Monday, April 14, 2008

Baking Frenzy: Pecan Pie

Recently, I donated a baked goods lot to an auction for my law school's public interest law organization. The auction is annually a huge success, and I thought it would be fun to use my skill to help a good cause (and also to give me an excuse to bake more!). Well, my "Month of Pie" was sold for $100! Pretty exciting, but it put me under a lot of pressure to perform. The lot included 4 pies of the winner's choosing, one per week for the month of April.

This week, the second, a pecan pie was requested. I have never made a pecan pie, and I actually couldn't recall ever having eaten one. So I trolled through a bunch of recipes on the internet, read a ton of reviews, and finally selected "Old-Fashioned Pecan Pie", as originally printed in the November 1997 issue of Bon App├ętit.

I did make a few changes to the recipe, which are reflected below, since many of the reviews had made comments as to the crust, the insufficient amount of filling, the way-too-long baking time, etc. I made two pies so I could have a control (in case they turned out gross...I wouldn't want to give a bad pie to the auction winner!)...and so Karl and I could eat some pie!

The pie is really quite nice, although I found it really sweet. I think next time I would like to experiment with cutting back on the sugar, and possibly adding some spice (cinnamon or clove). I'd also like to try using molasses, which is probably a more traditional ingredient than corn syrup.

Old-Fashioned Pecan Pie
Yield: 2 9-inch pies

For Two Crusts:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup vegetable shortening
4-7 TBSP ice cold water

For Filling:
2 cups chopped pecans
2 cups sugar
6 extra large eggs
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup honey
1 1/2 TBSP bourbon
6 TBSP unsalted butter, melted
4 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 to 1 cup pecan halves

Preheat oven to 350˚F. Arrange the chopped pecans (not the pecan halves) in a single layer on a cookie sheet, and toast in the oven for 8 or 9 minutes. Be careful not to burn them...if you start to smell roasting nuts before time is up, they are done! Set aside to cool.

To make the crust, sift the flour and salt into a bowl. Using a pastry blender or two knives, cut the shortening into the flour mixture until it is the consistency of cornmeal. Add the water 1 TBSP at a time, using a fork to toss the flour mixture. Only add enough water for the dough to form and stick together. Form the dough into a ball, and cut it in half. Wrap each half in plastic wrap and place it in the freezer until ready to roll out.

To make the filling, mix the sugar, eggs, corn syrup, honey, bourbon, butter, and vanilla extract with a whisk until combined. Make sure the melted butter is not too hot, or the eggs might scramble. Add the toasted chopped pecans to the mixture. Set aside.

Take the crust out of the freezer and, on a lightly floured surface, roll out each half ball into a 12-inch diameter circle. Transfer to pie plates and crimp the crusts decoratively. Give the filling a good last mix, then pour half into each pie crust.

Use the pecan halves to decorate the top of the pie. Gently place them, flat side down, on the top of the pie (they should float). Cover as much of the surface of the pies as you would like.

Bake the pies at 350˚F for about 50 minutes, or until filling is mostly set and only wobbles a little bit when you gently shake the pan. At about 40 minutes, loosely cover the pies with aluminum foil to prevent the crust and pecans from burning. Take out of the oven and cool completely before serving or refrigerating. Garnish with a dollop of freshly whipped cream!