the crust and bake until golden brown, approx: 50 mins. As the pie cools prepare the whipped cream topping by beating the whip cream in a bowl with an electric mixer until fluffy, adding powdered sugar to taste. Serve pie with a large dollop of whipped cream.
Once our own pie is done and has been cooled on a window ledge, Sara serves us each a slice with a large dollop of whipped cream. As we gather around the kitchen table the sun is setting, the light is golden, Erykah Badu’s voice slides through the cinnamon scented air, and the pie is just the perfect amount of sweet. We are very glad we saved room for desert.
How have you adapted your holiday baking since moving to the Czech Republic?
Photos by Margot Buff