Contemporary Pecan Pie

Here is what you need to know about this pie:

A mixture of brown sugar and honey takes the place of corn syrup.
Brown butter makes it toasty and rich like a dark cup of coffee.
One tablespoon of lemon juice cuts through the sweetness like a knife.
A subtle 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon adds depth and warmth.
It tastes 100% traditional.

When I set out to make a classic pecan pie without corn syrup, I had to pause to ask myself why. Was it because corn syrup is inherently evil? Had I just been brain washed into thinking that it was that bad? I had avoided corn syrup in the past largely because it seemed a more processed product than raw honey and organic maple syrup, but to completely denounce the sweetener without any research hardly seemed fair.

What I discovered was that due to the unknown effect of consuming large amounts of fructose, high-fructose corn syrup is generally considered to be a consume-at-your-own-risk kind of ingredient. On the other hand, pure glucose syrup is a simple sugar that has several interesting applications in the kitchen. The problem is that most commercial corn syrup actually contains an unspecified amount of high-fructose syrup as an ingredient, unless the brand advertises otherwise. Eventually, after sifting through multiple conflicting articles, I decided that regardless of the possible pitfalls of corn syrup, honey and maple syrup are always going to be superior options for me. Not only do they impart so much more flavour, but it is incredibly easy to find people who produce these products locally and organically.

With that settled, I turned to crafting a recipe that was both free of corn syrup and ‘traditional’ – that is one without bourbon, chocolate, or any other third party ingredient attempting to offset the sweetness. Rather, I relied on the subtle aroma of darkly browned butter, a whisper of cinnamon, and soft notes of floral honey to add dimension without compromising the classic flavour of molasses and nuts. Use this as an opportunity to see how far you can brown your butter without burning it, and you will be rewarded with unparalleled flavour.

Contemporary Pecan Pie
Adapted from: Carole Walter. ‘Southern Pecan Pie.’ Great Pies and Tarts.

Ingredients:

1 disc prepared pie pastry*

7 tablespoons unsalted butter (3.5 oz)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated white sugar
1 tablespoon flour
1/2 teaspoon Ceylon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs
2 tablespoons mild honey
8 oz pecans

*an additional disc of pastry is required for a braided edge

Method:

Roll the disc of pastry into a 12 inch circle. Carefully fit the pastry into a 9 inch pie plate, then crimp or decorate the edge as desired. Freeze the shell for at least 30 minutes.

Darkly brown the butter, then let it cool while you prepare the other ingredients. Click here to learn how to make brown butter.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Arrange the oven racks so that you can place the pie plate on a rack in the lower middle of the oven, and a baking tray underneath it on the bottom rack.

When the oven has finished preheating, toast the nuts on a baking sheet for 6-8 minutes or until they are aromatic and slightly oily.

In a medium bowl, combine the brown sugar, white sugar, flour, cinnamon, and salt.

In a large measuring cup, combine the cooled brown butter, vanilla extract, and lemon juice.

Pour the liquid over the sugar mixture and stir until the ingredients are moistened. Whisk in the eggs one at a time, just until they are well combined. Wisk gently – you do not want to incorporate too much air into the mixture or it will puff up during baking. Whisk in the honey.

Remove the prepared pastry from the freezer. Spread the cooled nuts across the bottom of the pie shell. Give the filling a final stir then pour it over the nuts. Fill the pie to a scant 1/4 inch below the top of the crust, to allow room for the filling to expand during baking.

Place a large metal baking sheet on the bottom rack of the preheated oven. Place the pie on the middle rack and bake for 55 minutes to 1 hour, rotating carefully after 30 minutes. Use a pie shield if necessary to prevent overbrowning in the last 20 minutes. The pie is finished baking when the crust is completely golden brown and the filling has puffed up through to the centre. The filling should still wobble slightly when the tray is jiggled, and it should only begin to crack in the last few minutes of baking – if at all.

Let the pie cool completely before serving. Store in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. Serve slightly chilled or at room temperature.

Apple-Cranberry Pie

apple cranberry blog

Apples rank high among the many ingredients that I have no excuse for purchasing anywhere but locally, and lucky for me sometimes I don’t even have to do that. This versatile fruit is much like rhubarb and zucchini around here, in the sense that during one week of the year everyone suddenly encounters an overabundance of crop. If that sounds like a complaint than I apologize, because what I really want to do is bust out the bobbing barrels and throw an apple harvest party. Before you laugh, remember that we have entire festivals dedicated to both maple syrup and pumpkins.

