FALL SUNDAY: GIVE THANKS FOR PECAN PIE
I grew up in a house where dessert was never an after-thought. My mom, Lucy, was famous for flipping through the dessert menu first at a restaurant and asking the server to reserve a dessert before dinner even started. This was especially the case if pie was featured on the menu.
Not that our household was unhealthy. My mom routinely forced vegetarian dishes like Buddha Vegetable Delight and quinoa-stuffed squash on us. (This was long before quinoa was in).
And my parents may be the only ones on the planet who continue to walk along Chicago’s Lake Michigan every day. This in a city where the winter temperatures often dip well below zero, halting the lake’s waves in their tracks, forming “ice sculptures” on the lake. (I think once my father turned around because his nose had completely frozen instantly; my mother, hardy New England stock, pressed on, of course.) Indeed, exercise is a form of religion in my house, one that is partly fueled by my mother’s obsession with dessert, especially pie.
My mom never understood why people mess around with cake for birthdays. Why would anyone want to have a cake smothered in frosting when there was a buttery crust packed with fruit waiting around the corner? To her, pie was the end all be all, a dish worth sacrificing all other calories for.
As the daughter of such a woman, I am obligated to have a good pie recipe. And this is it—the penultimate pecan pie recipe, complete with an all-butter crust. (Although, I must confess, my mom’s preference for a pie would be one thing only: apple.) But it’s my story, so you get my favorite, and one that mom happily gobbles down.
Flaky Pie Dough (adapted from Julia Child’s Baking with Julia)
Make a few hours ahead of time
51/4 cups all-purpose flour
1-tablespoon kosher salt
3 sticks cold, unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
11/2 cups ice water (add extra, a teaspoon at a time if needed)
makes 4 single pie shells (I freeze the extra for future pies.)
Combine the flour and salt together in a large bowl. Crumble the butter pieces in, working the flour mixture until it’s the consistency of breadcrumbs. Add the ice water and kneed the dough just enough to blend the two together, being careful not to overwork the dough. Place the dough in a large Tupperware and let it chill in the fridge for a few hours while you make yourself a holiday cocktail.
Pecan Pie Filling (adapted from Silver Palate Cookbook)
1-cup dark brown sugar
¾ cup light corn syrup
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup unsalted butter, melted
31/2 cups shelled pecans (reserving ½ cup for decoration)
Set oven rack to the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 400˚F. Roll out ¼ of the dough and line the 9-inch pie pan with pastry. In a large bowl, beat the eggs. Add the brown sugar, corn syrup, salt, melted butter, and vanilla and stir to combine.
Pour the chopped pecans onto the pie shell. Add the egg mixture. Decorate the top of the pie with the pecan halves.
Bake pie for 10 minutes at 400˚F. Reduce the heat to 325˚F and bake until the pie sets (about 25-30 minutes).
Remove from oven and let cool. Your work is done.