Thursday, November 12, 2015

pecan pie

pecan pie

I realize this is an unpopular opinion and that you might even revoke my internet food ranting license for saying this, but I’m not particularly bothered by corn syrup in recipes. For me, it’s more of a math thing. It mostly shows up in things nobody is eating for underlying health benefits and we all understand we’re only supposed to enjoy in moderation (candies, caramels, etc.) so it’s hard to get up in arms over a glug of it in a recipe that yields a few dozen tiny items one might eat one or two a day of a few times a year. [I will now duck until you’re all done yelling.]


what we'll need
make the filling

What does bother me about it however is that it’s just plain bland — it tastes like sweet nothingness, and while I can shrug this off in small quantities, in larger amounts, it’s particularly a bummer. I mean, if we are going to eat something that’s largely comprised of sugar, wouldn’t we rather that sugar taste like something? And this is why when it comes to pecan pie, there’s a whole extra dynamic of deeply toasted, luxurious flavor that can be instantly tasted by using golden syrup instead of corn.

add the eggs, once cooled a bit
all butter, really flaky pie dough
blind-bake the crust, if you wish
into the shell

Thus, here is the pecan pie recipe I’ve been promising you for most of the decade this site has been around. There’s no excuse for taking so long, I just figured most people were happy with the way they already made it and didn’t need my help, especially when help came in the form of an ingredient that must be tracked down. But then I made pecan pie both ways and the one with golden syrup, dark brown sugar and deeply toasted nuts was not even on the same level, it doesn’t even feel fair to compare them. These three things will send your pecan pie game into the stratosphere, into the otherwordly realm. If I’m going to make pecan pie just once a year, this is the only way I’ll do it.

pecan pie
pecan pie

One year ago: Pretzel Parker House Rolls
Two years ago: Cranberry Orange Breakfast Buns
Three years ago: Spinach Salad with Warm Bacon Vinaigrette
Four years ago: Gingersnaps
Five years ago: Sweet Potatoes with Pecans and Goat Cheese
Six years ago: Swiss Chard and Sweet Potato Gratin
Seven years ago: Home Fries, Apple Pancakes and Fennel, Proscuitto and Pomegranate Salad
Eight years ago: Apricot and Walnut Vareniki and Chicken with Chanterelles and Spring Onions
Nine years ago: Chocolate Stout Cake, Couscous and Feta-Stuffed Peppers and Classic Grilled Cheese with Cream of Tomato Soup

And for the other side of the world:
Six Months Ago: Toasted Marshmallow Milkshake
1.5 Years Ago: Five Different Egg Sandwiches
2.5 Years Ago: Japanese Vegetable Pancakes
3.5 Years Ago: Chocolate Buckwheat Cake
4.5 Years Ago: Vermontucky Lemonade

Pecan Pie

Here are my rules for a really excellent pecan pie:
1. Toast your nuts! You must, you must. Do you want it to taste intensely like pecans, or just a caramel crunch? Toast your nuts.
2. Dark brown sugar trumps light brown because more molasses, more flavor.
3. Golden syrup tastes amazing here, and is worth the trouble of tracking it down. (See more, below.)
4. If you use golden syrup, do not add more than a pinch of salt. It contains a bit of sodium, more than corn syrup, and I’ve learned the hard way.
5. A tiny bit of cider vinegar (trust me) really helps balance out the aching sweetness of a gooey caramel pie.
6. Finally, if you gild the lily (of course you do), add some chocolate: After rolling out and parbaking your crust (if desired), place it in the freezer until solid, about 15 minutes. Melt 4 ounces of semi- or bittersweet chocolate chunks with 1/4 cup heavy or whipping cream until smooth. Spread over bottom of cooled crust. Freeze the crust again until the chocolate is solid, about another 20 minutes, before pouring in pecan mixture.

More about golden syrup: Golden syrup a light treacle or cane sugar syrup and if that didn’t sound delicious enough, it’s lightly toasted with a pinch of salt, giving it a caramel-ish vibe that’s so incredible, it’s no wonder it’s not just used as a sweetener in candies but straight out of the bottle over pancakes and hot cereal. (Something that would be flat-out gross with corn syrup.) In a classic pecan pie? Incomparable. A UK product, it’s becoming more and more available in the U.S. as people look for corn syrup alternatives. It’s easy to buy online, and if you have a local store that reliably sells it, give it a shout in the comments and I’ll try to make a list.

Crust:
1 1/4 cups (155 grams) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons (6 grams) granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon (3 grams) fine sea or table salt
1 stick (4 ounces or 115 grams) cold unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1/4 cup (60 ml) very cold water, plus an additional tablespoon if needed

Filling
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
3/4 cup golden syrup (see Note up top)
A pinch or two of sea salt
2 cups (225 grams) pecan halves
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon bourbon (optional)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 large eggs

Make the pie dough:

  • By hand, with my one-bowl method: In the bottom of a large bowl, combine the flour, salt and sugar. Work the butter into the flour with your fingertips or a pastry blender until mixture resembles a coarse meal and the largest bits of butter are the size of tiny peas. (Some people like to do this by freezing the stick of butter and coarsely grating it into the flour, but I haven’t found the results as flaky.) Add 1/4 cup cold water and stir with a spoon or flexible silicone spatula until large clumps form. Use your hands to knead the dough together, right in the bottom of the bowl. If necessary to bring the dough together, you can add the last tablespoon of water.
  • With a food processor: In the work bowl of a food processor, combine flour, salt and sugar. Add butter and pulse machine until mixture resembles a coarse meal and the largest bits of butter are the size of tiny peas. Turn mixture out into mixing bowl. Add 1/4 cup cold water and stir with a spoon or flexible silicone spatula until large clumps form. Use your hands to knead the dough together, right in the bottom of the bowl. If necessary to bring the dough together, you can add the last tablespoon of water.
  • Both methods: Wrap dough in a sheet of plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour, or up to 48 hours, or you can quick-firm this in the freezer for 15 minutes. Longer than 2 days, it’s best to freeze it until needed.

Form the crust: On a floured counter, roll the dough out into a 12 to 13-inch circle-ish shape. Fold dough gently in quarters without creasing and transfer to a 9-inch standard (not deep-dish) pie plate. Unfold dough and trim overhang to about 1/2-inch. Fold overhang under edge of pie crust and crimp decoratively. If not parbaking, place in fridge until ready to fill. If parbaking, place in freezer for 20 minutes, until solid.

Par-bake the crust: [Optional, but will lead to a crispier base.] Heat oven 400°F (205°C). Line frozen crust with lightly buttered or oiled foil. Fill with pie weights, dried beans or pennies. Bake on a rimmed baking sheet for 20 minutes. Carefully remove foil and weights and let cool a little before filling.

Heat oven: (Or reduce oven heat, if you just par-baked your crust) to 350°F (175°C).

Prepare filling: Spread pecans on a rimmed baking sheet and toast in the oven for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring once or twice so that they toast evenly. Set aside until needed. If you like smaller bits, you can chop them, or as shown here, chop half of them (although I usually leave them whole).

In medium saucepan, combine butter, brown sugar, golden syrup and pinch of salt. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook for 2 minutes, stirring. Remove from heat and stir in pecans, cider vinegar, vanilla and bourbon (if using). Pour into a bowl (so that it cools faster) and set the mixture aside to cool a little, about 5 to 10 minutes. Then, whisk in one egg at a time until combined. Pour mixture into prepared pie shell.

Bake: For 40 to 45 minutes. The pie is done with the edges are set and puffed slightly and the center is slightly firm to the touch but still has some jiggle to it. Cool on a rack. Serve slightly warm or room temperature.


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