The Crystal Clear Pumpkin Pie Made Famous At Grant Achatz' Chicago Restaurant

In 2017 on Instagram, Chef Simon Davies unveiled a piece of transparent pumpkin pie that he created for Chef Grant Achatz's restaurant Alinea, where he worked for more than a decade. It was a surrealist take on a traditional dessert, and instead of the usual orange filling that pumpkin pies are known for, his creation was clear, with light easily piercing the jelly-like dessert. Held delicately between fingers, the translucent dessert was encapsulated by a thin pastry crust and topped with a tiny dollop of cream.

"It is a distillation of pumpkin, cinnamon, ginger, and clove. Texture is very important to us," Davies replied on Instagram to a skeptical user, via Teen Vogue. After posts of the pie gained traction on the internet, Davies was contacted by several outlets to describe the unique treat in detail. To Slate Magazine, Davies explained that the crust and the whipped cream remained true to more traditional pumpkin pie recipes: Heavy whipped cream with sugar and vanilla topped each treat, and the crust was made in pâte brisée style, a commonly known shortbread recipe that can complement both sweet and savory fillings. As for the filling, well, that's where Achatz, Davies, and team stretched their creative limits, ultimately inspiring a flurry of other chefs to take on the project for themselves.

Infusing creativity with traditional recipes

At Alinea, cooked pumpkin, sweetened condensed milk, cinnamon, clove, and ginger were distilled in a rotary evaporator, and the mixture was boiled at a low temperature until clear. "We have always used distillations on the menu at Alinea," Davies told Slate Magazine. The idea was to present a familiar recipe and challenge diners' understanding of the dish, a common theme in many of Achatz's presentations.

Though the innovative tasting menus served at Alinea's Kitchen Table, Gallery, and Salon are frequently changing, recipes for clear pumpkin pies can now be found online, as home cooks have attempted to replicate whimsical desserts to wow friends and family. Sauce Stache attempted to make a gelatin-based pumpkin pie, without having to use a rotary evaporator or fancy equipment. After boiling pumpkin spice extract, water, gelatin, and sugar, the mixture is left to cool for several hours and harden in pie shells. When topped with dollops of whipped cream and sliced to serve, the surprising result is pretty much guaranteed to be a major talking point at any dinner party.