Saturday, February 07, 2015

Pecan Pie with Rum and Orange

I always loved the detail in the TV series Twin Peaks, where the main character Dale Cooper was fixated by pie and a cup of coffee and commented “That’s a damn fine piece of pie.” It was only once I lived outside the USA that I realized how American a pie is.  Oh, other countries have pies, and they are also delicious.  But they are not the same as an American pie, although of course the English come very close.  The French have the tart.  But a tart is not a pie.  The crust on a French tart uses egg and is more of a cookie dough, and is strong enough to stand up, once cooked, without a pan.  The American crust is a flakey affair that is too delicate to stand without the support of the pie pan.

When my boys were young, we didn’t live in the USA, so I realized I had to teach them the way of the pie.  It was not hard for them to pick up.  Both my sons love pie now and, indeed, my older son prefers pie to cake and orders pie every year for his birthday. 

Pecan pie is an American classic.  I make it every year for Thanksgiving, of course, but there is no reason why you shouldn't enjoy this pie anytime of the year.

The classic flavor of pecan pie is just pecan nuts, carmelized sugar, and vanilla.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with that combination but I like to jazz it up a bit with rum which just tastes right with these nutty sweet flavors.  A bit of orange takes the edge off of what is essentially jellied sugar, and a smidge of cardamom, which must be my favorite spice, gives an exotic touch, without distracting unduly from the main event.

There is a wonderful cookbook for those of you who want to delve into piemaking called simply “Pie” by Ken Haedrich.  With 300 recipes, this book is an opus magnum, with almost 60 pages devoted just to pie crusts.  I thought I knew about pie but realized that I knew nothing as I flipped through this huge tome.  The pie crust recipe here is adapted from this book and can be used in any standard pie recipe.

The half and half refers to the shortening in the recipe.  This recipe uses half butter for flavor and half vegetable shortening for more flakiness.  If you do not have access to shortening, you can also use lard.  In fact, many argue that lard makes the best pie crust, although I have not tried it.  I sometimes also just make it with all butter, since that is what I usually have in my kitchen, which tastes the best but lacks a bit of the flakiness.

Most of the work in the pie is in making the crust.  For a one crust pie, like pecan pie, I still make the recipe for two crusts and put half of the dough in the freezer for another time.

Classic half and half pie crust 
(2 crusts)
3 cups flour
1 tablespoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup (1 stick/115 grams) cold butter, cut into small pieces
½ cup cold vegetable shortening (115 grams), like Crisco, cut into small pieces
½ cup cold water

With a food processor:
Put the flour, sugar and salt into a food processor and pulse several times to mix.  Add the butter to the mixture and pulse 6 or so times.  Fluff up the mixture with a fork, making sure to get all around the sides.  Add the shortening and pulse again about 6 times.  Fluff with a fork again.  Add about half of the water and pulse 6 times.  Fluff again.  Add the final half of the water and pulse 6 times.  When it is ready, it will be starting to form some clumps.  Don’t let it completely form a big ball, because you will over process it.  You want the butter to be in tiny pieces, not completely amalgamated.  It is the process of the butter melting and steam forming in the dough that makes the pie dough flakey.
Turn the dough out into a big bowl and knead once or twice.  Pack the mixture into two even sized balls.  Wrap each ball in plastic wrap, flattening them out while you wrap.  Put the balls in the refrigerator for at least one hour.  You can also freeze the dough now, if you want to save it for a later use. 

By hand:
If you do not have a word processor, you can do it by hand.  After adding the butter and shortening, use your fingers to smear the butter into the flour.  After a bit, you will find the mixture resembling a coarse crumble.  Try to work it quickly so that the butter doesn’t melt and don’t overwork the dough.  It should not be smooth and even, but have little blotches of butter in it. Add the water and mix the dough, kneading it a few times, just enough so that the dough holds together and can form a ball. Beacause this pie only uses one crust, pat the second piece of dough into a ball, flatten into a disk, and put into a freezer bag and pop into the freezer.  When you want to use it, you simply thaw the dough in the refrigerator overnight or on the counter for a few hours.

Rolling the crust:
Take the ball of dough out of the refrigerator about 15 minutes before you want to use it to let it warm up a little bit. On a floured pastry cloth or floured piece of wax paper, roll out one of the pieces of dough, large enough to fit your pie pan.  Because the dough is cold, it will have a tendency to crack, so don't roll with too much pressure at the beginning.  If the dough is not yet malleable enough to roll, just leave out for another 10 minutes and try again.

Roll the dough over your rolling pin and lift it onto your pan.  Smooth the dough out into the pan, leaving the excess dough hanging over the edge of the pan. Tuck any long edges between the crust and the pie pan, leaving the dough up a bit higher than the edge of the pan. Using your fingers, squeeze the crust to form a pretty edge.  Stick the prepared crust into the freezer while you prepare the filling.  Freezing the crust helps it from getting soggy in the beginning of the baking and also helps to protect the crust when you are putting the filling.
I like to use a pastry cloth which is covered with flour.  The crust never sticks and there are helpful guidelines to help me keep the crust round, although you can see that the crust has its own ideas about that.

I find that rolling the crust onto the rolling pin is the easiest method of getting the crust onto the pie pan.

Lift the crust onto the pan and then unroll it.

Adjust the crust so that it is centered as much as possible and make sure that you pat the crust down into the pan.  If you were making a double crust pie, you would simply leave the crust like this, put the filling in and then the second crust on top.  For a one crust pie, tuck in the extra bits in between the pie pan and crust, leaving the crust about 1/3 inch higher than the edge, and then pinch the edges with your fingers to create a pretty edging effect.  If you have too much extra crust like you see on the botton left, you can cut some off with a knive and put where you need a bit of extra.  This "tucking" method ensures you have an extra thick crust at the edge where you need it.
Here is the finished crust!  Be proud.
Pecan Filling

3 cups pecan halves
1 cup corn or sugar syrup (In Sweden I use ljussirap, in the UK golden syrup works well)
1 cup sugar
4 tablespoons butter
4 eggs
4 tablespoons rum
zest of one orange
1 teaspoon cardamom
1 teaspoon vanilla

First, preheat the oven to 180C (350F). Then, melt the butter in a small pot on the stove or in the microwave.  Set aside to cool while you prepare the rest of the filling. 

In a large bowl, crack the eggs and lightly beat. Add the sugar and mix until it is incorporated.  Add the syrup and mix again. Then add the run, orange zest, and cardamom.  Add the pecans and the butter and stir until all the pecans are coated and the butter is nicely incorporated.

Pour the filling into the prepared pie crust and put the pie into the oven for 30 minutes. Turn the pie around 180 degrees so that it cooks evenly on both sides.  Cook for a further 20 to 40 minutes until the filling has puffed up and is only slightly jiggly at the center.  How fast this takes will depend upon your oven.  If it looks like the pecans are getting too dark, put a piece of tinfoil over the pie and continue cooking.  Don't worry if the pie has puffed up and looks warped and funny.  It will settle back flat as it cools. 

Serve the pie at room temperature with whipped cream or vanilla icecream.

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