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Fastest Pie in Town

Pumpkin pie in the microwave

On the energy downswing from a departed sleepover guest, my daughter suddenly declared she wanted pumpkin pie, we had two cans of it and I’d said I would make it soon and I still hadn’t, why wasn’t I making it, it wasn’t fair, she hadn’t had any all year and it was past October so it was in season. This last argument was just for good measure, given the pumpkin was in a can, but still, give her points for it–it’s a new crop after all those shortages.

With ears ringing, I said, but it’s already 5:30. “So? I can help!” You’ve been there, I’m sure.

Pumpkin pie is a slow-food-slow kind of dish–not much way around it. Even with a premade crust and a can of “pumpkin pie mix” rather than just packed steamed pumpkin, the filling needs 45 minutes to an hour to bake. Then it needs another hour or more to cool enough to eat. And if you’ve got a tiny kitchen and your kid is helping, the elbows factor is bound to add some time and confusion.

Also, normally, with a diabetic kid, you don’t just think, “Hey! Let’s make pie for dessert!” Especially since the filling calls for 3/4 cup of sugar per pie.  But pumpkin pie, if it’s made from scratch and isn’t just a frozen ready-made version, is kind of reasonable on carbohydrates for a dessert–about 25 grams for 1/6 of an 8″ shallow pie, according to the ADA guidebook, or in our case, 35 grams for 1/8 of a standard 9.5″ deep-dish pie (calculated from the ingredients). And pumpkin may be a fruit and not a vegetable, but it’s still got a respectable serving of vitamin A and fiber. And I also like it, which helps.

Still, the time is a killer. But I had such a surprise success with spinach quiche in the microwave a while back that I started thinking. The standard filling for pumpkin pie is also based on a custard, more or less–a couple of eggs, a cup and a half of milk per deep dish pie. It’s half the eggs of a quiche, but it might well still work in a microwave. That part would take something like 5-7 minutes and leave enough time for the pie to cool while we got dinner together.

Actually, I’d wanted to try this for a while, and not with company in tow, just in case it flopped. The weather here was 97 degrees most of the week but dropped to the low 70s today and was promising an actual chill for evening. So doing the crust in the regular oven for 15 minutes or so wouldn’t actually make life miserable.

It was almost looking like a decent idea considering the fact that it was and still is totally nuts to make an entire pumpkin pie from scratch right before dinner (or at least everything from scratch short of hacking up a raw pumpkin and dealing with the seeds). So I decided to go for it, and I made my daughter deal with the filling while I made the crust and parbaked it. We just about managed not to step on each other or crowd into the same corner at the same time, but both parts went well. And then the real test came–time to nuke.

The microwave method I used for this is the same as for the quiche: Make a pie crust, parbake it in a pyrex pie plate [NOTE 9/14/11: DON’T USE THE NEW PYREX–my dishes are the old Corningware ones, the new lightweight shiny ones are made of weaker glass and Consumer Reports found they have big safety problems–go with microwaveable stoneware instead] in the regular oven at least 15 minutes, but preferably to the point where it starts to color. When the crust is baked enough for you, take it out and fill it while it’s still hot. Put a soup bowl upside down in the center of your microwave turntable, use oven mitts or a towel to carefully center the pie on top of it, put an inverted dinner plate on as a lid, and microwave it for about 5-7 minutes on HIGH (time depends on how many eggs, how much milk, how wet the filling is). It should be set but the crust edges might be a bit soggy from condensation. You can stick it back in the regular oven (still hot, but turned off) uncovered to dry out a little for a few minutes and it will crisp back up without burning. Make sure to take it out and let it cool pretty well before eating!

A couple of other things I didn’t say in the post about spinach quiche:

1. You need a pie plate that can go in the oven and then into a microwave safely. No metal pans, then. Also, very sadly, no new Pyrex. The old Pyrex by Corningware, made in the USA, is ok for this–my pie plate as pictured above is about 20 years old. The new Pyrex is made of different, cheaper glass that can crack or explode (as noted above). So now that I can’t recommend Pyrex dishes in general–my current best recommendation is a stoneware or porcelain casserole dish that indicates it’s ok for oven and microwave use.

2. When you lift the pan out of the oven to start filling it, set it on a dry surface with a potholder or dry towel, or onto a metal rack or stove burner, not onto cold tiles.

