It all started with an idea during a House Party Official Blog team meeting. "It's summertime, somebody on the team should definitely make a dessert or a pie and blog about it," someone muttered. A reasonably fun idea, but hardly revolutionary. "Better yet, they should bake it and bring it in for a House Party taste-test," someone followed-up. Hmm, getting warmer. After all, it'd be a shame to let all that taste-bud-talent in our office go to waste. It's definitely a good idea to bring in said delicacy for us to sample - strictly to ensure the pie's up to par, of course!
So, with an idea in mind, we added "Summer Pie" to our calendar to work on, write and deliver to you, our readers. But, this is when it started to get interesting. Now, if baking a pie is fun and bringing it in for the company to sample is even more fun, there's really only one more thing that can be done to truly take this blog post to the "next level." Yep, you guessed it: We had to make it a head-to-head competition!
A little bit of healthy competition never hurt anyone, right? And heck, our idea just managed to at the very least double the amount of pie we'd be sampling. (Indeed, a stroke of brilliance.) Well, everybody loves food (especially dessert...c'mon, admit it) and, around these parts, everybody's come to love Larry's cooking. So, immediately contender number one was a lock. Larry has quickly become our resident gastronomic guru, having won us over with his Thai Chicken Red Curry recipe, his whimsically delicious "Cap'n Crunch Chicken" recipe, his Mexican spin on Chicken Parmesan and even his summer fave, BBQ flatbread pizzas. So, who'd be either crazy enough or have the gall to challenge Larry? Well, I'll admit there was never a thought in my mind of truly "challenging" him, but I wanted to make sure nothing got in the way of pies making their way to the office, so with a cavalier "Sure!" I volunteered to be contestant number two.
After briefly chatting about the pie-contest, Larry and I decided to make things interesting yet once more. Why do the same apple, blueberry or cherry that everyone would expect? Summer pies? Let's be honest...it's been done. (Danielle and Sarah vehemently disagreed, but yet still ate the eventual items in question.) Here at House Party we like to do things a bit differently. So, without missing a beat, Larry and I both remarked that a) there was a dessert ingredient that we both were excited about trying out as well as b) it would remind us of a slightly cooler season compared to the recent heat wave we'd experienced. And presto, we hit on our main ingredient: Pumpkin.
The delicious weapons brought to the battle were a pumpkin cheesecake adorned with maple-sugared pecans by Larry and a rendition of Paula Deen's Pumpkin Gooey Butter Cake from my corner. This is a classic that I've made on-and-off for nearly six years now. It's a simple and straightforward recipe with easy prep. (A couple keys that I've learned are crucial if I'm in the kitchen trying to produce anything edible.) The only particularly touch-and-go part of the recipe is ensuring that you take the cake out before the center portion begins to firm-up after around 45 minutes in the oven. This is one of those moves "on faith" since the cake will continue to cook internally once it's out of the oven. Without this nuance, it's less a "Pumpkin Gooey Butter Cake" and more a "Pumpkin Brick-like Butter Cake." So, while I haven't gone through the entirety of the recipe in this post, you'll find as soon as you visit the link a very simple, straightforward and delicious recipe. That said, I think in retrospect I was a little out of my league, having now both tasted and read through Larry's extensive and delicious recipe.
While I truly had a blast enjoying the healthy competition of baking skills, I have to say the reward wasn't simply a fun occasion. Larry's cheesecake was exquisite. I'm not typically a fan of cheesecake, since it tends to be so rich. Well, consider Larry's pumpkin cheesecake the sole exception to that rule - an exception I was glad to make. You could tell Larry had put gourmet mastery into it and it really pummeled my entry in terms of presentation quality. It was a delicious way to feel like I had so much to learn!
Hmm, now has anyone seen any of those stray maple-sugared pecan toppers? My quest begins...
I love pumpkin pie. I love cheesecake. This was the perfect opportunity to marry the two flavors and come up with something off the cuff. This "pumpkin pie cheesecake" was built in three layers. A crust layer, a pie layer and a topping layer. I'll start with the topping, since that needs to cook for a bit.
Mapled pecan topping: You need:
- 8oz bag of pecans - chop them yourself or buy them pre chopped. I chop them myself
- 3 tablespoons of butter
- 1/4 cup of pure maple syrup
- 3 tablespoons of white sugar
- a pinch of salt
Melt the butter in a saute pan. Add the pecans, making sure each piece is coated nicely in butter. Let them saute for a few minutes, then add your maple syrup. Stir the pecans around, once again making sure each piece is bathed in maple syrup. Add the sugar and salt. Turn the burner off and let this mixture sit. This process should take no longer than ten minutes.