Certainly worth celebrating is the fact that Ontario is home to some of the best baking apples in the world, including the much coveted and super crispy Northern Spy. The key characteristic one is looking for when choosing apples for pies and other desserts, is a flesh that holds its shape well after baking. Some apples will rapidly disintegrate when heat is applied, which is especially problematic if you like to partially cook the fruit or prepare the filling beforehand. A quick internet search will turn up which varieties grown in your area are the best for baking, and which are best left for making applesauce. In this particular pie I used a 3lb bag of local McIntosh, but when options are available consider using a combination of apples and playing with different flavours.

For the crust, use your favourite recipe for all-butter pie pastry or try this one from Four and Twenty Blackbirds via Food52. Their formula and method is genius, and certainly deserves a place in a serious pie maker’s repertoire.

Apple-Cranberry Pie
Adapted from Four and Twenty Black Birds via Food52
And Williams-Sonoma

Ingredients:

2 discs prepared pie pastry*

3 lb (whole) tart baking apples
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup granulated white sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 ground all-spice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon tapioca starch
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
10 oz fresh (or frozen) cranberries
1/4 cup fresh squeezed orange juice

*For complex designs or heavy lattice patterns, part of an additional disc of pastry may be required.

Method:

Prepare the pastry as directed. Roll one disc of pastry into a 12 inch circle, and fit it into a 9 inch pie plate. Return the shell to the fridge to chill while you make the filling. Roll out the second disc of pastry as thinly as possible without stretching or tearing the dough. Using a pastry wheel, pizza cutter, or scalpel, cut the pastry into long strips for a lattice. Alternatively, use cookie cutters to stamp out pieces for a unique design. Refrigerate the prepared pieces of top pastry.

In a medium bowl, combine 1/2 cup of the granulated sugar with the brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, all-spice, salt, and tapioca starch. Peel, core, and slice the apples into 1/4 inch thick wedges. In a Dutch oven or a large non-stick pan, gently toss the apple slices with the sugar mixture until they are evenly coated. Cover and cook over medium heat for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally, just until the apples begin to tenderize. Remove from the heat and gently stir in the lemon juice and vanilla extract. Let the filling cool to room temperature.

To prepare the cranberries, combine with the remaining 1/2 cup granulated sugar and the orange juice in a medium saucepan. If using frozen cranberries, cover the pot and heat on low, stirring occasionally, until the berries have thawed. For fresh cranberries, cook uncovered over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until some of the berries begin to break down and the natural pectin has thickened the liquid. Remove from the heat and let cool completely to room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 400°F

Using a rubber spatula, gently combine the cooled apple and cranberry mixtures. Scrape the filling into the chilled pie shell, leaving only enough room to fold over and crimp the pastry (if you have some filling leftover that is fine). Arrange the top pastry over the fruit, seal the edges if necessary, and crimp as desired.

Bake in the preheated oven for 55-65 minutes, or until the filling is bubbling and the pastry is a rich golden brown. Rotate the pie halfway through baking to ensure even colouring, and use a pie shield to prevent the edges from overbrowning if necessary.

Let cool completely before serving.

Blueberry & Cherry Pie with Pecan Pastry

For the seasonal baker, summer is an overwhelmingly bountiful time of year, lush with fresh and local produce. As the crops take their turns coming into season this year, I find myself feeling inclined to bake a dessert celebrating each one. And what I am discovering is that nothing showcases juicy fruit or ripe berries like a deep, double-crust pie.

Living among the rural farms of Midwestern Ontario means that everything comes to me a month after it hits the cover of Bon Appetit, but that hardly makes the harvest less exciting. First the rhubarb crops up around the yard, then some refreshing greens sprout in the fields. Before long summer hits and the berries are pouring in by the pint, and it is not hard to find a place to pick all that you can carry home.

Pecan Pie Pastry 

Ingredients:

1/2 cup pecans (approximately 58g)
2 1/4 cups cake and pastry flour (9oz)
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
3/4 teaspoon fine salt
8 oz unsalted butter, cut into 1/2” cubes and very cold
5-6 tablespoons water, depending on humidity
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Method:

Combine the water and lemon juice in a small glass and place it in the freezer until the liquid is icy cold, but not frozen.

