Hello, Phyllo: Perfectly Pretty Pumpkin Pie Crust


Part of growing up in New England seems to involve an innate understanding that pie makes the best breakfast, perhaps pesky intuition that is generally in direct conflict with my nutrition regime. In spite of the obvious oxymoron that is Pie -Breakfast, however, it doesn't have to be. Actually, my Mom's devoted sugar-free fruity creations were memorable early lessons that nutritious and delicious were synonymous more often than not, and that just about anything can be transformed into an unexpected and satisfying meal, from dinner to dessert, with a little careful creativity. My main issue with pie is, of course, crust. Don't get me wrong, there is a place for everything, including buttery rich shortbread pastry on occasion. But at the same time, if cutting back on crust calories and junk ingredients means a person can savor what can easily be a surprisingly healthy serving of my personal favorite, pumpkin pie, with simple tweaks and little to no sacrifice in taste, than what could possibly stand in the way? Truthfully, I have it easy in crust-avoidance, because I don't actually like it very much, given that I really dislike the taste of butter. I'd happily eat baked filling by itself, but admit that this option can leave a dish feeling and looking incomplete, not to mention messy. This weekend, with another Thanksgiving beginning to peer over the horizon, I decided for the umpteenth time to try working with phyllo pie crust. Pumpkin and squash pies pair beautifully with phyllo, as they naturally hold shape well anyway, and don't need a top layer.

I've used phyllo many times, mainly in savory dishes, or for strudels and tarts. For some reason, however, I always build up this false idea that it is difficult, and am reluctant to go with it during the holidays. Phyllo is a great alternative to pastry, however, and can be really pretty with a little attention. Traditionally, layers of phyllo are brushed heavily with melted butter, but you can make a little bit go a long way, and can also substitute cooking spray. This time, I sprinkled a little cinnamon and some turbinado sugar in a middle layer, and that small inclusion made a big difference! My husband actually preferred it to the usual crust, and that's a rare thing! Dave picks the more traditional, and more calorific, option 9 times out of 10, as a general rule! You've got to work quickly with phyllo to keep layers from drying out, though, so make your filling first, ready to go.

Here's an easy way to prepare phyllo crust:

Layer 8-10 sheets of phyllo dough in a pie plate, misting each sheet, or every 2 layered as 1, lightly with cooking spray, or brushing lightly with butter (or, if you wish, alternate between the two). In between 1 or more layers, sprinkle with a little cinnamon and turbinado sugar. I find you don't need to pre-bake for squash-filled pies, but you can: bake at 375 degrees for approximately five minutes, or until golden brown. Fill and bake according to recipe.

And here are two of my favorite fillings!

Maple-ginger pumpkin filling

I wrote a recipe for Natural Solutions in November 2008 for an article on natural sweeteners, and this is essentially what I used for the pumpkin, but cut back a bit.

  • 1 3/4 cup cooked, mashed/pureed pumpkin or 1 15-ounce can pumpkin
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 1/4   cup pure maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • ½ teaspoon ground allspice
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup evaporated fat free milk
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated, peeled ginger root *optional

Butternut squash filling

  • 2 1/2 cups cooked, mashed butternut squash
  • 1/2  cup  fat-free evaporated milk
  • 1/2  cup  brown sugar
  • 2 lightly beaten eggs
  • 1  teaspoon  vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice

For both pies, pour squash mixture into prepared crust and bake at 375 degrees F for 55-60 minutes.

Photo credit - Flickr user dulcedoblog