Pie crust: I've never made pie crust. I always thought it would be a pain to make. When I was at the store, I picked up one of those pre-made pie crusts to use in the competition. It looked so sad, so...pre-made. This is a challenge! It is time to man up! I purchased a spring form pan and ingredients I thought would be necessary to make a decent pie crust.
- 1 cup of ground graham cracker crumbs
- 1 cup of ground pecans
- 1 cup of butter
- 1/2 cup of brown sugar
Grind the pecans in a food processor; be careful not to over grind them because you don't want to start forming a pecan butter. You can also throw in your graham crackers if you didn't buy ground graham cracker crumbs. Place this mixture in a bowl and add the sugar and butter. Mix all the ingredients well. Transfer the buttery crumb batter to your pie pan and press down firmly, distributing the crust as evenly as possible. This makes about a half inch thick pie crust.
Cheesecake filling: Ahh, cheesecake. This part gets a bit complicated, but the effort pays off if you want authentic pumpkin flavor.
- 3/4 cup white sugar
- 2 cups of "squash glop" (made from buttercup squash and butternut squash - see below)
- 3 egg yolks
- 1 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 eight ounce packages cream cheese
- 1 eleven ounce log of unflavored goat cheese
- 1 cup white sugar
- 1 egg
- 1 egg yolk
- 2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
So what the heck is squash glop?
I refuse to use canned pumpkin. The real thing is so much better, and it's worth the added labor involved to get get all that extra pumpkin-y goodness into your recipe.
The problem is that 'round these parts, it's not that easy to find a pumpkin in the summer; I had to improvise. When you boil it down to the logistics, a pumpkin is a just a big round orange squash. I couldn't find a pumpkin in the store, but there was plenty of butternut and buttercup squash to go around. I picked up one of each and was able to mimic the flavor of a sugar pumpkin with these two types of squash.
So how do you get the glop? Cut each squash in half and remove the seeds. Paint the skin of each squash with some vegetable oil. Place the squash in the pan, skin side up, and bake it at 400 degrees for about an hour, or until the meat of the squash can be easily poked with a fork. Once the squash is fork tender, remove it from the oven and let it cool.
When the squash is cool, separate the meat from the skin and place in a food processor. Now add the white sugar, 3 egg yolks and pumpkin pie spice. Blend until you have a smooth, creamy mixture and set aside.
Beat cream and goat cheese with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Slowly add add 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons white sugar and mix well. Add a whole egg, an egg yolk and the whipping cream and continue to mix well. After that, add the cornstarch and vanilla and beat the batter until it's smooth. Add squash glop and mix well. Finally, pour batter into your pie pan.
Remember those mapled pecans? Time to utilize them. Sprinkle the pecans on top of the pie, distributing across the circumference of the pie as evenly as possible. Now we can bake the cheesecake.
Many, many cheesecake recipes will tell you to just insert the pie into the oven and bake at 350-400 degrees for X amount of time. I believe there is a flaw in this method because unless you know the intricacies of your stove inside and out, you can easily over bake the cheesecake. This will lead to cracks in the surface and some parts of the crust may bake unevenly. I prefer to bake cheesecake in a water bath. It turns out the spring form pan I purchase was slightly larger then the roasting pan I had lying around, so I was not able to utilize the water bath technique. The pie came out fine, although some parts of the crust were a bit "overdone." A certain copywriter and member of the blog team, who may or may not be editing this post, was very quick to call me out on this!
If you want to use the water bath technique, take heavy aluminum foil and wrap it around the sides and bottom of your spring form pan or cheesecake pan. This prevents leakage while baking your cheesecake. Place the cheesecake pan in a roasting pan and fill the roasting pan with boiling water about halfway up, or approximately 1 1/2 to 2 inches. Bake for 50-55 minutes at 350 degrees. Let cheesecake cool on a wire rack, then refrigerate for 4 hours, overnight preferably.
This was a fun and quirky challenge. Brian's pie was awesome. I'm trying to follow a strict diet and planned on eating only a bite or two of Brian's pie, but I ended up stuffing my face with a whole piece. It was worth it.
Have you ever entered into a food competition with a friend or colleague? We'd love to hear all about it.