Learning out Loud in Milwaukee, WI

Pumpkin pie 2021 (part 2 Thanksgiving)

It’s funny how working outside your own kitchen can throw me off just a little bit. Tools aren’t where you expect them to be. The refrigerator is plenty cold but somehow the butter feels not chilled enough. I’m cutting in the butter but it doesn’t look right. The oven is hot enough but it feels like the pie is taking too long. It’s all in my head and it’s just enough to yield unexpected results.

For Thanksgiving this year we were at Nancy’s new house here in Milwaukee. Of course, László woke up Thursday morning with croup, which threw us all off and scrambling the day of and sent me to the hospital’s pharmacy to pick up his medication. Once we were set and cooking, we constructed a pretty excellent meal for the four of us.

From my last post, I tried the steeping method of infusing cinnamon flavor into the pie filling and I was not disappointed with the results. For whatever reason my crust did not want to come together, nor roll out, nor bake fully on the bottom. Still, we had a good pie.

The pie was not the highlight of my baking this year. (I know, the title, bear with me.) It was Struffoli, a Neapolitan dessert involving deep fried dough balls, cooled and soaked in honey, nonpareils, almonds and dried fruit. This was much easier than expected to throw together, though it did take some time. Cook’s Illustrated (which is apparently my only cook book these days) has a great recipe.

If the dessert sounds decadent it’s because it very much is. For being deep fried, you might expect them to taste like doughnuts, but the texture we achieved was more like tiny bites of biscotti. A puffed, sweet, crunch that left us going back for more. A nice thing about them is they’re tiny so you can just grab one. And then grab another one. Then another one. Then why not three or four. OK maybe just one more. OK, this is the last one now.

If I have one addition to the recipe notes to use a light colored honey. Since honeys can taste different depending on what kind of flowers the bees were munching on, a mix of honeys could be a nice experiment. Light color is key, though, if only to make the plate more attractive and give it a bright and inviting look. It’s also possible a lighter color honey would help gauge whether it’s hot and cooked enough before dumping the dough in to coat them. I’d also use the trick in the comments to use a glass to help shape the wreath and avoid a big pool of honey in the middle of the plate. All that said, this is a keeper I’m excited to try again.

The method for these was pretty simple, but the dish was nonetheless complicated and time consuming. The dough is almost like a cake: flour, baking powder, sugar, butter. You ball up the dough and divide it roughly into six equal parts. With a scale and a ruler, I might have achieved a bit more uniformity, but I didn’t have either and the higgledy piggledy result added an extra element of fun. Divide the six dough pieces into (about) 60 each and you quickly have a pile of more than 300 balls of dough ready for frying.

The dough balls took a bit longer to fry than I expected — about 3 minutes or more to get a nice golden brown color — and I was a little worried I’d over done it. Trust the color, not your internal clock, and you’ll have good results. I didn’t time it, but I’d guess the 2 hours + 20 minutes of cooling is about right.

Next up: More pumpkin and Christmas bakes. Hopefully this time around my crust comes together a bit better.