Save Room for Pie Fresh and flavorful: Freezer's bounty can't compete with the appeal of newly baked pumpkin pies.

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Pumpkin pie is so much a part of Thanksgiving that when a 17th-century town in Connecticut couldn't get the molasses for its pies in time, it postponed the holiday. If you're a traditionalist at all (and when is traditional food more important than Thanksgiving?), you have to end the festive meal with a pumpkin pie.

Unfortunately we've all been faced with so many indifferent pumpkin pies, it's hard to work up much enthusiasm for them -- especially after a rich and heavy dinner.

Fear of baking has sent many a shopper scurrying to the frozen food section of the supermarket. Frozen pumpkin pies aren't bad, but a freshly baked one is so very much better.

A pumpkin pie is easy to make, as long as you don't start with fresh pumpkin. And why bother? By the time you add all the other ingredients, I defy anyone to tell the difference between canned and fresh pumpkin. Just be sure you buy plain pumpkin pulp if the recipe calls for "canned pumpkin," not pumpkin pie mix.

What makes a homemade pumpkin pie special is that you're using the best ingredients -- fresh eggs, cream and newly purchased spices. Replace those tins of cinnamon and cloves if they've been on your shelf for a couple of years. And be sure to use freshly grated nutmeg, not already ground.

I freely admit the following recipes are not for the overly health conscious. Sure, plain pumpkin is good for you: an excellent source of vitamin A and a fair source of iron and potassium. But who cares? By the time you load it down with sugar, eggs, cream and spices and surround by a nice flaky pastry, nutrition isn't going to be your primary concern.

Here are five pumpkin pies, starting with the best traditional pumpkin pie you've ever put in your mouth. It should be, with sweet butter in the crust and heavy cream in the filling. Make the crust the day before and chill overnight. Bake the pie Thanksgiving morning.

Good as holiday pumpkin pie is, I find that the pumpkin chiffon pie in a gingersnap crust is everyone's favorite. It's the pie I make each year at Thanksgiving, and I've never known anyone (( to be satisfied with just one piece. It's lighter than traditional custard pumpkin pies without sacrificing any flavor, a superb ending to a heavy meal.

If you've been asked to bring the pumpkin pie but aren't a baker, try the "Easy As Pie" recipe. It uses a frozen pie shell and pumpkin pie mix jazzed up with a little orange liqueur. (You can buy miniature bottles if you don't have any on hand.) What makes this so good is that it's served with cinnamon-ginger cream, even easier to make than the four-ingredient pie.

I love Italian ricotta cheese pies, which is why the orange pumpkin ricotta tart is one of my favorite pumpkin pie variations. I doubt that most of your guests will be able to tell what the "secret" ingredient is -- they'll just notice that the pie is lighter and fluffier than traditional pumpkin pies. This is less spicy than the other recipes; you can distinguish the flavors of fresh orange juice, grated rind and vanilla extract.

Finally, mince pie is a favorite of mine; I like to include it in the holiday meal. My mother always baked one mince pie and one pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving, no matter how small the gathering, so it seems very traditional to me. But it's an acquired taste, and most people like mince (a mix of dried fruits, spices and liquor) better when it's combined with something else they're more accustomed to -- apples or pumpkin. Pumpkin-mince pie is unusual enough to add interest to the Thanksgiving meal while at the same time being made with the most traditional ingredients possible.

Holiday pumpkin pie

3 extra-large eggs

1 cup light brown sugar

1 3/4 cups canned pumpkin (a 15-ounce can), NOT pumpkin pie mix

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 teaspoon ginger

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1 1/2 cups heavy cream

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Heat oven to 450 degrees. Beat the eggs lightly and add the other ingredients in the order given. Pour carefully into an unbaked 9- or 10-inch deep-dish pie shell. (See recipe below.) Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 325 degrees and bake for 50 minutes or until just set. Do not overbake; the custard will be creamier and softer than ordinary pumpkin pies. Cool on a rack. Serve with a spoonful of softly whipped unsweetened cream and a chocolate ivy leaf.

