3 December 2009

Serious measures

I always believed that pie-eating should be a friendship-binding, not a friendship-mudding, experience. I now realize I was deeply, deeply misguided. Past Thanksgiving showed me that dessert time can be – to quote my friend Anthony the Thinker, a pecan-pie aficionado -- ‘a dog-eat-dog environment where one must react in a micro-instance. It’s like the dog fighting in Top Gun’. True. True. True. Every crumb is going to be fought over.

This is what happened. You make a pecan pie with bourbon and chocolate for a quiet Thanksgiving gathering with friends, and the pie turns out so nicely that the speed at which it is devoured makes you realize that if you don’t take serious measures to procure yourself a piece, nay, a chunk soon enough before the whole thing disappears, you may end up staring at an empty pie plate. So when one of the eaters announces, mouth full and all, that he is going to take a piece to work the next day, you, weirdo, get barbarous, and greedy, and crazy -- you say no. Don’t touch my pie, for if you do -- the consequences will be formidable. I’ll poke you in your ribs, I’ll let you know you are garbage, you are an animal.
I’m exaggerating here, but not really.

Frankly, it’s hard to remain friendly to your dearest and nearest in the vicinity of this beggar, this bourbon pecan pie. Please, don’t get me wrong, cooking and eating with friends is a number 1 route to contentment, I know
that. And yet, and yet…there are moments when solitary eating is a must. Just imagine: you gingerly cut a piece of that bourbon pecan treasure, gingerly because the crust is so fragile your heart thumps at the thought you can ruin the pie. Phew, you don’t. You successfully crown with it your plate, and the plates of those around you, those who eye the pie like birds of prey. You take a dessert fork and drown it in the toffee-like filling color of amber, even darker, with speckles of melted chocolate and shards of pecan here and there. You – everybody -- take a bite. Silence. Your tongue rolls in silkiness and sweetness of the filling that gives away its rich, and buttery, and bright, and slightly bourbon-y taste. Warmth. Somebody says this is the best pecan pie they’ve had so far. You fret a little bit over the pie crust, it looks somewhat messy, you say. Oh but the taste...the taste is really, really good. That’s why your heart sinks when you think of sharing the rest. That’s why you turn into a pooper. You want the leftovers all to yourself, so you scribble down your ‘no’ on a piece of buttered paper to tell to a potential pie-snatcher to back off when you are not there to watch.

Apparently, some people can’t read. The pie is gone. You curse flamboyantly, and rejoice at the same time. Heck, people loved what you baked, people wanted more. Smashing.

Pecan Pie with Bourbon and Chocolate (a.k.a. Hoosier Pie)

Adapted from
A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg

I chose this recipe for past Thanksgiving dinner for a number of reasons. First, I wanted something fancy but not fussy. Second, I was itching to apply to practice my newly-born skills of pie-crust making that I’m learning in the bakery. Finally, it’s all about bourbon. I don’t know how about you, but if the recipe calls for that, I’m all sold. Hands down.

The recipe is unquestionably a keeper, be it Thanksgiving, Christmas or just a winter-cursed Monday. Next time I’ll only skip chocolate (oh the horror!). The reason behind is that chocolate’s soprano steals the show, it somewhat shoos the pecans and the bourbon offstage. It, even the bittersweet kind, makes the filling a tad too sweet to my taste, although Anthony, among the others, begged to differ. Better skip it. Rather, up the amount of bourbon, just a bit, to achieve a more homogeneous flavor. Whichever way you prefer, boldly sweet or politely so, just make this pie. Please. You are going to love it. You are going to fight for it.

And before I finally move to the recipe, a few nibbles of science. When I assist in the bakery, I keep a close eye on what my crafty colleagues do. So here is what I learnt: when making a piecrust, cold butter, as well as ice-cold water, is a must. This way the piecrust, once baked, will be tender and flaky. The butter has to melt in the oven, not earlier, since only this way the water from the butter will create steam. The steam, in turn will rise pushing the dough and thus creating tiny pockets of air in it. What will emerge from the oven will be flaky pastry.

