Vanilla Pumpkin Pie (SCD)

Cradling a mug of vanilla rooibos tea after consuming a rather toothsome lunch of sardines with espellette peppers, spinach and parsley salad with capers and some mouth wateringly tender artichokes in oil, I felt in need of something creamy and distinctly dessert-like to pop into the small space left. It was not, you realise - an actual space in my stomach, really more of a metaphorical space, the one that opens up during a cosy evening at home wearing your favourite stripy bed socks or gives a gentle rumble at about four thirty in the winter months, when the sky is fading into pink and gold behind leafless trees. The whisper that says, "you don't need pie right now, but a slice of something would really wrap up this moment just fine".

Of course, I had something in mind already and although I knew the eating of it would have to wait till the evening - just the thought of pie making seemed to quiet down those post lunch rumblings as I tied on a fresh apron and leafed through my recipe books for inspiration. I was looking for pumpkin pie - that American thanksgiving staple and something that I had baked many a time back in my days as a commune dweller. The problem was that those pies were based on crisp buttery pastry and a delicately spiced pumpkin custard - rich with brown sugar and un-pasteurised cream. Strangely enough, none of my recipe books contained anything for pumpkin pie - except the unparalleled Jane Grigson in her formidable Vegetable book. I glanced over the recipe and its proportions long enough to see that it was also based on a creamy custard.....hmm. I placed all the books back on the shelf and did what I do best - made it up as I went along - hurrah!

Fin's afternoon visitor that day was staying to supper. I repeatedly had to bite my tongue as he pushed a perfectly good roast dinner around the plate - organic chicken roasted with bay, lemon and carrots in the tray, spaghetti squash with butter, minted petits pois and new season broccoli. "Can I have a banana?" was his eventual request, as Fin simultaneously popped his empty plate next to the sink and asked hopefully if there was dessert?

However, when I bought the pumpkin pie to the table, even this reluctant dinner guest agreed to have a small piece and then came back for seconds. I wished he had eaten more vegetables and left the pie for me, but there you are....

When Nick came down from putting Fin to bed I offered him a piece of pie - half hoping that he would say no to the now rather diminished pie reserves left. "Pumpkin pie?" he said, with not a faint whiff of disgust, "I'll have a very small piece then". I bought him in a very small piece indeed - rather happily imagining myself eating the rest for elevenses.

Nick's fork hovered for a moment as he anticipated tasting something not nice, yet having to make a polite face to avoid offending his wife. I already knew that the pie was completely delicious and any dislike on Nick's part was just further confirmation of his deranged taste buds (see earlier evidence that Nick has a bizarre dislike for tahini and dates here).

As the first forkful hit that fussy tongue, Nick turned to me with a look of unabashed apology. "This pie is amazing!".

I know.

This pie is amazing - the crust has that crunchy texture I remember from a digestive biscuit (graham cracker) crust and just a hint of salt to offset the gooey, fudgy caramel and vanilla flavour of the pumpkin filling. The subtlest hint of cinnamon is what's needed here - I know that traditional pumpkin pie has a warmly spiced custard, with cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg all vying for attention. Well I like to let the pumpkin speak for itself, with assenting murmurs from the vanilla, honey and cinnamon providing the warm background of a mid morning coffee shop.

If you can tolerate dairy then it would be superb with some Greek style strained SCD yogurt - or a dollop of creme fraiche. I loved it just as it was - and now it's gone, like a newly minted love affair - I just can't stop thinking about it........

Vanilla Pumpkin Pie (serves six modestly)

Of course, squash is what we all use for pumpkin pie - I guess squash pie just isn't alliterative enough? Use any of the dense fleshed squashes, celebration, potimarron, acorn, butternut, harlequin.......

Crust Ingredients
2 oz hazelnuts
4 oz ground almonds
1 oz butter or chilled coconut oil
2 heaped tsp set honey
pinch sea salt flakes

Filling Ingredients
12 oz squash (peeled and de-seeded weight)
2 oz butter or coconut oil
3 heaped tsp set honey
1 tsp bourbon vanilla extract
3 large free range eggs
couple of shakes of ground cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 180C. Line a springform (or loose bottomed) 8" diameter round sandwich tin with non stick baking parchment.

Chop the (peeled and seeded) squash roughly and put onto and oiled tray. Put the hazels on another, dry tray and roast both in the oven until done. The squash will take 45 mins to an hour to get soft and start to take colour - the nuts about 8-12 minutes. If the squash gets a little caramelised on the bottom all the better!

Set the nuts aside to cool and when they are ready, get on with the crust. Grind the hazels coarsely in a food processor and then add the almonds. Cut in butter, add honey and salt and pulse until the mixture resembles damp crumble topping. Don't let it turn to a paste. Press into the bottom of the tin using a fork - not up the sides, just the bottom. Pop into the fridge to firm up.

When you take the squash out of the oven, turn it down to 140C - fan assisted (155C without).

Make the filling. When the squash is cooked and has cooled to lukewarm, put it in the food processor with butter, honey and vanilla and process until smooth. Add the eggs one at a time and process until thick and creamy. Shake in the cinnamon, taste to see if it needs a little more and then pour onto the chilled crust and bake for 30-45 minutes or until firm to the touch and slightly risen around the edges.

I like mine with a gooey bit in the middle so I took it out when it still had a bit of wobble to it - judge it on what you like personally.

It may crack as it cools, but it won't affect the taste. Serve cool but not chilled.