3. Use oven mitts or a potholder at every stage, because the plate will be scorching hot from the regular oven–this helps set the filling, but it’s dangerous if you forget you’re not just grabbing the usual cold plate to microwave.

The other main thing I’ve found about this method for custard-type pies is to make sure the filling stabilizes and cooks all the way through in the microwave since it won’t get the hour of “air time” of a standard oven to dry  out and condense evenly in the usual way. So, as with the quiche, to stabilize the custard and keep it from breaking, I added a heaping soup spoon of flour to the standard pie filling recipe from the back of the can.

Drying the filling sufficiently is still a challenge, because a pumpkin pie needs to cook off some of the water, and microwaving in 5 minutes or so with a cover on keeps some of the water in (though the steam trapped under the plate does ensure that the eggs in the filling aren’t undercooked). Unlike the spinach for the quiche, you can’t remove water from canned pumpkin by squeezing. I added two minutes uncovered to the original six in my guesstimate to evaporate the extra moisture a bit–the pie cracked on top, a good sign of doneness in my book, but was still a bit lighter and moister (and less caramelized) than it might have been after an hour in a conventional oven. Of course, now that I’ve done it once, it occurs to me that I could just have cut the milk down by 1/4 cup for the microwave version.

But all in all, it tasted pretty terrific, was very easy, had good texture (not too heavy, not too light) and had just about cooled enough to eat by the time we got through with dinner. Give it a try sometime and see what you think.

Pumpkin Pie in the Microwave

  • Prebaked or parbaked pie crust (see below)
  • 15-oz. can packed pumpkin
  • 3/4 c.  or ~150 g packed brown sugar or white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 c. buttermilk, regular milk, evaporated milk, soy milk, or your preference–don’t know if orange juice would work in the microwave, but I’ve done it for a conventionally baked nondairy pumpkin pie and it worked fine.
  • 1 t powdered ginger (or more if you like it)
  • 1/2 t. cinnamon
  • 1/4 t ground cloves
  • pinch or two of nutmeg
  • 1 heaping tablespoon flour

1. Make the dough for the crust (below) or just prebake/parbake a prepared one at 375F for 15-20 minutes in an oven- and microwave-safe deep dish pie plate. Meanwhile, mix all the filling ingredients together until smooth.

2. Take the pie shell out of the oven, fill it hot, and (USE OVEN MITTS)  set it on top of an overturned soup bowl in the middle of your microwave turntable. Place an inverted microwaveable dinner plate on top as a lid, and microwave on HIGH for 6 minutes.

3. Uncover carefully (watch out for steam). It should be set but might not be dry on top. Microwave another 2 minutes uncovered and test with a knife for doneness (you’ll probably see some cracks in the top). If the crust is a little damp around the edges from condensation, put the uncovered pie into the still-hot but turned-off conventional oven to dry out a few minutes, then set it out to cool.

Quick home-made pie crust (one single-crust pie)

  • 1 c. flour plus a couple of tablespoons for rolling
  • 1/2 stick (1/4 c. or 4 T.) unsalted butter or margarine, very cold, cut into 1/2 inch chunks
  • 1/8 t. baking soda
  • 1 T. sugar
  • 1/8 t. salt
  • 2-3 T. cold water

1. Pulse everything but the water in a food processor several times until the butter cuts down to lumps the size of peas and the flour starts to clump a bit. Drizzle in some of the water and pulse a few times more. Stop and poke the mixture with your finger–if it presses together and makes dough, good enough; if not, add a little more water and pulse again–if it’s too wet or soft, add a spoonful or so of flour and pulse in just a few times.

2. Dump the contents out carefully onto a plastic wrap-lined cutting board or counter. Squeeze the dough bits together into a ball and knead one or two times only. There may still be a few visible bits of butter in the dough, but there shouldn’t be wet spots. Toss some flour on and cover with more plastic wrap. (If you have time, chill it half an hour before rolling out. I don’t usually bother anymore.)

3. Roll out the dough about 3/8″ thick to a circle slightly larger than your pie plate. Peel off the top sheet of plastic wrap. Put your pie plate upside down on top of the dough, slide your hand flat under the plastic wrap and hold the dough up to the center of the plate. Put your other hand on top and flip the whole thing carefully so the dough lines the plate. Peel the 2nd sheet of plastic wrap off the dough, press the dough evenly to cover the sides, patch any holes, prick the dough a few times with a fork and bake 15-20 minutes at 375F. Fill and bake or microwave as instructed.

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