Martha Rose Shulman’s Pecan Pie

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PIE-A-DAY #35

Martha Rose Shulman is a cookbook author and culinary instructor at The Venice Cooking School.

DSCN1633My pecan pie is far from the cloying classic. It’s all about pecans.  The thin layer of filling is a mixture of butter, eggs, and honey accented with nutmeg, vanilla and rum. But this is just a setting for the nuts. Classic pecan pie is sweetened with sugar and corn syrup, copious amounts, but I find that honey has a more complimentary flavor. I use a mild one, such as clover or acacia. When I lived in France, where it was easy to get lavender honey, that was always my first choice. My tarte aux pécans was one of my American specialties. It was there that I began making the pie in a tart pan. My crust is a variation of Sherry Yard’s 3-2-1 pastry, which is a very easy dough to work with. It’s not a pâte sucrée, it’s more of a flaky pastry, and it isn’t very sweet. The filling is sweet enough.

For the Crust
1 stick unsalted butter
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 Tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup ice water (approximately)
1/4 teaspoon lemon juice or white wine vinegar

1. Chop the butter into 1-inch pieces and place it in the freezer to chill for 15 minutes. Sift together the flour, sugar, and salt. Put the flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a standing electric mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the partially frozen butter.

2. Turn the machine on low and mix for 2 minutes, until the butter is broken down to the size of a walnut (the inside of a walnut – the meat — not the whole nut in the shell). After 2 minutes, stop the machine, and by hand, pinch flat any large pieces of butter that remain.

3. In a small bowl combine the ice water and lemon juice. Turn the mixer on low speed and add the water all at once. Mix just until the dough comes together, about 15 seconds. The dough should be tacky, but not sticky.

4. Remove the dough from the bowl and wrap it in plastic film. Chill the dough for at least 1 hour before use or for up to 3 days.

Note: The amount of water can be variable. It is better to have a slightly wet/tacky dough than one that is too dry. Add a little water if your dough seems dry.

Roll out the dough and line a 9- or  10-inch pie pan or tart pan. Chill for at least 15 minutes to help maintain the decorative shape when filling and baking. You can cover it air-tight with plastic and then foil, and freeze for up to 2 months.

Blind-bake the tart shell. Preheat the oven to 425ºF with the rack in the lower third of the oven and prick the bottom of the pastry a few times with a fork. Line the pastry shell with parchment paper, aluminum foil, or coffee filters. Fill the lined shell to the rim with the faux filling, and gently press the filling into the corners. Place in the oven and bake for 10 minutes, then turn the heat down to 350º and bake for another 7 to 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and remove the faux filling and the lining. Return to the oven for 10 minutes,  or until the center turns golden and looks dry. There should be no sign of moisture. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on a rack.

For the filling:

4 Tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup mild honey, such as clover, lavender or acacia
4 large or extra large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 Tablespoon rum
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Pinch of salt
2 cups shelled pecans, preferably pecan halves
Whipped cream or vanilla ice cream for serving.

1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Combine the butter and honey in a food processor fitted with the steel blade, or in a standing mixer fitted with the whip attachment and cream together until smooth. Add the eggs and mix in, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition. Add the vanilla, rum, nutmeg, and salt, and mix together well.

2. Spread the pecans over the crust in an even layer. Pour in the butter and egg mixture, scraping all of it out of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Bake in the preheated oven for 30 to 35 minutes, until the nuts are lightly browned. The filling will puff up, then settle. Remove from the heat and allow to cool on a rack. Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

© Martha Rose Shulman