toasted frangipane and pumpkin pithiviers

A pithiviers, or pithivier if you’re the type to Americanize French words (think: ooh la la, crah-sant, bon app-uh-teet!), is a filled pie with crusts made from puff pastry. It is typically filled with frangipane, or almond paste.

And really, who am I to mess with the typical? Answer: I am somebody. And I like dessert!

I kept this pithiviers traditional, by incorporating a hearty amount of frangipane, but decided to amp it up and make it perfect for fall by also adding in some sweetened and spiced pumpkin puree. Almonds and pumpkin aren’t intuitively good together, at least in my mind, but perhaps that’s because I also don’t find pumpkin to be intuitively good. It takes something special to get me interested in a pumpkin dessert.

Last year, it was my Pumpkin Spice Madeleines. And this fall, it’s this fantastic toasted almond and pumpkin pastry.

Posed provocatively on a piggy pizza plate, this pumpkin pithiviers is poised to alliterate its way into your world.

For the first time in my baking career, I decided to make my puff pastry from scratch. Potato Inspecting was cancelled for the day because of excessive rain, so I had hours to either twiddle my thumbs to my heart’s content, or do something productive. Puff pastry it was.

And it was enjoyable. Nothing difficult to it, just a bit time consuming. But really, most of that time is spent doing your own thing, while your pastry chills out in the fridge. Read: thumb twiddling may come into play here. Feel free to use pre-made puff pastry, knowing that you will save on time, but lose out on homemade rich buttery oomph.

I toasted my almonds heartily, and added quite a bit of salt to my frangipane – I really wanted to bring out that almondy goodness. For the pumpkin puree, I (gasp!) used a can from the store. I’ve said it before: I don’t see much of a reason to roast a pie pumpkin for puree, when the canned version tastes pretty much the same, if not identical once baked. However, I’m not a pumpkiny person in general; feel free to roast some pumpkin up in lieu of thumb twiddling.

I sweetened the pumpkin puree with some brown sugar, and all the autumnal spices I had on a hand. For me, this was nutmeg, cardamom, cinnamon, allspice, and cloves. Use whatever you have on hand, and it will turn out fantastic.

Clockwise, from top left: Toasted almond frangipane (unblanched almonds), incorporating the butter into the puff pastry dough, the finished pithiviers, and the filling prior to baking.

Toasted Frangipane and Pumpkin Pithiviers 

{Original recipe; pithiviers inspiration from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook}

Serves 8

For the puff pastry [skip this if you buy the pre-made stuff]:

Scant c. flour, plus more for dusting
1/3 c. cake flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp sugar
3 tbsp unsalted butter, cold, cut into pieces
1/3 c. cold water
1/2 tsp white vinegar
11 tbsp unsalted butter, cold

Okay, get ready for a long list of instructions. It’s all easy, just lengthy.

In a large bowl, using a pastry blender (or in a stand mixer with the dough hook fitted), combine flour, cake flour, salt and sugar; cut in 3 tbsp unsalted butter. When mixed in thoroughly, switch to a spatula, and pour in cold water and vinegar. Mix until ingredients turn into a dough. Knead with your hands until all flour has been absorbed and you can form the dough into a ball. Cover with plastic, and refrigerate until chilled (30 minutes).

Meanwhile, place a piece of wax paper or parchment paper on your counter. Sprinkle some flour on one side, and then place 11 tbsp of unsalted butter onto the flour – cut the butter into pieces to form a butter square on the paper. Sprinkle the top of the butter with another dusting of flour. Cover with the other end of wax or parchment paper. Using a rolling pin, systematically pound the butter until it is 1/2-inch thick. Remove the paper cover, fold the butter in half, and replace paper cover; again pound until 1/2-inch thick. Repeat this process, dusting with additional flour if needed, three more times. When finished, shape into a 3-inch square, wrap well, and refrigerate at least fifteen minutes.

Once dough has chilled, dust counter or piece of wax/parchment paper with flour. Place the dough on the flour, and roll out to a six-inch round. Place chilled butter square in the center, and score the dough around it to mark the butter’s location. Cut four flaps and fold over excess, as shown in the above image. Remove the butter. Using the rolling pin, roll out these dough flaps away from the butter’s marked edges. Place the butter back on the dough, and fold flaps over; secure well. Use the rolling pin to pound the dough down to an inch thickness.

