In keeping with the theme of holiday fare, this week we’re delving into one of my favorite parts of Thanksgiving: The Pie.
It’s not often I’ll say no to pie. In fact, I love pie so much that I’ve been known to do “birthday pie” instead of cake for my annual celebration. Fruit pies, chocolatey pies, nut pies. Pies topped with fluffy meringue, soft peaks of whipped cream, a big scoop of ice cream, or half-submerged in a pool of plain old milk (my favorite as a child). I’ve rarely met a pie I don’t like.
My loyal readers know that one of favorite subjects is reimagining classic foods (some of which may not be all that health-forward) so they’re more in tune with an attentive approach to what we put in our bodies. The holidays are a wonderful time to enjoy family, food, and festivities, and I love all the opportunities for a little indulgence when it comes to savoring treats.
Yet the parties and extravagant food can add up fast, making it easy to stray from thoughtful food choices and fall back into less-optimal eating patterns. I want to inspire consciousness around food throughout the year. Though I always give myself some grace around special occasions (a habit I believe is far more mindful than shame), I believe it’s important to approach the season with awareness.
Sugar is a huge challenge for many of us, especially around the holidays. But we can take proactive steps to survive the season without too many negative repercussions to our health. We can be aware of the hidden sugars in the everyday foods we consume. Cut back on sweeteners in our own baked goods. And, at the very least, eliminate refined sugars from our menus.
I thought of this delectable treat with all of that in mind. It was inspired by two of my favorite traditional Thanksgiving desserts: pecan and pumpkin pies. But I use deeply flavorful blue Hubbard squash for the spiced “pumpkin” filling and top it with a luscious, silken sauce made from dried dates, roasted pecans, and a touch of maple syrup. The sauce is a more favorable alternative to the standard caramel sauce made with refined sugar and corn syrup—however, it’s still very rich and definitely not a low-sugar alternative. Unless you use the inositol powder option listed below, I suggest that you use the sauce as sparingly as any other sugary treat. You can also make it dairy-free by using coconut milk if you’d like.
Blue Hubbard is an heirloom squash, mottled and knobby, with a pale blueish-green hue. The deep orange flesh has a sweet flavor and dense texture. You can find it in many grocery stores through the fall and winter months, but for this pie you may also use any similarly flavored and textured squash. Pie pumpkin, butternut, kuri, or turban would work best, or even sweet potato. Whatever you choose, roast it yourself for the most optimal flavor (reserve any leftovers for another dish or freeze for later). The caramel sauce will keep for a week to ten days. Any extra caramel would be welcome in almost any dessert—that is, if your guests don’t devour it all. Serve it chilled for a thicker, fluffy consistency, or serve warm if you prefer it slightly more liquid and sauce-like.
Plan to make this pie the day before, or at least six hours before serving, to allow it to set. Serve chilled or at room temperature for best results.
Deep Dish Blue Hubbard Pie with Date-Pecan Salted Caramel Cream
Makes 1 deep dish pie and 2 cups caramel sauce
Prep time: 40–60 minutes, plus hands-off resting time for pastry
Cook time: 1–1 ¼ hours, plus time to roast the squash
For the crust:
2 cups einkorn flour or other whole grain flour of choice (alternately, use your favorite pie dough recipe)
½ teaspoon sea salt
6 tablespoons chilled butter, cut in large pieces
4 tablespoons leaf lard, cut in large chunks (alternately, use all butter)
3–4 tablespoons ice water
For the blue Hubbard filling:
3 cups mashed blue Hubbard flesh or other winter squash
1 cup cream or milk
⅔–¾ cup honey, coconut sugar, muscovado, maple syrup, or other sweetener of choice, or a sugar-free alternative (I used powdered inositol, plus a pinch of stevia)
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon allspice
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
For the date-pecan caramel cream:
½ cup pecans, roasted and chopped
½ cup water
¼ cup maple syrup
⅔ cup heavy cream or coconut cream
1 tablespoon coconut butter (also referred to as coconut manna)
1 teaspoon vanilla
¼–½ teaspoon sea salt (to your preference)
- Prepare crust: Place flour, salt, butter, and lard in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse to combine until butter is in pea-sized pieces. Add just enough ice water to bring dough together. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and form into a ball. Press into a flat disk about ½-inch thick. Wrap tightly in plastic and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before rolling out.
- Roast squash: Preheat oven to 350°F. Cut squash in half and remove seeds. Cut into large pieces (no need to peel). Place flesh side down on a baking sheet and roast until tender. When cool, scoop flesh from peel and mash enough for your recipe. Save remaining squash for another use. (You may also roast pecans for the caramel sauce at this time. See step 4 for instructions.)
- Prepare filling and bake pie: If necessary, preheat oven to 350°F. Place mashed squash in a large bowl. Whisk together with cream, eggs, sweetener(s) of choice, salt, and spices. Set aside. Roll out chilled and rested dough on a lightly floured surface large enough to fit a deep-dish pie plate with some overhang. Carefully transfer dough to pie dish. Trim and crimp the edges. Pour in prepared filling. Bake on center rack until just set (with a slight jiggle in the center), checking and turning pie after 30 minutes, about 60–70 minutes total. Transfer pie to a rack and let cool at room temperature for about an hour before refrigerating.
- Prepare caramel: Place pecans in preheated 350°F oven for about 8 minutes or until fragrant. Cool and chop coarsely. Meanwhile, place dates and water in a small pot. Bring to a bowl, then simmer for about 10 minutes until soft. Cool slightly. Pour dates and any liquid from pot into the blender and add all remaining ingredients, except pecans. Blend on high until thick and fluffy. Fold in pecans. Refrigerate until ready to use.
- To serve: Cut pie with a clean knife and spoon caramel over each slice before serving.
Image from Brianna Goodall.