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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Recipe: New England-Meets-Basque-Style Clam and Salt Cod Chowder, v. 1.0

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New England-Meets-Basque-Style Clam and Salt Cod Chowder, v. 1.0, 15 November 2013

This recipe — borne out of an aromatic journey down memory lane, through the clam shacks of my childhood, and up to the present day, through the kitchens of the Basque country — combines the essential elements of a New England clam chowder (clams, potatoes, onions and corn in a broth enriched with milk) with several fundamental elements of Basque cuisine: choricero peppers, Pimentón de la Vera, and bacalao.

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Cape Codder Seafood Market, West Yarmouth, Massachusetts, November 2008

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Extracting rehydrated choricero pepper pulp

This chowder is at once hearty and substantial, yet it remains delicate and fragrant, with the flavors of the clams and fish shining through the broth. Just in time for our Basque Thanksgiving feast next week, it strikes a perfect balance for me between what I have known “forever” in my New Englander bones about great chowders, and what I have been absorbing since I came to live on the other side of the Atlantic. I hope you love it too!

NEW ENGLAND-MEETS-BASQUE-STYLE CLAM AND SALT COD CHOWDER, V. 1.0

Ingredients:
2 kilos (4.5 pounds) hard-shell clams, scrubbed and purged
1 kilo (2.2 pounds) rehydrated salt cod, cut into pieces (2.5-5 cm/1-2 inches)
275 g (0.5 pounds) smoked bacon, cut into lardons
4 medium leeks, trimmed and sliced into 1-cm pieces
1 large onion, peeled and diced
6 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
5 medium potatoes, peeled and diced into 1-cm cubes and held in cold water
500 ml (2 cups) whole milk
3 bay leaves
6 black peppercorns
3 sprigs fresh thyme
500 ml (2 cups) dry vermouth
6 grams (1 Tbsp) Pimentón de La Vera
20 grams (1 Tbsp) pulp of rehydrated choricero peppers
350 grams (1 cup) corn kernels, sliced from 2 large cobs, or canned
6 grams (2 Tbsp) fresh chives, finely chopped
3 grams (1 Tbsp) fresh parsley, finely chopped
2 liters (8 cups) white fish stock, heated to a boil and left barely simmering
1 baguette-style loaf of bread, cut into 1-cm slices
1 garlic clove, sliced into paper-thin slices
1 gram (4-5 individual) small, dried cayenne peppers
Freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil

Instructions:
1. Prepare the clams and clam broth. In a large pot combine 175 ml (3/4 cup) of the dry vermouth, 350 ml (1 1/2 cups) of water, 1 bay leaf and 6 peppercorns and bring to a boil. Add the clams, cover, and cook until the clams just open. Move them gently once or twice, taking care not to break their shells. Remove from heat. Remove the clams from the liquid with kitchen tongs and strain the liquid through a fine-mesh strainer into a clean bowl. Shell the clams and reserve them in another small bowl. Discard the shells.

2. Prepare the sofrito. In a large, clean pot, sweat the bacon lardons over medium heat until they begin to render their fat. Then raise the heat slightly and toast them on all sides.

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Bacon lardons

3. Add the onion, leeks and garlic to the pot with the bacon, season with salt and cook over medium heat until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the corn kernels.

4. Add the remaining vermouth and allow it to reduce almost completely. Add the choricero pepper pulp and the pimentón and stir well.

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The sofrito 

5. In another medium pot, combine the milk, thyme, 2 bay leaves and potatoes, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, and simmer until the potatoes are tender, about 6 minutes.

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Potatoes simmering in aromatic milk before being added to the chowder pot

6. Add about 1.25 liters (about 5 cups) of the fish stock to the sofrito and bring to a gentle boil. Reduce the heat slightly and add in the mixture of potatoes and milk. Stir well. It is important that the chowder not return to a rapid boil from this point on (to keep the milk from separating), but it should be kept hot, over medium-high heat.

7. Gently incorporate the salt cod and simmer gently until the fish is firm, about 5 minutes. Stir occasionally. Taste. Season with salt and black pepper. Incorporate chopped chives and parsley. Remove the pot from the heat.

8. In a wide, shallow pan, heat a thin layer of olive oil over medium heat, along with the paper-thin slices of garlic and the cayenne peppers. When the garlic begins to just sizzle, add as many slices of bread as will fit in the pan in an even layer and toast them, first on one side then on the other. Remove toasts to a plate and sprinkle with a hint of pimentón. Discard the cayenne peppers.

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Small, dried cayenne peppers (Capiscum spp)

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Chopping chives for finishing the chowder

9. Serve the chowder in wide bowls with two or three toasts nestled right into the broth. Grab a spoon.

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Enjoy! On egin!