Toast the pecans at 350° F for 5 minutes, then allow them to cool completely on the tray. Take a wooden rolling pin or the bottom of a sturdy glass and crush the toasted nuts into a rough meal.

Combine the flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Add the nut meal and whisk to combine.

Add the cold, cubed butter to the bowl with the flour and toss to coat the pieces. Cut in the butter using a pastry blender, just until the largest bits are the size of peas. Pour the cold water evenly around the bowl and immediately toss with a fork to combine. The mixture will form small clumps, like cheese curds, and should appear slightly dry. Gather the clumps together and knead them a few times against the side of the bowl until you have the beginnings of a cohesive dough. Divide the rough dough evenly into two balls, then form into discs and wrap them very tightly in plastic wrap. Chill the discs for at least 1 hour or overnight before continuing with the recipe.

Blueberry-Cherry Filling

Ingredients: 

4 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen
3 cups fresh cherries, halved and pitted
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon lemon zest
6 tablespoons tapioca starch

Method:

Place the prepared cherries and blueberries in a large non-stick pan. Sprinkle the sugar over top, then add the vanilla extract and lemon zest.

Cover the pan with a lid and let it sit over low heat for 20-30 minutes, stirring gently but frequently, until the sugar has melted and most of the juices have run out of the fruit. The mixture should just be reaching a simmer at this point.

Sprinkle the tapioca starch over the fruit and stir gently until all the starch is absorbed. Allow the mixture to approach a simmer, frequently scraping the bottom of the pan to avoid burning. After 3-4 minutes, when the filling is thick enough that the fruit holds together and the liquid coats the spatula, remove the pan from the heat and let it cool to room temperature (the refrigerator may be used to speed up the cooling process).

Assemble and Bake: 

Roll out both discs of pastry into 12” wide circles. Fit one circle into a 9” pie plate and cut the other into 2” wide strips for a simple lattice top crust. Chill the pie plate (preferably in the freezer) and refrigerate the strips while the filling cools.

When the filling is completely cool, scrape it into the prepared shell and spread it evenly to the edges. Depending on the dimensions of your pie plate, you may need to reserve up to one cup of the filling in order to avoid over-filling the pie. Arrange the strips of pastry over top the filling in a lattice, then trim and crimp the edges.

Place the prepared pie on a level surface in the freezer for 20 minutes to re-chill the pastry after shaping. Preheat the oven to 400° F while you wait. Set the pie on a sturdy tray and bake for 60 to 70 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown and the filling is bubbling. Use a pie shield in the last half hour to prevent the edges from over-browning. I like to broil my pies (with a pie shield on) for several minutes at the end of baking for an even golden color across the surface.

Store the pie in the fridge, and serve it sightly cool or at room temperature.

Double-Crust Rhubarb Custard Pie

Here is a twist on a rhubarb custard pie recipe that is spectacular for two reasons, and both concern the creamy and sturdy custard that takes center stage. For this pie, the custard is first prepared with the rhubarb added at the beginning of the process so that any liquid the plant releases becomes part of the finished product. Then the pastry cream is baked for a second time between two layers of flaky, buttery pastry to enhance the flavor and solidify the filling so that it slices beautifully. Almonds may be substituted for an even more subtle nutty aroma, but do make sure to include the nut meal as it brings a welcome richness and depth of flavor to the whole party.

Rhubarb Custard Pie 

Ingredients:

1 recipe for a double crust pie pastry (2 discs pie dough)

3 cups chopped fresh or frozen rhubarb
1 ½ cups light brown or golden yellow sugar, packed
5 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup whole milk (3.5%)
1/8 teaspoon fine table salt
4 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ cup hazelnut meal (roasted and finely ground)

1 egg
1 teaspoon water
course sugar for sprinkling

Method:

1. Make the custard.

To make the custard, combine the rhubarb, sugar, flour, salt, milk, egg yolks, and vanilla extract in a large metal bowl. Create a double boiler by filling a medium pot with a few inches of water and placing the metal bowl containing the ingredients over top, ensuring that the water does not touch the bottom of the bowl. Set the pot over medium-low heat and bring the water to a simmer, stirring the ingredients frequently with a whisk or a heat-proof spatula.

