Sunday, August 29, 2010

Don't knock it till you've tasted it

When Lauren suggested we have dinner at her place after our Saturday afternoon dressmaker's appointment, I jumped at the chance to offer a dessert. It's hard to find excuses to make desserts and puddings when you're only feeding yourself, so bringing a dessert was the ideal opportunity to try pecan pie (p212), a recipe I've been dying to make for ages. I've had various cafe-made pecan pies, and was interested to see how a home-made one would compare.

Incidentally, I have it on very good authority that in the USA, pecan pie's country of origin, it's pronounced /pə'ka:n/, as opposed to /'pi:kæn/. Whether that means we should all be saying it that way is a matter of opinion - but whichever pronunciation you choose, it's still delicious!

The recipe required sweet shortcrust pastry, but, since I'd already done the basic version of that recipe, I decided to use nut pastry (p81) for this recipe. The only difference is in adding half a cup of walnuts before you mix up the dough.

All went well at first - I was a little worried that adding the nuts would make it harder to mix the pastry dough together. It was a little more difficult - less liquid to go around - but, after a certain amount of persuasion, I had a nice firm ball of pastry. When I made the plain sweet shortcrust, I'd noted that plain sugar seemed to make the pastry a bit gritty. This time, I tried caster sugar, with a much smoother result.

At this point, I had every reason to be optimistic. The pastry was looking good, and I didn't think the filling would be too difficult. After an hour or so chilling in the fridge, I got out my pastry to roll it and line my pie dish. This is where things started going slightly downhill.

The pastry crumbled as I tried to roll it - the nuts within the pastry seemed to encourage cracking and crumbling. Eventually I had it rolled enough to cover a pie plate. I carefully manoeuvred it into the dish, and after a bit of trimming and patching up weak spots, I had a lined pie plate.

I used some haricot beans for baking blind, forgetting, of course, that it's a good idea to line the pastry with baking paper before adding the blind. It baked beautifully, but I had to spend several minutes picking out small bits of bean that had stuck to the pastry. Oh well, with any luck I'll remember next time.

While the pie base was baking, I was putting together the filling. I began by creaming butter and brown sugar, then beating in three eggs, one at a time. The butter/sugar mixture separated oddly as I beat in the eggs, I suspect because the butter was fairly warm from softening in the microwave, and the eggs were cold from the fridge. I should try to get my eggs room-temperature before using them.

No matter how much I beat the mixture, the texture remained lumpy. I figured there wasn't much I could do about it, so I carried on, adding honey and pecan nuts. The recipe stated that all the pecans should be added to the filling mixture, but I wanted some to decorate the top. I set about one-third aside, and after pouring the filling into the base, placed the remaining nuts in rings on top.

This was probably a mistake. As soon as I put the pie in the oven, I started to worry that the pecans on the top would burn before the filling was set. I sat next to my oven with a Milo and watched the pie for any signs of scorching.

The baking time given in the recipe was 30 minutes. After only 10, I was starting to worry about the pie browning too much on top. I placed a piece of baking paper over it, which meant I couldn't see the pie anymore, so I went to read a book until the timer went off.

I had set it to go off well before the 30-minute mark, fearing the pie would overcook. When I took it out to check, however, I was astonished to see that the filling had risen to a peak some five or six centimetres above the pie. This was completely unexpected - I'd never seen a pecan pie of that shape before. Almost immediately, however, the peak collapsed in on itself, revealing an underbaked, weird-looking filling. Large amounts of melted butter were oozing all around the edges - I poured this off and put the pie back in the oven.

I ended up baking the pie for another 10 minutes or so - the peak would rise again in the oven, and collapse every time I took it out. I think that putting 1/3 of the pecans on the top made the filling less dense, so it wasn't capable of carrying the weight of having them on the surface.

Eventually I was satisfied that the pie was, at least, cooked. I was pretty dubious about the quality of what I had produced, but, having promised pecan pie, I had to bring it along.

Contrary to my own opinion, everyone else thought my pie looked great. After a suitable interlude of digestion following Tom's fantastic pizzas (of which I ate far too much, like a total glutton) we decided it was time for pie.

I cut into the pie and found it thoroughly stuck to the dish. I scooped out as much as I could of each piece, but still left behind a considerable amount of pastry firmly adhered to the pie plate. Eventually, I had wrangled four pieces of pie, and these, served with ice cream, were presented for tasting.

Despite my doubts, the pie ended up tasting pretty good. I had some trouble getting through mine, since I was still full of pizza, but I had to admit it tasted much better than I had expected. Lauren, Tom and Olivia seemed happy enough with theirs as well, so I had to consider the pie a success - something that I would have been surprised to hear a few hours earlier!

If I make this pie again - and I might - I think I'll stick with plain shortcrust: the nutty one is nice, but hard to work with. I'll also suppress the temptation to deprive the filling of a third of its pecans, merely to decorate the top. And if I'm really on to it, I'll even think to get my eggs down to room temperature before using them!


  1. It looks like it turned out great!!! My recipe (or should I say the recipe on the Karo corn syrup bottle...) is a little different - doesn't require you to blind bake the crust ahead for one. But I'm sure the results are the same. I'll just have to make you one sometime to compare ;)

    Oh and I guess in case any other Americans read your blog I should warn you that I think it's a southern thing to pronounce pecan my way! You might get some pretty angry comments from people up north!!! haha

  2. Well, according to Wikipedia, pecan pie originated in New Orleans - that's southern, right?

  3. Looks YUM!!
    It's funny your pastry stuck to the pie tin, because Liz's always does that too!! It makes serving it up more of a "challenge", right? haha

    I think I want to try the nutty pastry though, it sounds really good!

    just looked at your list of completed recipes on the left here... Wow! It has really grown, eh!! Impressive.

  4. Yeah it's yummy but tricky to work with. Maybe slightly more water for the mix might help, but not too much!

    It occurs to me I left the remaining pie at Lauren and Tom's, so effectively I've made it their problem to clean off all that stuck-on pastry! Oops, sorry guys!


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