It’s that time of the year when every American living abroad is anxiously struggling with multiple questions springing to mind. Where do I find shortening? Why are pie tins so difficult to find? Is it worth it to pay 8 euros a can for pumpkin purée? How do you say cranberries in French?
It’s Thanksgiving and probably one of my favorite holidays simply because food is involved.
When you live away from home, celebrating this American holiday takes on special meaning. This is a time best remembered with families and friends gathered around the table over a fabulous feast.
Everyone has their particular recipes they want to make. Mine is my Grandmother’s stuffing. Oh-là-là! SO good!! But the problem comes when you start to try to find ingredients such as cornmeal! And no, it’s not the same as polenta. It adds stress when planning for the meal because you start searching for substitutes or weighing whether or not to pay exorbitant prices to get the things you want at expat food stores.
Having lived in Paris as a pastry chef for more than two years, the list for baking items I crave from the US has diminished drastically as I’ve found ways around them or found excellent alternatives (HINT: Using Muscovado sugar from G. Detou for packed brown sugar in recipes. It seriously makes it even better.)
Looking for American ingredients in Paris? Click here to find them.
The secret to successful pie making
When you’re talking Thanksgiving desserts though, pie ultimately comes up. It’s the quintessential end to the meal! Unless you’ve brought a pie tin with you, you might be out of luck as they are pretty difficult to find by my, mais oui, truly American standards. Renown pastry blogger David Lebovitz has had the same problem, so that makes me feel a smidge better. But let’s use this to our advantage and turn this into something that is a French-American hybrid — like we so often do being an expat.
Use a tart dish for your favorite pie recipe
Oui, oui, it will be different. There is less filling-to-crust ratio but I honestly like that better. You might even be lucky and find a tart dish with a higher edge — et voilà!
How do you do this? This is the part of baking you can actually play around with.
Start with a good pâte brisée or pie crust recipe (this is the one I like) or buy a prepared one from the store (I won’t tell!).
Make your pie filling as per the instructions, and par-bake (lightly brown) the tart shell, if needed, like you would for a piecrust so it is firm enough to hold the filling. Since you are going to have less filling to crust, plan on either reducing the amount in your recipe, or have two large tart crusts on hand ready to go, or a mini one for each of your guests.
Time to bake
Adjust the baking time. This is all going to depend on the size of your tart and your filling. Don’t panic. Put your chef hat on and do as the pros do. Set a timer for the minimum amount of time you think it’s going to take. For a good starting time, look at the original recipe and halve the cooking time — remember we’re working with a lot less filling but a larger surface area. This sounds complicated, but it’s not. I promise!
Now when that buzzer rings, start checking the pie every five minutes or so. Look for the cues of a done baked item:
- A nicely browned crust.
- If it’s a custard, set on the sides but still with a little jiggle in the middle.
- If you’re doing a fruit-based tart, you want a nice and bubbly inside.
If you are worried about the baking time, there are always unbaked options you can do like pumpkin s’more tarts, chocolate icebox pie or banana cream pie. Oh brother, delicious! Or go truly French and make a tarte au citron by adding lemon curd and then meringue on top. This actually might be a nice lighter-tasting end to the meal.
A couple of final baking and decorating tips:
- The crust dough needs to be chilled before rolling out. Put in the refrigerator for about 20-30 minutes. If it is so cold that it becomes a block that’s impossible to roll out, cut it into rough large pieces and beat it with a rolling pin. Yes, chefs do this! It will warm up the dough faster and make for more even defrosting. Plus, it’s fun and might alleviate some Thanksgiving cooking stress.
- Place your tart on a baking sheet before filling. It makes it sooo much easier to move to the oven.
- If you are against paying 8 euros a can for pumpkin puree, a wonderful sweet potato pie recipe might be a good solution.
- If you plan on doing a fruit-based tart, the lattice work on top or a second crust might not look as great as it does on a pie. Think about cutting out beautiful shapes like leaves or acorns to arrange on the top from your tart crust scrapes, brush with egg wash, and bake! Or consider doing a crumble on top.