At Brian Altman’s Baker & the Farmer, pastry chef Claire Aitken blends creamy and crunchy for a home-run holiday pie
Candy Roaster Squash Pie (Serves 8-10)
For the squash puree:
1 Candy Roaster squash, about 10 lbs.
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Cut the squash in half and then split each side down the middle lengthwise. Using a spoon, scoop out the seeds and discard them. Place the squash cut-side down on a parchment-lined, rimmed baking sheet. Roast for 45 to 55 minutes until fork-tender. The skin will have started to bubble. Let squash cool until it’s comfortable to handle before removing and discarding the skin. Working in batches, puree the squash in a food processor.
For the filling:
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
2½ cups Candy Roaster squash puree
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup whole milk
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
Combine the eggs and yolks in a bowl and lightly beat with a fork. In another bowl, combine the puree, sugars, beaten eggs, milk, and salt and mix well.
For the crust:
1/4 cup toasted, unsalted pistachios
1½ cups graham cracker crumbs
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
2 Tbs. all-purpose flour
1 egg white, lightly beaten
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
Honey, to taste
Candied pistachios, for garnish
Process the pistachios in a food processor until they look like coarse sand. Add the graham cracker crumbs, sugar, salt, and flour and pulse until combined. Add the melted butter and pulse until entirely incorporated into the mixture. Press the graham cracker mixture into a nine-inch pie pan, using about 1½ cups for the bottom and the rest for the sides of the pan. Freeze the crust for 20 minutes, or until firm.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350°F. Bake the crust from frozen for 15 to 20 minutes, until it is just starting to brown. Let the crust cool for 10 minutes, then brush a very thin layer of egg white on the inside. The warmth of the crust will set the egg and keep the crust from getting soggy from the filling.
Pour the filling into the pie crust and bake in the center rack of the oven for 45 minutes to one hour. Filling should jiggle slightly. The pie will set as it cools.
To serve, top with whipped cream, toasted meringue, or sweetened whipped ricotta (find recipe at charlestonmag.com). Serve with a drizzle of Blue Pearl Farm local honey and candied pistachios.
For the ricotta:
4 cups whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 Tbs. lemon juice
1 tsp. salt kosher or sea!
Blue Pearl Farm Honey, to taste
Powdered sugar, to taste
Combine the milk, cream, buttermilk, lemon juice, and salt in a medium saucepan over low heat and bring to a simmer. Scrape the bottom of the saucepan with a rubber spatula about every 10 minutes. After about 20 minutes, the curd will begin to separate from the whey. Once you see the separation, let the mixture simmer for another 10 minutes, then turn off the heat and leave covered for 20 minutes.
Place a cheesecloth in a strainer over a medium or large bowl. Carefully strain the mixture and let it set in the cheesecloth for another 30 minutes. Put into a container and chill overnight. Save the whey that drains into the bowl to make smoothies or use in bread, grits, or cornbread.
Place two cups of ricotta in a stand mixer and whip with the whisk attachment until fluffed up. Whisk in honey and, if desired, powdered sugar to taste. Spread on top of the cooled squash pie and serve immediately.
■ Candy Land: Candy Roasters are an obscure variety of squash indigenous to the Carolinas. Even people who “don’t like squash” are known to enjoy the wonderful flavor.
■ Make a Meal of It: You won’t need all the puree to make your pie. Use the leftovers in soups, quick breads, and sauces.
■ Substitutes Accepted: Butternut squash also works great in this recipe if Candy Roaster squash are not available.
■ Work Ahead: The crust can be made one day in advance. Once cool, wrap it and keep at room temperature.
■ Toast Tip: Ricotta can be made up to a week ahead of time. Keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Any extra ricotta is delicious spread on toast, used in a pasta dish, or as a dip.
Meet the Chef: Claire Aitken (pictured inset above)
Claire Aitken didn’t plan on becoming a baker. Her first love was horses. The Durham, North Carolina, native grew up riding and majored in Equine Science at Colorado State University. She even worked with horses in Italy until she had an epiphany: “I enjoyed that industry, but I wanted it to be more of a hobby than a job.” When a friend invited Aitken to join the kitchen at a Brazilian steakhouse back in Fort Collins, she realized she was a natural and soon was put in charge of making the desserts. Today, at John’s Island’s Baker & the Farmer, she loves to use as many local ingredients as possible, as in this squash pie. “I found this fantastic Candy Roaster squash at GrowFood Carolina,” she says. “I want that squash flavor to shine, but I added the pistachios to give it a nutty flavor.” Of course, a love of pie hasn’t diminished her passion for ponies. She keeps a horse not far from the bakery on John’s Island.