Roll out the dough as large as feels comfortable (don’t push it), adding small amounts of flour if needed. Fold the dough in thirds with the small end facing you. Pick up the ‘envelope’ and turn it clockwise so that the short end is again facing you. Roll dough out again to the same size as before, then fold into thirds. Rotate clockwise again, so that short end is facing you. Wrap dough well, and refrigerate until chilled, 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Repeat this cycle for two more periods of refrigeration, with two clockwise rotations for each period. After the final turn, refrigerate for two to three hours.

For the frangipane:

Heaping 1/2 c. almonds
2 tbsp rye flour (all-purpose will do as well)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 c. brown sugar
4 tbsp unsalted butter
1 egg

Toast the almonds in a sauté pan over low medium heat or on a baking sheet in a 375F oven, stirring occasionally, seven to ten minutes until well toasted and aromatic. Remove and let cool slightly. In a food processor, combine almonds, rye flour, salt, and brown sugar, and pulse until combined and crumbly. Add in butter and egg, and process until mixture resembles peanut butter (or, should I say, almond butter). Transfer to a bowl and refrigerate until chilled.

For the pumpkin puree:

Half to 2/3 of a can of pumpkin puree (8-10 oz), or an equal amount from a cooked pie pumpkin
2 tbsp brown sugar
Pinch or two of salt
A few pinches each of autumnal pumpkin-friendly spices: allspice, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg

In a small bowl, combine pumpkin puree with brown sugar, salt, and desired spices. Mix well. Set aside.

Pithiviers Assembly:

Make an egg wash with 1 egg and 1 tbsp heavy cream (or milk). Set aside.

Roll out puff pastry on a lightly floured surface until there is enough dough to cut out two 9-inch circles. Cut both circles using the help of a knife and a 9-inch cake pan as a template. Cut a small hole out of the center of one of the dough rounds – this will help ventilate out the hot air after baking, and keep the puff pastry from subsequently deflating.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In the center, place the uncut round of dough. On the side, place the small puff pastry cutout. Use a pastry bag (fitted with a large round top) to pipe the frangipane filling onto the dough round, leaving a sizable (1 1/2-inch) filling-less border, as shown in the photo above. Spoon the pumpkin puree mixture evenly over the top of the frangipane.

Brush the egg wash over the dough surrounding the frangipane, avoiding the edge of the dough. Place the second round of dough on top, lining up the edges and pressing firmly to seal. If not sealed completely, filling will leak out the side during baking. Score the pastry with curved lines as desired. Place in freezer until firm (or until your oven has a chance to preheat).

Preheat oven to 375 F. Remove pithiviers from freezer, and brush the top only (and small pastry cutout) with egg wash. Bake for 15 minutes – remove pastry cutout. Bake 15 minutes more, then reduce oven temperature to 350 F. Rotate pithiviers, and cover edges with foil to prevent burning. Bake 30 minutes more, until pastry appears golden brown and well cooked.

Remove from oven, and cool before serving. Serve warm or at room temperature, using the pastry cutout as a decorative center – or a pre-tart appetizer.

Postscript: Over the weekend, we ventured down to the seaside town of Camden, Maine. While there, we did some gnarly mountain biking, camped in the rain, and ate the most fabulous meal in recent memory. At the incredibly affordable and only somewhat snooty Long Grain, where we just barely managed to sneak it without a reservation, we were treated to delicious Asian cuisine.

Our appetizer of pork, shrimp, and local seaweed dumplings was only so-so, but our entrees were pure delight. I enjoyed the spicy Pad Kee Mao, a stir-fried dream come true of homemade wide-cut rice noodles, pork belly, wilted Thai basil and greens, and locally-foraged mushrooms. The pork belly was perfect – excellently fatty, but not overly fatty in taste. I can’t stop talking about this dish, it was that good.

The dessert one-upped the dinner, if possible. A square of coconut custard, bruléed to perfection, was placed upon a bed of sweet reddish purple sticky rice and coconut cream. And according to the waitress, I was fortunate enough to receive the restaurant’s most coveted spoon. Yeeeahhhh, boyeee.

Here are a few pictures from the weekend.