Pumpkin pie with the perfect balance of ginger and spice

Spiced pumpkin pie. This modern take on the traditional Thanksgiving dessert accentuates the bold taste of ginger.
Spiced pumpkin pie. This modern take on the traditional Thanksgiving dessert accentuates the bold taste of ginger. PHOTO: THE NEW YORK TIMES/CHRISTOPHER TESTANI

NEW YORK (NYTimes) - My dad loved bold flavours. He liked his Sichuan food with extra chiles, his chocolate 80 per cent dark, his Cabernets from California, and pretty much everything else filled with as much garlic as it could bear.

When it came to pumpkin pie, he was all about ginger. As my family's official pumpkin pie maker, I fretted about this every year. How much ginger could I add to satisfy his taste for spice without overwhelming everyone else at the table?

Ground ginger goes only so far. Every year I'd add more, but I eventually learnt that if you add too much, it ruins the pie's texture, turning it to sludge. Grated fresh ginger increases sharpness but not depth. Infusing other spices - cinnamon sticks, cardamom pods, star anise and clove - into the cream adds fragrant woodsy notes, which in turn accentuate the ginger's brightness. Getting the balance just right became my seasonal Everest.

Year after year I'd adapt it, adjusting the spices and the infusion time, never stopping until I reached the perfect formula - silkier, richer, even more gingery. As with Dad's ideal turkey, this process was an inherent part of our holiday ritual: the analysing of flavours, textures, techniques.

That road to perfection has been almost as fun as the meal itself, and it's still how I approach every pumpkin pie I bake. I can't serve my dad the latest - and greatest - version, but I know he loved the journey.

Spiced Pumpkin Pie

Total time: 3 hours, plus chilling Yield: 8 servings

Ingredients
For the crust:
1 ¼ cups (160 grams) all-purpose flour
¼ tsp fine sea salt
10 Tbs (140 grams) unsalted butter, chilled and cubed
2 to 4 Tbs iced water, as needed

For the filling:
1 cup heavy cream
1 cinnamon stick
2 petals from a star-anise pod (not the whole pod)
1 whole clove
1 Tbs grated fresh ginger
1 tsp cardamom pods
½ tsp whole black peppercorns
1 ¾ cups pumpkin or butternut squash purée (homemade or from a 425g can)
¾ cup (165 grams) dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
2 Tbs dark rum
2 tsp ground ginger
½ tsp kosher salt
¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg

Method:
1. Make the crust: In a large bowl, whisk together the flour and salt. Using your fingers, rub in the butter until it is the size of peas. Drizzle in water until the dough comes together when squeezed.

2. Transfer dough to a lightly floured surface. Working a palm-size chunk at a time, use the heel of your hand to smear the dough across the work surface. Continue until all the dough has been smeared, then gather it all together, flatten into a disk, and wrap in plastic wrap. Chill for at least 1 hour and up to 2 days.

3. On a lightly floured surface, roll dough into a 30cm (12-inch) circle. Transfer to a 23cm (9-inch) pie plate; fold the edges over and crimp. Prick crust all over with a fork and chill for at least 30 minutes.

4. Heat oven to 220 deg C. Line chilled crust with foil and pie weights, then bake for 15 minutes. Remove foil and bake until pale golden, 5 to 10 minutes longer. Transfer to a rack to cool. Lower oven temperature to 160 deg C.

5. Make the filling: In a medium pot, combine the cream, cinnamon stick, star anise petals, clove, fresh ginger, cardamom and peppercorns, and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat, cover, and let steep for 1 hour. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a large bowl.

6. Whisk in pumpkin, brown sugar, eggs, yolks, rum, ground ginger, salt and nutmeg. Pour into par-baked shell, transfer to a baking sheet, and bake until crust is golden and center is slightly jiggly, 50 to 60 minutes. Cool completely before serving.