Thursday, 1 March 2012

Pecan Pie

Rewatching Twin Peaks has made me yearn for some Damn Fine Pie. Dale Cooper actually always had cherry or huckleberry pie, but I'm sure he would've approved. The Gumbo Pages has a rather lovely entry on pecan pie, which inspired me to finally get round to making it. I used the filling from the second recipe, but the recipe that follows has a few of my own touches that I needed to put in. A 9" pie crust is listed as one of the ingredients. I'm not sure if it is assumed the reader will know how to make a pie crust off the top of their head, or will just buy one from the supermarket. I didn't want to buy a ready made one, so I had to decide on what base I was going to make. Presumably shortcrust, and I think a pecan pie would usually have sweet pastry instead of plain. I decided to use the pastry recipe based on the one from Heston Blumenthal's treacle tart recipe, as I think of treacle tart as a kind of British version of Pecan pie. I have made the treacle tart before, and it was wonderful, as you might expect of any Heston recipe. Filling-wise, I didn't want to go on a special trip looking for corn syrup, so I used a mixture of maple and golden.

It took me three days to be able to try the fruits of my labours. I made the pastry on Tuesday, let it rest overnight, finished cooking it on Wednesday, but had to let it cool and set before I could eat it. So I finally got to try it today, and it was worth the wait. It won't take everyone 3 days, but it will if you insist on making it midweek when you're doing 9-5. Save it for the weekend, basically.

This was the first time I have made pecan pie, and it wasn't the smoothest cooking experience. But next time (and there will be a next time) it'll be far more pleasurable experience to make and I'll be a lot more confident cooking it. Below are the reasons why it was difficult, if you are going to make the recipe, read on.

First of all, the pastry. The standard recipe for shortcrust pastry contains a 2:1 ratio of flour to flour. This recipe takes it up to equal proportions of both, which is likely to raise the eyebrows of any long-time pastry maker. This is one of the few examples in cooking where lack of knowledge might be a bonus; when I saw that the recipe used 400g of butter and 400g flour, I assumed it would be difficult, whereas if I had never made pastry before, I wouldn't think anything of it.The procedure for making it is much the same, starting with the rubbing in of cold butter into the flour. I was fine until just over halfway in; the mixture resembled it characteristic 'breadcrumb' texture, but when I continued to add butter past the 'half fat ratio', it clumped up to a doughy paste. This is what I assumed would happen, but the recipe said it should resemble breadcrumbs when all the butter had been incorporated. Despite the wrong consistency, I decided to press on, adding the sugar and eggs. At this stage, it was unlike any pastry dough I have ever seen or made. It resembled a thick cake batter, far too wet to be able to roll out. Still, I didn't want to give up on it just yet, so I placed it in the fridge for the first resting period. During this time, I did a bit of research on other people's experiences making the pastry. I found that I should've chilled everything, instead of just the butter and eggs. And I mean everything, flour, sugar, mixing bowl. Possibly if I had not missed this stage I would've been able to rub all the butter into the flour without it becoming a dough.

I left the dough in the fridge overnight (the minimum time is 3 hours), by which time it had really firmed up. Aside from needing a bit of upper-arm strength to get the rolling out started, the majority of the next few stages went smoothly. More of Heston's innovation comes out here; you line the tin with the pastry and chill for half an hour. Then you prepare the case for blind baking by covering it with greaseproof, and baking beans or preferably coins. It's a great idea, because the metal coins conduct heat much better. It's probably better to use foreign currency that you aren't likely to need again. If you have some francs hanging around from holidays past then now is the time to use them. Then you chill it again before you can blind bake it.

From my online research, I found that others experienced the pastry leaking out butter as it cooked, and some shrinkage. So halfway cooking, I removed the pastry case, and dabbed up some of the excess butter. To deal with the shrinkage, I used the back of a teaspoon to press the sides of the pastry back up against the tin. Luckily, despite my doubts, it came out as a pastry case should.

Making the filling threw up far less issues, as its just the matter of chopping the pecans and whisking everything together. But I did make a few mistakes that you and I can learn from. Make the filling in a measuring jug, so you have more control when you pour it into the pastry case. I poured from a mixing bowl and got liquid filling over the top of the case, which made it look a bit messy even after I did some damage control with a spoon.

 Finally, when it comes out of the oven, the filling will still be very liquid and now molten. Be really careful when taking it out, you might find it easiest to slide it onto a chopping board or similar from the oven shelf. The last thing you want is burnt hands and a pie on the floor in place of dessert.

For the pastry (makes enough for 2 pies, either freeze remainder, halve pastry ingredients or double filling to make 2 pies):
400g plain flour
1 heaped tsp salt
400g unsalted butter, chilled and diced
100g icing sugar
2 eggs
2 egg yolks

For the filling:
4 eggs
60g unsalted butter, melted
1/4 tsp salt
250g soft brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
125ml maple syrup
190ml golden syrup
150g pecans, chopped


Please read above notes on the pastry making before proceeding!
Put the flour and salt in a large mixing bowl. Rub in the chilled and diced butter with your fingertips until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. You may have to add the butter in batches, given the quantity. Stir in the icing sugar, and then the eggs and yolks. Form into a ball, clingfilm and place in the refridgerator for at least 3 hours. As my dough was so soft, I just clingfilmed the bowl instead.

Grease a 9" pie dish. Dust a sheet of greaseproof paper with flour. Take about 2/3 of the dough out, and place on the greaseproof paper. Dust this with more flour, place another sheet of baking paper on top and roll out to 5mm thickness. Line the dish with the pastry, trimming off the overhang. Chill for at least 30 minutes.

Take another sheet of greaseproof, scrunch it up, smooth it out again, and put on top of the pastry. Weigh it down with baking beans or coins. Return to the fridge, and leave it for another 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 150C. Bake for 25-30 minutes. Halfway through the cooking time, take it out of the oven and remove the greaseproof and coins/baking beans. Soak up any excess butter with kitchen roll. If needed, use the back of a teaspoon to push the sides of the pastry back up against the tin. Remove and allow to cool once the blind baking time is done.

Turn the oven up to 180C. In a measuring jug, whisk together the eggs, then mix in the remaining ingredients. Pour into the prepared pastry case. Don't overfill it - you may have a little extra filling left over. Bake for 45 minutes. It will need to cool down before it is sliceable. Serve with vanilla ice cream  (my preference), or cream.

Update- 19/10/14

I revisited this recipe, but wanted to use a different pastry recipe- something simpler and less rich- the pie I made back in 2012 was delicious, but I felt a plainer crust would work better with the sticky sweet filling. I made a half quantity* of this simple sweet shortcrust, which is less rich than the Heston pastry, and much easier to work with. I also got rid of most of the chilling stages, only resting the dough between making it and using it to line the pie. I still used the same times and temperatures for the blind baking and baking as in the recipe above. I added in a step of using some foil to protect the rim of the pie crust, as it gets very dark very quickly.

Overall, I think I preferred this pie crust for a pecan pie- it allowed the richness of the filling to shine through, but was still had a wonderful short texture, and buttery flavour. It also makes making pecan pie so much easier and faster, without resorting to a pre-made pastry shell.

* a half quantity still made enough for two pies, so either quarter the link recipe, or make enough for more pies, freezing what you don't immediately use for a later date.

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