Food & Wine
Liren Baker's Cassava Pumpkin Pie Recipe and Filipina-American Upbringing
November 20, 2020
Written By Coravin
Thanksgiving is a day dedicated to uniting friends and family around the table to give thanks. It’s often a day filled with eating delicious food, cheersing to good people, and celebrating traditions and recipes that transcend generations. While today there are many familiar favorites, the very first Thanksgiving in 1621 didn’t actually include turkey and mashed potatoes. In fact, many celebrations today are full of non-traditional dishes, making Thanksgiving a melting pot of culinary creations.
Our November blog series explores how heritage inspires Thanksgiving dinner. We uncover the influence that geography, family, culture, and culinary heritage have on the cooking styles of three incredibly talented, culinary wizards. Each shares a special Thanksgiving dish for our community to create this holiday season. Catch up on our first feature of this series where we connect with Chef Timothy Hollingsworth.
Our second spotlight is on Liren Baker, the mastermind and chef behind popular cooking blog Kitchen Confidante. Recipe developer, professional blogger, social content creator and video producer are just a few of Liren’s many hats. She is the 2012 winner of The Legacy of Julia Child Award from the International Association of Culinary Professionals, 2012 People’s Choice Awards Finalist in Best Culinary Website or Blog and she was named a Top 10 Best Food Blogs of 2013 by PBS Food. We caught up with Liren and she shared how her Filipina-American family influences her cooking and, lucky us, gives us her Cassava Pumpkin Pie recipe – a Thanksgiving staple. Read on to lear how her culinary background has made on her career today.
Tell us a little bit about the journey that has led you to where you are today in your career.
If I were to go back in time and tell my 10 year old self that I would one day make a career out of working with food, I am pretty sure she would laugh pretty hard. As a little girl, my parents encouraged me to study whatever I wanted and pursue whatever made me happy, but other than eating food, I never considered it as part of my future. I just didn’t think life in the kitchen was for me, and that was partially because of my mother.
On our kitchen wall (it’s still there today), my mom hung a framed needle point that said, “Kitchen Closed. I’m Sick of Cooking.” She hated to cook, but she loved to bake, and I looked forward to Saturdays when she would bake cakes and breads and cookies. Baking was her love language, but when it came to cooking, that was my grandmother and aunt’s strength, so I just naturally assumed my mom’s dislike of cooking applied to me, until I moved away for college.
The summer between sophomore and junior year was the summer my mother died.
That was the summer my aunt and her family moved in to keep us company and to help us through those first weeks without her. My aunt nourished us with her food and with her love, and I realized, with pressing reality, that I needed to learn how to cook our family’s food.
All of a sudden, the kitchen was where I needed to be, and I shadowed her and pestered her with questions. I took notes in my notebook, trying my best to get precise measurements and to replicate flavors. And when I decided to graduate early and return home, I began my first job at a marketing firm, coming home at night to cook for my family. I knew I had to do my part. My brother and sister were still young at the time, and my dad was learning how to parent alone.
So it began. I cooked, and I found confidence in the kitchen. I stuck to the foods of my childhood, replicating those meals that nourished the soul. And eventually, I began to devour new recipes and cookbooks and food columns.
What began as cooking for necessity evolved into cooking for love, and eventually, the desire to archive the recipes for my own family, and most especially my children. After pursuing a graduate degree in clinical psychology and a career in marketing research, I shifted gears to embrace my passion for food. Kitchen Confidante was born in 2010, and evolved from a personal blog to a site that reaches thousands of readers daily. I have had the pleasure of developing recipes and creating photography and video for wonderful clients. And I have the honor of being part of so many people’s weeknight dinners and holiday meals — that, to me, is the most rewarding of all!
How does your upbringing and heritage influence your culinary approach and the dishes you create?
Growing up Filipina-American in New York influences nearly every recipe I touch! If there’s one thing you need to know about the Filipino culture, it is that food is love. When you visit relatives, the first question will be, “kumain ka na?” Did you eat already? It’s hard not to be influenced by this mindset! Since I was born and raised in New York, my parents made it a point to visit the Philippines every four years, and I have so many fond memories of summers with my relatives. I would taste everything, and find myself craving those flavors when we returned home in the fall. But then again, there was a melting pot of flavors at my fingertips — New York is home to so many cultures, and I would never tire of exploring the flavors of the world, right in my own backyard!
