My first pie of spring will be rhubarb custard, but those little rhubarb shoots are taking their sweet time, irrespective of my whining. Where to look for pie inspiration when relegated to last year’s apples and root vegetables? I ran across a turn of the century recipe that suggested using carrots to make pie, much in the same way as you would use pumpkins. Carrot pie? This I had to try. The carrot pie I cooked up is indeed very similar to pumpkin pie, but it has a few fantastic qualities that make it stand on its own. The color is an amazingly vibrant orange (I can’t help imagining what this pie would look like with yellow or purple carrots…) and the texture of pureed carrots is exceptionally smooth and velvety, without a trace of the graininess that is the pitfall of many a pumpkin pie. I paired the carrot puree with two of my favorite accompaniments for carrots: orange and ginger. The spicy-sweet filling has a bite of ginger, the brightness of orange and of course, the earthy sweetness of carrots. In pie form it is at once familiar and unexpected. Well, what do you know? A new (old) pie, perfect for spring, but tasty and satisfying enough to stand up to other pie classics.
1½ lb. carrots
3 T fresh, grated ginger (about a 4” piece of fresh ginger set aside 1T to be added with the custard ingredients)
1½ c. water
2 T. butter
1 small cinnamon stick
½ t. salt
⅔ c. milk
⅓ c. cream or crème fraiche
⅓- ⅔c. dark brown sugar*
2 whole eggs and 1 egg yolk
plastic dough scraper
9″ pie plate
Preheat oven to 350°F. Take a large paper coffee filter (or several small filters) and completely line the inside of the pie dough. Fill the pie with dried beans or weights. Bake crust with weights for 20 minutes. As soon as the beans have cooled enough to handle them, remove the beans and the coffee filters. The dough underneath will still look moist. Return the crust to the oven for another 10-15 minutes. (The crust will puff up in the oven, don’t worry.) Immediately after you have removed the crust from the oven, press down on the crust bubbles with the bottom of a measuring cup or some other flat-bottomed implement.
Peel carrots and cut into 2” lengths. If they are very wide (over an inch) cut the thickest pieces in half lengthwise. Grate ginger. Zest and juice the oranges.
Place the orange juice and zest in a stock pot or dutch oven along with the rest of the ingredients for stewed carrots. (Set aside 1 T. of the grated ginger to be added after the carrots have stewed.) Place the pot over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 20- 30minutes, stirring occasionally. Pay more attention to the carrots as they are nearly done. You want to cook down the cooking liquid to almost nothing, but if you overdo it you could burn the carrots. Test carrots to make sure that they are tender all the way through. If they need to cook longer, but you are out of liquid add a little more water and continue cooking until they are tender. Remove cooked carrots with a slotted spoon or tongs and place in a blender. If the leftover cooking liquid is more than ¼c, boil it down until you have ¼ c. or less. Discard cinnamon stick.
Blend & Season
Add the cooking liquid from the carrots to the blender. Add milk, cream and ⅓ c. brown sugar to the blender. Blend on high speed for a full minute, scraping down the sides of the blender if necessary. The puree should be very smooth. Taste the carrot puree and add more sugar in a tablespoon at a time, until you reach the desired sweetness. Add eggs and yolks to the blender. Blend to mix.
Pour filling into parbaked crust. Cut three 2” strips of aluminum foil. Crimp and bend the foil so that it will sit on top of the crust– this will help to keep your crust edge from over-browning. Place in a 350°F oven and bake for 55- 65 minutes, turning once. The top of the filling will crack and the whole filling will puff up slightly. Transfer pie plate to a rack to cool. Allow to cool completely before serving
Because this pie isn’t loaded with sugar, it should be refrigerated if kept for more than a day. But the flavor is best if you bring it up to room temperature before serving. A slice of this pie is lovely with brandy-soaked raisins and a dollop of crème fraiche.
*I offer such a wide variation of sugar content because both carrots and oranges have a hugely variable sweetness. The easiest way to avoid oversweetening is to sweeten to taste.
**With custard based crusts, I like to parbake them first– this means filling the pie crust with beans or other weights to keep the dough in place and partly baking the crust. Beans that you have used as weights won’t be good for cooking, but you can reuse the beans as pie crust weights for quite some time. The purpose of parbaking is to give the crust a jump start on cooking, and also allows it to give off a little of its moisture before adding a wet filling. With a parbaked crust, you need to be even more careful than usual about over cooking the edge of the crust, that’s why I call for making a little crust shield for this pie.