It smells like Thanksgiving, but it looks a little…puffier.

It’s our Pumpkin Pie Pantxineta

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Fresh from the oven in this week’s class, our exuberant Pumpkin Pie Pantxineta; photo by Alexandra Denne

…the fusion of two mythic desserts, one from either side of the Northern Atlantic.

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Pumpkin pie from Brooklyn’s beloved Four & Twenty Blackbirds; photo from newyork.cbslocal.com

Pumpkin pie is a traditional North American favorite during the fall and winter holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas. It is essentially a custard made from sweet pumpkins, baked in an open pie shell, and infused with a characteristic blend of spices, including cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves and allspice. (Proportions of these spices vary, of course, depending on the baker, but this mix from My Baking Addiction nails it as far as I’m concerned.)

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Grinding cloves and allspice to make pumpkin pie spice

Pantxineta, here in Donostia-San Sebastián, is “el dulce de la ciudad” — the sweet of the city — a simple and elegant parcel of puff pastry filled with vanilla custard and topped with almonds. Many believe the original pantxineta recipe was developed by the Otaegui bakery (founded in 1886) during the Spanish Civil War, when other ingredients were scarce…

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Otaegui in the Parte Vieja, Donostia-San Sebastián; photo from www.alpanpanyalvinovino.es

…while in a dishy piece about the history of the pantxineta, a writer from Bilbao explains that José Maria Gorrotxategi, historian, baker and author of  La Historia de la Confitería Vasca, believes the recipe may have originated even before that.

In any case, this investigation has gotten me very excited to visit the Gorrotxategi Confectionary Museum in Tolosa, home to an ethnographic collection of tools — divided into sections including Chocolate, Sponge Cake, Liqueurs and Spirits, Cream and Butter, Honey and Wax, among others — representing centuries of the Basque confectionary tradition. More on that in a future post!

As some students observed in class, several of the traditional Basque desserts we have made — fried cream, pears in wine, rice pudding — have filled our kitchen with a now-familiar aroma profile, combinations of vanilla, lemon peel, orange peel and cinnamon. The classic pantxineta recipe falls right in line.

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The custard for our Pumpkin Pie Pantxineta – finger lickin’ good!

In making this recipe, however, our Pumpkin Pie Pantxineta sent us down a distinct sensory path, filling our kitchen with the pungent, heady fragrances of other times and other places — of crisp autumn days, of the cornucopia of things we are thankful for — as our two iconic desserts reached out and joined hands across the ocean….

PUMPKIN PIE PANTXINETA

Ingredients:

For the pumpkin puree:
1 medium winter squash (best choices: sugar pumpkin, kabocha squash, butternut squash)

For the pastry cream:
800 ml (3 1/3 cups) whole milk
200 ml (1 cup) heavy cream
150 g (2/3 cup) white sugar
4 egg yolks
1 whole egg
65 g (1/2 cup) corn starch, sifted
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
1 lemon, zested in strips
250 g (1 cup) pumpkin puree
3 tsp pumpkin pie spice 

For the pantxineta:
500 g puff pastry (2 sheets)
200 g raw almonds, peeled and chopped
1 whole egg, beaten
Cooled pastry cream
Flour for dusting

Instructions:

1. First, make the pumpkin puree. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C (400 degrees F). Cut the squash in half lengthwise, remove the seeds, and roast it, cut-side down, in a baking dish lined with parchment paper and covered tightly with foil, for about 30 minutes or until very tender. (Don’t add anything – no oil, water, butter, salt, sugar, spices, etc.) Scoop out the flesh and puree it with a hand blender. You can use it right away, or you can refrigerate or freeze it for later use.

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2. Get organized before making your pastry cream! If you’ve never made one before, or have had trouble trying, don’t worry! With a bit of care and the right tools, you can make a smooth and creamy custard with no fear of scrambled eggs or gooey lumps. Be sure you have a sturdy whisk and a heat-resistant rubber spatula.

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Your partners in pastry-cream making: a sturdy whisk and a rubber spatula

3. In a medium saucepan, bring the milk just to a boil with the vanilla bean (seeds and pod), lemon zest and pumpkin pie spice. Lower the heat so the milk is not boiling but remains hot and steaming; allow the milk to infuse for 10 minutes. Stir occasionally to prevent a skin from forming. (If a skin does form, just remove it.) Remove the pod and the zest.

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Infusing the milk with vanilla bean, lemon peel and spices

4. In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the cream and the cornstarch until smooth and set aside.

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Cornstarch and cream whisked together

5. In a large mixing bowl, blanchir the egg yolks, whole egg and sugar by beating with a whisk until pale and creamy. Whisk in the cornstarch mixture.

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Eggs and sugar whisked together until pale and creamy

6. Temper the egg mixture with the hot milk: Slowly pour about 200 ml (about 1 cup) of hot milk into the egg mixture, whisking constantly. Add the remaining hot milk in 3 or 4 additions, whisking constantly. Whisk in the pumpkin puree.

7. Pour the mixture into a clean saucepan and begin heating over medium heat, stirring constantly with the rubber spatula to incorporate any froth and to keep the mixture moving as it comes up to temperature. You may raise the temperature to medium-high, but keep a close eye on it. When the mixture starts to thicken, that is, when you just begin to see some sticky business forming on the spatula, switch from the spatula to the whisk and whisk vigorously as it thickens to achieve a smooth, luscious custard. Once the thickening process begins, it should all take no more than about 3-5 minutes.

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Whisking to form a smooth, creamy custard

8. Pour the custard into a cool, deep tray or platter and cover with plastic wrap, allowing the plastic to touch the surface of the custard to prevent a skin from forming as it cools. Allow to cool.

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Custard cooling in the window; laundry hanging in the rain

9. Make the pantxineta. Preheat the oven to 170ºC. Lightly roll out one sheet of puff pastry and press it into a tart mold like this one. Fill the shell with the cooled pastry cream. Unroll the second sheet of puff pastry and place it directly on top of the mold, trim it and carefully seal the edges where the two layers meet.

Alternately, you can create mini-pantxinetas by cutting circles from the puff pastry. Lay out half of the circles, top each with a spoonful of custard, use beaten egg to paint their borders, top with remaining circles and gently press together.

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Preparing mini-pantxinetas

Brush the surface of the pantxineta(s) with beaten egg, sprinkle with the chopped almonds and bake for approximately 40 minutes until beautifully puffed and golden. Serve warm.

Enjoy! Happy Thanksgiving! On egin!

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Longwood Gardens, Pennsylvania

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