But I also have to say that I am so grateful to my parents for instilling in my siblings and I a love for travel. We traveled every year as a family, and tasted our way through markets in Istanbul, succulent seafood in Brazil, and cafes in Europe.
All of these food memories guide me every time I prepare dishes – I think of the importance of acidity in Filipino cooking when I make a marinade, or of the first scone I had in Australia when I bake. I think of these influences as the most important seasoning of all!
Are there certain ingredients, memories, or family recipes that inspire your cooking during the holiday season?
Absolutely. I have a huge family, particularly on my mother’s side, and holidays were usually at our house. We cousins were the entertainment — we would spend weeks rehearsing for a big performance! Meanwhile, my grandmother and aunts (titas) would be in our tiny kitchen, churning out so many dishes! My Tita Leah would always make her famous Pancit Bihon (which I still make today), my mother would bake, and all the other aunts would be jockeying for counter, stove and oven space!
These days, the holidays for me means recreating a lot of these dishes, and I always make one of my mom’s cakes (usually her Apple Walnut Delight Cake) so she is with us in spirit. And when my sister is able to join us, we make Ginataang Bilo-Bilo (Filipino Coconut Tapioca Pudding with Glutinous Rice Balls/Mochi) – our own special tradition!
What is a dish outside of the traditional Thanksgiving menu that you always have at the table?
We actually keep things fairly traditional for our Thanksgiving menu! Growing up we still had turkey and stuffing and potatoes and gravy (along with a whole slew of other dishes, Filipino and otherwise), and for my husband, Thanksgiving is his favorite holiday, so we cook a lot of his dad’s recipes for our table. But I always find ways to add a Filipino twist to our desserts. One non-negotiable is my Cassava Pumpkin Pie. This will always be on the table. And then there’s the extras: A classic Leche Flan gets a pumpkin twist with Pumpkin Leche Flan and, if my sister is with us or my kids are feeling industrious, then we make Ginataang Bilo Bilo!
Cassava Pumpkin Pie with Graham Cracker Crust
Graham Cracker Crust:
1 1/2 cups finely ground graham cracker crumbs
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
6 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted and slightly warm
Cassava Pumpkin Filling:
1 1/2 cups pumpkin purée
1/2 cup cassava, strained and pressed to remove any excess moisture
14 oz fat-free sweetened condensed milk
4 large egg whites
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp kosher salt
Preheat the oven to 350°F with a rack placed in the center of the oven.
In a medium bowl, mix together the graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and cinnamon. Add the melted butter and mix to combine. The texture should feel like wet sand that clumps together when pressed between the fingers. If it feels too dry, add a little more melted butter.
Transfer the graham cracker mixture into a 9-inch tart or pie pan and spread into an even layer. Use the flat bottom of a measuring cup to press down and up the sides of the pan, until firm and compact.
Bake the crust for 7-8 minutes. Remove the crust from the oven and cool.
Whisk the pumpkin, cassava, condensed milk, egg whites, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and salt in a bowl until completely blended. Pour the filling into the graham cracker crust. Transfer to the oven and bake for 40 minutes or until a knife inserted 1-inch from the edge comes out clean.
Cool the pie on a wire rack at room temperature until cool. Transfer to the refrigerator and overnight.
Serve the pie with whipped cream and enjoy!
Extra Tips from Liren:
Be sure to pack the graham cracker crust well into the pan. After blind baking, be sure to cool completely before adding the filling.
To check if the pie is baked, then insert a sharp paring knife 1-inch away from the crust. It should be firm so that when you remove the knife, it comes out clean. However, when you gently shake the pie, it should still jiggle slightly in the center.
Cool the pie completely – overnight is best – before slicing. Custard pies need time to set, especially since it will still be soft in the center when you remove it from the oven.
Stay tuned on Coravin’s social channels for our last Thanksgiving Traditions spotlight. And, if you make this pie, tag us in a photo – we'd love to see it!