Thanks for the pumpkins

This coming weekend is a little holiday in Canada called Thanksgiving. Since moving to Australia I find I feel more Canadian now than I ever did. That must have to do with holding onto nostalgic symbols of ‘home’ and the people you miss. So this week I decided to make pumpkin tarts.

My first experience with thanksgiving foods came in grade 7, when my teacher assigned a few of us to bake pumpkin pie. Initially, as a child of Indian parents, I had no idea what pumpkin pie was; nor did I have any interest in eating a vegetable for dessert (Australians seem to feel the same way about pumpkins in their puddings). But I was quickly won over. We used canned pumpkin puree, and while I frown on such things now, at the time it was incredibly delicious: sweet and creamy, hints of spices like cinnamon, clove and nutmeg. It was vaguely savoury but sweet enough not to be mistaken for anything but dessert.
For my present-day version of pumpkin tarts I use wholewheat sweet pastry and fresh kent pumpkin (you could also use butternut). Pastry is one of those things that seems quite daunting, but don’t be afraid – it’s incredibly easy to make. I use my hands to make the pastry but using a food processor works just as well – and saves with the mess!
A few tips on working with pastry: don’t touch it too much as the heat from your hands melts the butter almost instantly; let it rest in the fridge as much as possible; and if it falls apart, don’t worry as you can press it into the casing and then bake it (it will miraculously stay together).

pumkin pie tarts
makes 4 medium sized tarts
If pastry still scares you then just buy the sweet pastry (available at any grocery store) and use my pumpkin filling recipe.

wholemeal sweet pastry (I use organic as much as it produces a better result)
200g wholemeal flour
125g butter (not too cold)
50g sugar
1 egg

Set oven to 180 degrees C
To make the pastry: make sure all ingredients are room temperature. Cut up butter into smallish squares and leave aside. Sift dry ingredients into large bowl, add butter and crumble with hands until pastry texture resembles sand. Add in slightly beaten egg and mix gently until pastry comes together into a smooth ball. Cover and rest in fridge 30 mins. Once rested, roll out with little flour on surface and place into cases. If it falls apart – try placing pastry back into fridge or press together in case - it will still work!  Dock* the pastry and bake blind*  Take out of oven and let cool in cases.

pumpkin filling
800g kent pumpkin
1 egg
½ cup milk (you could also use alternatives like soy, almond)
2 tbsp yogurt
¼ cup maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp clove
pinch nutmeg

Set oven to 180 degrees C
Wrap pumpkin in foil (leave skin on as it’s easier to clean after baked) and bake 40 mins or until flesh is soft. Remove and cool. Process pumpkin with all ingredients but add egg last and mix well. Pour mix into tart cases and bake at 170 degrees for 40-50 mins until set. Cool and serve with extra maple syrup and/or whipped cream. Enjoy.

* docking refers to using a fork or sharp object and gently pricking the pastry so that it doesn’t rise.
* blind baking means baking without the filling in order to pre-cook pastry so it doesn’t remain raw. Often beans/beads/rice is used to act as a filling so that pastry doesn’t rise.

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