In a recent post I dutifully explained that had I planned no official entry for the last Sugar High Friday event (#9), in part because Father's Day was Sunday and I wanted old Pa to get his favorite dessert fresh. (And in part because I was too lazy to make and fill two short pastry crusts back to back.) Everything worked out fine, though, because Dad got his Pecan Pie, and I wrote unofficially about an Apple Crosata to fill the SHF gap.
Since I'd never made this dessert before, I really wanted to make a classic Pecan Pie. The first recipe I came across was an enticing sounding Chocolate Pecan Pie from Alice Medrich's Bittersweet, but it was just too novel for my purposes. I wanted Grandma's pie. Luckily, I also had Chris Kimball's Dessert Bible in the house. Although it wasn't Grandma's version, Kimball had a simple recipe that was bound to be delicious. In case you're unfamiliar with the man, he is the editor in chief of Cook's Illustrated, a didactic and hand illustrated magazine to which I suscribe. What I like about C.I. is that they test every recipe to death - the editors have a divine patience - practically guaranteeing the final product will be a success in the home. And with such practiced and detailed methodology, the home cook's final result looks and tastes like the recipe's author describes it should.
Kimball's basic recipe instructs to bake the crust and the filling at the same time - no pre-baking, no cooking the pecan filling. At the bottom of the recipe he lists a variation, which requires that you perform the two extra steps, but also deepens the flavor of the pecan filling and makes for a flakier crust. I opted to go with the variation. Regardless of variation, the first step was to make the short pastry dough. I won't go into a great deal of depth explaining the details, but I will post the ingredients and instructions below.
Note Kimball's use of both butter and vegetable shortening - this makes the crust much easier to roll out while retaining a buttery flavor. I still had trouble rolling out the dough, but then again, I almost always do. Sometimes I let the dough rest too long and the butter melts, other times I work to slowly or become frustrated by cracks. All said, this part of the recipe is inarguably the most difficult part.
Once I had the pie dough made and fitted into the pie plate, it was smoother sailing. After a wait in the fridge, I placed the plate into the oven at 425 degrees for a 21-minute interval. Then, as the alternate recipe instructs, I continued to bake the crust for another 7 minutes at 375 degrees. By the time the pre-baked crust was finished, the bottom had a golden hue and the edges were browning. Now it was time for the filling.
I had the ingredients needed already measured out, so all I needed to do was toss them into a sauce pot and turn on the heat. Before the pecan mix started to bubble, I dumped it into the pie crust, which was still warm. The pecan pie then went back into the oven for a final baking period: 14 minutes. Since the filling was so simple, the real judge of success would be the quality of the crust - the flavor, the density, the flakiness. I hoped for a crust bottom that held up well the viscous pecan filling. I anticipated success, but only after dinner would the results be revealed.
The cool pie was easy to slice into; the pieces were uniform and the filling stiff enough to hold after a knife's cut. My crust did slim toward the center, but the finished product was no worse due to the "flaw." Best of all, it was flakey and had a mild buttery flavor. Actually, best of all, Dad enjoyed it.
(A note on pie crust recipes: I find most call for too little dough, or at least not enough to leave you with extra to trim off the edges. Basically, don't be stingy with ingredients, make a little extra dough and the process should be less stressful.)
(Maybe) the Best Pie Crust
Recipe found in Chris Kimball’s Dessert Bible (I’ve made little changes)
(9-inch single pie shell)
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
5 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into 3/4-inch pieces (little cubes)
5 tablespoons chilled vegetable shortening
3 to 4 tablespoons ice water
Mix flour, salt and sugar in bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade.
Scatter butter pieces over flour. Add shortening in 1 tbsp. clumps and then pulse 8-12 times. Flour should be a pale yellow – or it should resemble a coarse corn meal, whatever works. Butter bits no larger than small peas, about 4 more 1-second pulses. Seriously, large butter pieces means NOT fun to roll out.
Turn mixture into medium bowl. Sprinkle 3 tablespoons ice water over mixture.
With blade of a rubber spatula, use folding motion to mix. Press down on dough with broad side of spatula until dough sticks together, adding up to 1 tablespoon more ice water if dough will not come together.
Shape dough into ball with your hands, then flatten into a
4-inch-wide disk. Dust lightly with flour and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate at
least 30 minutes before rolling.
For 10-inch regular or 9-inch deep dish: add 1/4 cup flour and 2 tablespoons butter.
Pre-baking crust: 375 degrees for 21 minutes (pie beads and all). Remove beads and then bake for another 7, no longer or you will regret it!
For the Filling
1 ½ cups Pecan halves (toasted them first – 7 min. at 375)
3 large eggs
1 cup DARK corn syrup
½ cup packed brown sugar
½ tsp. vanilla extract
1 tbsp. bourbon or dark rum (this makes it yummy!)
½ cup heavy cream (this makes it bad for your arteries!)
¼ tsp. salt
2 tbsp. melted unsalted butter
Whisk the eggs until they are well blended.
Put the eggs into a medium sauce pan (big enough to hold all FILLING ingredients).
Whisk everything else in until it appears well blended.
Heat the sauce pan until hot, but NOT bubbling. [I may have caused the butter to curdle a bit, which made for a slightly mealier filling as opposed to smooth and uniform]
Pour hot filling into your pecan pie crust and then bake the sucker for 12-14 minutes at 425 degrees. The filling will have puffed a nice amount when you take it out, but it will settle after a nice rest. Resist the temptation to cut in too soon; please give at least 25 minutes.