With the holidays just upon us, I hope you won't mind a little pre-Thanksgiving dessert and have to let you in on a little secret: I won't be cooking or baking this Thanksgiving. Argh!!! Horror!!! Truth is, I never cook or bake that day as I am reminded each year that it is not "my" holiday. Well yes, French people did not have Pilmgrims and Native Americans (we had Romans and Vikings but that's another story), but Thanksgiving is important to my American. I know that Thanksgiving is more than that, the viking-pilgrim thing is just a joke between us when people ask me what the French do for T-Day. What is important to B. is important to me. In his family dynamics however, I get to sit this one out.
I love entertaining, holiday cooking and baking, having a bunch of friends and dear ones around. Planning, making the menus...I miss this greatly being so far away from my family most holidays. Comes Thanksgiving and my head is spinning with recipes, both sweet and savory and I get to relax. Horror!! I am serious here, I know a lot of you super master entertainers and foodies can relate!! By Christmas I am so terribly homesick that we elope to the mountains and regroup while B. lets me reminisce about my Christmases by home.
If anything, I live for my family dinners as his family is way smaller and calmer. There are no less than 20-30 people at my parents' house gathering around the table for Christmas Eve and just about the same number on Christmas day. There are kids everywhere, toys all over the place, bottles behind curtains (remind me to tell you about that when we get closer to Christmas). There is virtually no room to move around, the garage is the same temperature as the refrigerator so my parents' car is transformed into a cheese and dessert shelf. There is noise, loud noise, jokes, laughters, discussions, disagreements. We eat and chat for hours. B. will say that he needs to train a couple of weeks in advance to match the 6 hour festivities of eating and drinking two days in a row. We do take our time and talk a lot in between courses. One year we tried to rush so that my grandparents would get to bed at a decent hour but they got mad and stayed up with us until 2am....we did not tell them we kept at it until 4am!
One of the things I learned early on about my husband is his love for two Thanksgiving classics: pecan and pumpkin pies. Pecan pie was an easy one to get used to when I moved to the US as it was very close to our "tarte aux noix" that we have in the North. The concept of pumpkin pie was new to me yet completely fascinating. When I exclaimed "pumpkin? In a pie?", he was quick to say "you guys preserve all chestnuts in sugar syrup and then glaze them with more sugar syrup...and you eat them...just like that!!" Ah yes, the Marron Glace! I could see his point, it's an acquired taste. However, a taste for a cold slice of pumpkin pie is ve-ry easy to acquire!!
Even if we don't get to have the family over on that special Thursday, we created our own tradition years ago by hosting a pre-Thanksgiving dinner the week before with a few of our close friends. We gather early around in the kitchen and dining area and we cook and bake together wile chatting and sipping wine. Each person has his or her favorite thing to make and eat and early on I started combining my heritage and B's by combining ingredients I'd find here in dishes I would make back home.
One thing I love in the world of sweet things is meringue. I can eat meringue all day and never reach the bottom of the cookie jar. When time came bring dessert to our gatherings the first thing that came to my mind was to make a Pumpkin Meringue Pie, combining two of our childhood favorites. I like to use a sable base instead of the traditional pate brisee crust and once the filling is baked, I pipe rosettes of Italian meringue on top and use the blow torch to finish it off. We have had this way for the past ten years so I guess you could say we now have our own tradition for Thanksgiving albeit a week early!!
Pumpkin Meringue Tartelettes:
Makes 8 small tartelettes (3 inches diameter) or one 9 inch round pie
1 stick (115 gr) butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup (93 gr) powdered sugar
1 large egg
1 1 /2 cups (188gr) flour
2 tablespoons (20 gr) cornstarch (makes for a lighter crumb)pinch of salt
In a mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the egg and mix until combined. Add the flour, cornstarch and salt and mix briefly to incorporate. Dump the whole mixture onto a lightly floured board and gather the dough into a smooth ball. Do not work the dough while in the mixer or it will toughen up. Flatten the dough into a disk, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour. When the dough is nice and cold, roll it out on a lightly floured board or in between the sheets of plastic. You will have extra dough that you can save for another use in the fridge for up to 5 days or frozen, well wrapped for up to 3 months. Cut out 8 rounds two inches larger than your pastry rings. Fit the dough inside the rings with your fingertips and trim the edges with a sharp knife. Line the rings with small squares of parchment paper and fill with pie weights or dry beans. Place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake at 350F for 10-12 minutes. Let cool.
For the Pumpkin Filling:
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup canned pumpkin (not the whole can but 8 oz)
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
pinch of salt
2/3 cup whole milk
In a large bowl, beat the egg and sugar until pale. Add the pumpkin, spices and salt and mix until just incorporated. Add the milk and slowly and mix well. Divide the batter among the cooled tart rings and bake for 20-30 minutes at 350F until the batter looks like it is just set, don't overcook or it will crack on you. Remove from the oven and let cool completely before proceeding with the meringue topping.
For the Italian Meringue:
2 egg whites (60 grams)
1/2 cup (100gr) sugar
2 tablespoons water
In a heavy bottom saucepan, bring the sugar and water to a boil and cook the mixture until it reaches 245-248F on a candy thermometer. In the meantime, start beating the egg whites firm peaks but not stiff or dry. When the sugar syrup has reached the proper temperature, slowly add it to the egg whites with the mixer on low-medium speed. Once all the sugar has been poured in, turn the speed to high and beat until the meringue has cooled. Place it in a piping bag fitted with a large star tip and pipe rosettes of meringue on top of the tartelettes. Use a blowtorch to slightly caramelize the tops or place them under the broiler in your oven but make sure to keep a close eye on them.