As the water continues to simmer and the custard begins to cook and thicken, focus on scraping the bottom of the bowl with the spatula and stirring constantly to prevent the mixture from curdling. When the custard reaches 180° F on an instant read thermometer, or is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, immediately remove the bowl from the heat and continue to stir for a minute until it begins to cool. Place a piece of plastic wrap on the surface of the custard and allow it to cool to room temperature, then chill it in the fridge for at least four hours to allow the custard to become firm.

At this point the custard may be stored in the fridge for up to 24 hours.

2. Assemble and bake.

When you are ready to bake the pie, roll out one disc of pastry and fit it into a 9” pie plate, leaving at least an inch of overhang to be trimmed after the top pastry is arranged. Place the shell in the freezer for several minutes to re-chill the dough. Roll out the second disc of pastry into a large circle slightly thinner than that of the shell, and cut it into 2” wide strips. Place the strips in the freezer for several minutes to re-chill the dough. The goal is for the pastry to be cold, but flexible enough so that you may shape the edges.

Remove the pie plate from the freezer and carefully pour the chilled custard into the shell. Cover the entire surface evenly with the strips of pastry, making sure that they do not overlap to allow for ventilation and trimming the edges where necessary. Curl the shell overhang up over the circle of pastry, trimming where necessary, and press it into a fluted edge. Carefully place the whole pie in the freezer for 20 minutes, ensuring that it is sitting level. While you are waiting for the dough to chill, preheat the oven to 400° F.

Whisk together the egg and teaspoon water. Gently place the pie on a sturdy baking sheet and brush the top with the egg wash, then sprinkle sugar over top. Bake in the preheated oven for 50 minutes to 1 hour, or until the top pastry is golden brown and slightly puffed. Use a pie shield if necessary to protect the edges from over-browning during the last 20 minutes of baking.

Allow the pie to cool to room temperature and chill before serving, at least 4 hours. This will ensure that the pie will slice cleanly. Store the pie in the refrigerator, and serve it slightly chilled or at room temperature the next day.

Coffee-Hazelnut Pie Pastry

Want to up your pie game in a big way? Take advantage of the pastry and use it as a vehicle for additional flavors and textures. With the first berry pie of the season try a flaky, all-butter pie pastry enhanced with hazelnut meal and powdered coffee for a subtly refined twist on a classic.

Coffee-Hazelnut Pie Pastry

Flavor Pairings: Blackberries, blueberries.

Baker’s Note: To flavor my baked goods with coffee, my favorite method is to take instant coffee, which is essentially freeze-dried coffee, and either dissolve the granules in an equal amount of water or grind them into a fine powder and use it as a dry ingredient. For this recipe, scoop a couple tablespoons of instant coffee into a bean/spice grinder and pulse until you have a very fine powder.

Ingredients:

9 oz cake & pastry flour
1 1/2 teaspoons instant coffee powder
1/2 cup medium ground hazelnuts (not hazelnut flour)
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
8 oz cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
7 tablespoons very cold water (3.5 oz)

Method:

Measure the water into a cup and place it in the freezer until it is very cold, but not icy. Whisk together the flour, coffee powder, sugar and salt.

Add the cold, cubed butter to the flour mixture and toss to coat. Cut in the butter using a pastry blender until the largest pieces are the size of small peas. Place the bowl in the freezer for 20 minutes to re-chill the butter.

Add the ground hazelnuts to the bowl and toss with a fork to evenly disperse. Pour the very cold water around the edges of the bowl, and quickly toss with a fork to disperse the liquid and combine the ingredients.

Gather the clumps of dough together into a rough ball and give it a few brief kneads against the side of the bowl, just until it holds together, then wrap very tightly in plastic wrap.

Note: The “dough” at this point will appear very dry or crumbly and not at all cohesive, but this is how it should feel. Gather the clumps together tightly into a ball and wrap it in plastic wrap so that the ingredients come together without overworking the gluten or squishing the bits of butter. You can even carefully dump the clumps onto a sheet of plastic wrap and use it to gather the dough together, like I often do to minimize handling.

Flatten the dough slightly to form a disc. Chill for at least 2 hours to give the flour some time to absorb the moisture, and to re-solidify the butter.

Remove the dough from the fridge 20 minutes before rolling. Use as directed in your recipe of choice. Remember that freezing the pastry before baking it at a high temperature will yield the flakiest results.

The dough will keep for 2-3 days in the fridge or for up to one month in the freezer.