Also – rather than using food processor to cut the butter into the flour (another reason to use the cold butter, or else you won’t be able to cut it in), give preference to two paring knives. It will help you to have a better control over the procedure, and also it’s fun. You might look like a maniac, but who cares when the flakiness of pastry is at stake.

Phew, now the recipe…

For the crust:

1 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp confectioner’s sugar
¾ tsp salt
1 stick plus 1 Tsp (4 ½ ounces, or 120 grams) cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
4 Tbsp ice-cold water, plus more if necessary
¾ tsp apple cider vinegar (this will seize the development of gluten)

For the filling:

4 Tbsp butter (2 ounces, or 56 grams)
1 cup confectioner’s sugar
3 large eggs
¾ cup light corn syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
¼ tsp salt
2 Tbsp bourbon (good enough to drink on its own)
½ cup bittersweet chocolate chips
1 cup pecans

1. Into a large stainless bowl, sift together the flour, sugar and salt. Whisk well to mix. Add the butter and cut it into the flour, making brisk criss-cross movements with two knives. The mixture should look sandy; there shouldn't be bits of butter larger than a pea.

2. In a small bowl, combine the ice water and vinegar. Sprinkle the water over the dough, and fold it in with a rubber spatula. This way the dough will get moisturized without being overworked. If the dough is dry – it should hold together if you squeeze it – add more water, start with 1 tsp at a time. It’s better to have dough that’s a bit too wet than too dry – dry dough is difficult to roll; it can tear.

3. Remove the dough from the bowl, form a ball, flatten it into a 1 ½ inches (about 3.5 cm) disk and wrap it up in plastic film. Chill for at least 1 hour. (The dough will keep for up to 3-4 days in the fridge and for up to 3-4 weeks in the freezer).

4. Bring the dough out of the fridge 10-15 mins before rolling out (the dough should soften – not get warm! -- a little bit).

5. Preheat the oven to 375 F (190 C).

6. Roll the dough into a circle, it should be wide enough to fit a 9- or 9 ½ inch (24cm) pie plate. Drape the dough over the pie plate, lift up the edges and tuck them gently into the creases of the pan. Press carefully to make the dough hold to the sides of the pan. Put the prepared pie plate back in the fridge while you are busy with the filling.

7. In a medium bowl, cream the butter and sugar. When the mixture looks creamy and the sugar is fully incorporated, add the eggs one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition. Add the corn syrup, vanilla and salt. Beat well. Add the bourbon and beat again. At this point, the batter should look pale yellow and be thin.
8. Remove the pie plate from the fridge, sprinkle chocolate chips and pecans evenly over the base of the crust. Pour in the batter. Bake for 35 to 45 mins, checking every 5 mins after 30 mins of baking time have passed. The pie is done when the edges are firm and caramelized, the top is deep brown, and the center seems almost set (it might jiggle a little bit, though). Transfer the pie to a wire rack to cool.

9. For serving, whipped cream on the side will not hurt.


Tiina said...

That is a lovely recipe!


Paola said...

Dear blog owner, your pecan pie recipe was chosen among HUNDREDS for tonight's Super Bowl "everybody root for New Orleans Saints, please" traditional Southern dessert. No bittersweet chocolate will be involved though, because my native southern gentleman scoffed at the very idea of any cocoa-derivate in a pecan pie. He didn't object to the use of Bourbon though ;)

(among the ingredients for the filling, the first one went lost... not a problem, you get from the procedure that it's butter!) :)

anya said...

Dear Paola, the Super Bowl's aficionado and a connoiseur of all things baked!

I'm deeply indebted to you and your 'native southern gentleman' for choosing this bourbon pecan pie. Indeed, with chocolate (the love of our life) this is a mere pecan concoction, not a proper pecan pie!

(The igredients for the filling have been revised and corrected!)