Three little letters. P-I-E. But they can strike fear. There is the prospect of shrinking crusts (!), tough pastry (!), and gummy dough (!) for one. Add a pinch of “meeting the boyfriend’s family for the first time” and you have yourself a down-home recipe for a thanksgiving disaster.
That is, if you don’t have the right recipe. And if the family doesn’t happen to be one hundred and ten percent wonderful. For me, both turned out to be quite lovely. I was lucky enough to spend five days a few hours north of Portland with some very special people and enough food to feed a forest.
Of course, there was the dinner of turkey with two kinds of stuffing, sliced cranberry sauce, and mashed potatoes dug from the field next door. But there was also venison sauerbraten. Lasagna. Pistachio cake. Cheese. Lots of cheese. Tangerine poppy seed bread. Red wine. Bourbon. And beer. Lots of beer.
Plus a whole roasted porchetta-style pig with a cider reduction. Coriander beets. Rosemary roasted potatoes. And cooked down kale greens. To name a few.
In the early morning hours, bright orange hats and warm coats went out in search of deer. And when the sun went down, the hunters came back in search of beer. Cocktail hour started at 4:30 pm sharp. Dinner for twelve at a long table followed. As it turned out, these were my kind of people.
And though no deer found their way to the house, it didn’t matter. The holiday housed a lot of laughs. Some board games. A hefty dose of football. And pie.
This pecan pie did not escape as easily as the deer did. In fact, one leftover slice was hunted by many the morning after thanksgiving. There were no rifles involved, thank heavens.
Just a few loaded fistfuls of pecans and a nice balance of gooey caramel, not overly sweet in nature. A perfect compliment to the buttery crust. And a pie straight from Joanne Chang’s pastry playbook, of the Flour Bakery + Café fame.
It wasn’t the world’s pretty pie, mind you. But it didn’t matter. It was delicious. And an easy target for the hunters. Being just P-I-E, and all.
Adapted from Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery + Café by Joanne Chang
for the pâte brisée
1¾ cup all-purpose flour
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
1 cup (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces in total
2 egg yolks
3 tbsp half and half (or cold milk)
for the filling
¾ cup sugar
½ cup water
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla extract
¼ tsp kosher salt1 cup light corn syrup
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2½ cups pecan halves
In a stand mixer with a paddle attachment mix the flour, sugar, and salt together for 10-15 seconds until combined. Scatter the butter over the mixture and mix on low speed for about 1 minute until the mixture starts to clump and the butter pieces are the size of pecans.
In a small bowl, whisk the egg yolk and half and half (or milk) together and then add this mixture to the flour mixture; mix on low speed until the dough barely comes together (it will look shaggy); this should take about 30 seconds.
Dump the dough on an unfloured workspace and gather it together into a tight mound. Using the palm of your hand smear the dough by pushing your hand down the mound so that the butter bits become streaked. Do this once or twice on each part of the dough (you’ll do it a total of about eight times) until the dough looks a bit more cohesive. Gather up the dough, wrap it in plastic wrap, and press it into a disk about one inch in thickness. Refrigerate for at least four hours (and up to four days) before using.
When you are ready to make the pie, remove the dough from the fridge and set aside roughly ¼ of the dough to reserve for another use (see: pop tarts or hand pies in the notes section below). On a floured surface, roll out the remaining dough into a twelve inch circle about 1/8 inch thick. Roll the dough around a floured rolling pin and then onto your pie pan. Gently ease the pie dough into your pie pan, you should have a fair amount of dough overhang, and then crimp or pleat the dough with your fingers around the edge of the pan (you can trim the edges, if necessary; you’ll want a little bit of an overhang, about ¼ to ½ inch though).
Refrigerate the pie shell for about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. When ready, line your shell with parchment paper and fill with pie weights or dried beans (about a pound or so of beans). Bake for about 30 minutes or until the shell is light brown and the inside bottom of the pie crust is not super glossy, if you lift up the parchment paper and peer underneath.
When the pie is cooling (leave the oven set at 350), pour the sugar and water in a small saucepan and stir to combine. Place the pan over high heat and bring it to a boil. During this time do not move the pan or the sugar syrup may crystallize. When the syrup turns a pale brown you can swirl the pan occasionally to even out the caramelization (still don’t stir it). You want the syrup to turn golden brown; this will take about four minutes or so.
Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk the eggs, lemon juice, vanilla and salt; set aside. When the sugar is golden brown, turn the heat down to medium and whisk in the corn syrup, working to remove the clumps that form; whisk until the mixture is smooth again. Then remove from the pan from the heat and add in the butter; stir to combine. Very slowly, pour the hot syrup into the egg mixture, a little bit at a time, whisking constantly. (Really take your time to prevent the egg from curdling.) When all the syrup has been incorporated, add in the pecans and stir until fully combined.
Pour the pecan mixture into the pie shell (be sure to remove the pie weights or beans and parchment first) and bake at 350 degrees until the pecan mixture has puffed and doesn’t move when you jiggle the pan, this took me about 30 minutes or so. Let cool on a wire rack.
Makes one 9-inch pie
-You may wish to make the dough the day before. It means fewer dishes and less work on the day of pie.
-I made the pâte brisée crust for a double crust with the intent to make apple pie. That didn’t happen. I had some dough leftover, which made for some pretty lovely [what I am calling] hand pies filled with jam. I simply followed Chang’s recipe for homemade poptarts. You can find it here.
-If you want to make a single crust (and no hand pies), Chang calls for 1 cup of flour, 2 tsp of sugar, ½ tsp kosher salt, and ½ cup plus 1 tbsp butter, 1 egg yolk, and 2 tbsp cold milk (or half and half) instead.