Friday, January 23, 2015

Our new "regular" pecan pie.

Blueberry-pecan pie with fresh whipped cream and blueberries. © Ryan Schierling
This year marks a season of pie milestones for me. I'm finally feeling confident and consistent with the quality of my pie dough. I baked my first pumpkin pie completely from scratch in early November when our CSA delivered a perfect little sugar pumpkin to our door. I followed that up with what turned out to be an amazingly smooth and delicious little pie using buttercup (not butternut) squash instead of roasted pumpkin at Thanksgiving.

Then, over Christmas, I was launched into pecan pie territory.

When Ryan requested pecan pie (holy crap, he requested a dessert...!), I jumped at the chance to make one from scratch. After the holiday, I had enough pastry dough to make a second version and in the spirit of bourbon pecan pies I experimented a bit with a boozy-orange flavor complete with orange zest. I was quite fond of the extra depth and complexity the orange brought to the pie and it started me thinking about other flavors that complement pecans. It occurred to me that the intensely rich caramel custard of this pie would be wonderful flavored with blueberry. I mean, blueberries and pecans are a natural together. Why not as a pie? And so was born a new family recipe.

Pie-making has not exactly been my personal forte up to this point in life. But as it turns out, pecan pie is probably one of the simplest. It's been many, many years since I made a pecan pie, and when I did I'm pretty sure it was back when I was assumed it was standard operating procedure to use the regular recipe (you know... the one on the Karo bottle). This one, however, is straight-up sugar out of your pantry – the way it was meant to be – with eggs, butter, and pecans. Mix and pour into the pastry shell.

At first, I'd considered just buying some blueberry pancake syrup, but it's far easier to find blueberry juice than it is to find a blueberry syrup that doesn't list corn syrup as the first ingredient. With all the sugar already in the pie, a blueberry juice reduction felt like the best call – 100% blueberry juice from concentrate gently-reduced to nearly 1/8th its volume. 

I know it's aesthetic sacrilege, but I have to state my personal preference for using smaller pieces of pecans. Here in Texas we've got prime pecan growing conditions and great pecans everywhere. And, let's not forget, "everything's bigger in Texas." Unfortunately, I don't think this is necessarily a good thing when it comes to pie. While I intimately comprehend the impulse to meticulously arrange those big gorgeous pecan halves in symmetrical circles when it comes time to eating said pie, the large pieces just feel obtrusive and distract from the luscious custard. Not to mention, bigger pieces make the pie difficult to slice respectably. I prefer either pecan bits and pieces, or chopping up pecan halves. My local grocery store's house brand just happens to sell pecan halves that are sometimes surprisingly tiny and adorable – no chopping necessary and no temptation to arrange delicately. Just stir those pecans into the filling and pour the whole thing into the pie shell.

Pecan pie is easy. With a short list of ingredients – most of which you'll find in your pantry – you can mix up the filling while your prepared pie crust is chilling in the fridge. With this recipe, I found that preparing the pastry dough, toasting the pecans and reducing the blueberry juice were simple tasks to do a day ahead. The juice takes about an hour to reduce, so I just put it on a low back burner where I can keep an eye on it while I'm cooking dinner. The next day just roll out the pie dough, assemble and bake.

This is definitely not your fresh blueberry number with a lattice top – it clearly presents as a typical pecan pie custard, deep and full-flavored. I like it with an added wisp of orange for the complementary citrus note, but it is a successful pie even without the added trip to the liqueur store. The fresh blueberry garnish and the lightly-sweet freshly-whipped cream balance the rich blueberry of the pie. Truly, the garnish here is every bit as important as the pie to complete this particular dessert experience.

The recipe information below is scaled for one 9-inch pie.
Blueberry-pecan pie ready for baking. © Ryan Schierling
Blueberry Pecan Pie

1 single pastry dough (recipe below)

10 ounces petite pecan halves (or pecan pieces), lightly-toasted
16 ounces of 100% blueberry juice (no sugar added), for reduction
4 large eggs, room temperature
2 cups light brown sugar (I've found there is little difference if you substitute 1/2 cup of this with either white sugar or dark brown sugar.)
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted 
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 teaspoons Grand Marinier (optional)
1/8 teaspoon fresh orange zest

Begin by making the pastry dough as per the recipe below.

Toast the pecan halves in a sauté pan on the stove top stirring frequently. Take care to only lightly brown, as these will also be subjected to the heat of the oven as well.

Reduce the 2 cups of blueberry juice in a saucepan on low heat to nearly 1/4 cup. Stir occasionally until begins to cling to the pan and have syrupy appearance – about an hour (I usually just put it on a low back burner while I'm cooking dinner and can keep an eye on it), Be very gentle with the heat and do not boil – simply heat to evaporate the water away. You do not want to caramelize or burn the syrup, so watch it carefully especially towards the end. Better to have a less reduced and thinner reduction, than one that is burned.

Prepare the pastry dough in a 9" pie plate and chill.

Preheat oven to 350º F.

In a small mixing bowl whisk together the eggs, sugar, salt, melted butter, vanilla, Grand Marinier, orange zest and 1/4 cup of blueberry juice reduction. When thoroughly combined, add the toasted pecans and fold in with a spatula.

Pour filling into the chilled crust and bake at 350º F for 50-60 minutes. Brush the crust with egg whites around the 45 minute mark. Pie will puff up in the center when done and be only a touch jiggly in the center. Allow to cool.

Serve with fresh blueberries and real whipped cream.

Whipped Cream

8 ounces heavy whipping cream
1/8 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup confectioners sugar, sifted (add another tablespoon or two if you prefer slightly sweeter)

Begin by whipping the cream on a low speed, increasing speed as it begins to incorporate some air. Add vanilla and sifted sugar when soft peaks begin to form. Continue on medium speed until the cream is just holding its shape when mixed.

Single Pastry Dough

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar 
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, chilled
4 tablespoons non-hydrogenated palm shortening, chilled (measure and then chill)
5 teaspoons vodka (or substitute part with Grand Marinier)
1/4 cup ice water (slightly more if needed)

In food processor add flour, sugar and salt. Pulse. Add the shortening and a couple small pieces of butter. Pulse several times. Add the rest of the butter and pulse a few more times. In a small pouring cup, mix the vodka and ice water. With the food processor on, or pulsing, pour the water mixture slowly into the food processor until the dough comes together and forms a ball. Only use as much of the ice water/vodka mixture as needed to get the dough to come together and clean the sides.

Form ball into a 1-inch thick disc dusted with flour, cover in plastic wrap and chill for at least half an hour or overnight (will keep for 4 or 5 days in the fridge). When ready to roll out, allow to rest for a minute or two before rolling. Work rolling pin from the center of the dough outward on a large floured cutting board, keeping a little flour on hand to dust the cutting board again where needed. Roll dough to 1/8" thick. Gently fold in half over your hand and then lift and unfurl into 9" glass pie plate. Carefully press pastry into the corners of the pie plate and and then trim excess dough with kitchen shears approximately 1/2" outside the rim of the plate. Tuck this extra dough under to form the crust and crimp the edge as you please.

Chill formed crust in refrigerator until ready to use. (Or in freezer for up to 15 minutes if using right away.)

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