This pastry holds up better than traditional crusts for a custard-type pie.

Egg Pastry

1 1/2 cups presifted all-purpose flour

1/2 cup unsalted butter

1/2 extra-large egg

1 tablespoon white vinegar

1/4 cup ice water

Cut the chilled butter into the flour. Beat together the half egg, vinegar and ice water.

Mixing with a fork, add just enough of the liquid to the flour mixture so you can form a ball of dough. Do not overhandle.

Roll out and line a 9- or 10-inch deep-dish pie plate with the dough. Chill thoroughly before filling and baking.

Chocolate ivy leaves

Wash eight ivy leaves and pat dry with a paper towel.

Melt two ounces of semisweet chocolate in the microwave on high for one to two minutes. It should be soft but not runny.

With a butter knife or small spoon coat the underside of the ivy leaves, place on waxed paper and chill in the refrigerator until the chocolate looks dull. Carefully peel off the leaf and discard.

-! These can be made in advance.

Pumpkin chiffon pie

1 tablespoon unflavored gelatin

1/4 cup cold water

1 1/2 cups canned pumpkin

6 tablespoons sugar

6 tablespoons milk

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

3 tablespoons rum

3 extra-large eggs, separated

1/4 cup sugar

Dissolve the gelatin in the water. Set aside. Combine the pumpkin, 6 tablespoons of sugar, milk, seasonings, rum and egg yolks in the top of a double boiler. Cook over simmering water until slightly thickened. Remove from heat and beat in the dissolved gelatin. Scrape into a bowl and chill, stirring occasionally.

When the pumpkin custard is partially set, beat 3 egg whites until foamy. Gradually add 1/4 cup sugar. Beat until stiff but not dry peaks form. Fold the whites into the partially set pumpkin custard. Pour into gingersnap crust. (See below.) Refrigerate until completely set.

Gingersnap crust

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Crush enough gingersnaps to make 1 1/2 cups of crumbs. (I use a food processor.) Mix with 5 tablespoons softened butter. Press into 9-inch pie plate. Bake for 15 minutes. Cool before filling.

Easy as pie

1 can (30 ounces) pumpkin pie mix, NOT pure pumpkin

3 extra-large eggs

2/3 cup undiluted evaporated milk

2 tablespoons Grand Marnier or other orange liqueur

1 9-inch frozen unbaked pie shell

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Mix the first four ingredients and pour into pie shell. Bake for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake until custard is set, about 45 to 50 minutes. Serve with a generous dollop of cinnamon-ginger whipped cream.

Cinnamon-ginger cream

1 cup heavy cream

2 tablespoons confectioners' sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

2 tablespoons minced crystallized ginger

With chilled bowl and beaters whip the cream, sugar, vanilla and cinnamon together until soft peaks form. Do not overbeat. With a spatula gently fold in the crystallized ginger.

Orange ricotta pumpkin tart

3 extra-large eggs

1 15-ounce container ricotta cheese

3/4 cup sugar

2 tablespoons fresh orange juice

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

finely grated rind of 1 thick-skinned orange

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ginger

1 3/4 cups canned pumpkin, NOT pie filling

1 unbaked 9-inch deep-dish pie shell

Heat oven to 450 degrees. Beat the eggs lightly, and then add the ingredients down to the pie shell in the order given. Pour the mixture into the pie shell and bake for 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to 325 degrees, and bake for 45 to 50 minutes longer.

Pumpkin-mince pie

1 cup mince pie filling

1 unbaked 9-inch deep-dish pie shell

1 1/2 cups canned pumpkin, not pie filling

2 extra-large eggs, separated

1 cup light cream

2/3 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Heat oven to 450 degrees. Spread the mince pie filling on the bottom of a deep-dish pie shell. Beat together pumpkin, egg yolks, cream, sugar, spices and vanilla. Heat over simmering water in the top of a double boiler until warm. Meanwhile beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Fold into the warm pumpkin mixture and spread on top of the mince pie filling.

Bake for 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to 325 degrees and continue to bake for 40 minutes or until set.

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