I can’t believe it is November. I am in a panic-a pie panic. I received a call from my brother-in-law, (aka Dr. Andrew Weil’s First Disciple) that I wasn’t entirely surprised to receive. It was the “no more corn syrup” call. (However, he did ask me to up the bourbon quotient in any pie of my choosing-hmm, is he numbing the pain of spending Thanksgiving with his wife’s family?)
Eleven months out of the year this kind of directive wouldn’t affect me. But with the holidays around the corner he was really cramping my style. Pecan pie is my favorite thing and last year I found and made the perfect recipe which, of course, requires corn syrup. If we were a large family you might say, just make a pecan pie and then a corn syrup-free something else. But, we are a small family. This year we only have four adult pie eaters and two mini ones. I always make an apple pie, which I have no interest in, because it’s Thanksgiving and because if I didn’t my father would kill me. It’s his favorite and he actually hates Thanksgiving for some reason so the pie is one way to make the dinner appealing. The other pie has always been pecan and, in recent years, a chocolate pecan because my sister won’t open her mouth for any dessert that does not involve chocolate and frankly, she could stand to put on a few. My mother is the easiest to please-she doesn’t eat dessert at all. Meaning, she doesn’t want a piece of pie on a plate, she’d rather pick at the leftovers while we do the dishes. So, now here I am wondering what to do.
At first I thought, why not just make a pecan pie without corn syrup? So, I baked a tester with a British import which seemed ironic considering the exporters don’t exactly celebrate Thanksgiving. Lyle’s Golden Syrup is liquid cane sugar and I found it in the fancy food aisle in the market. It has a more distinct taste than corn syrup and the pie I made just didn’t taste right. Not bad, but just not what I wanted.
Then my sister called. Although her kids have been cleared for nut take off she thought they’d be happier with something less gooey and more cookie-ish. And don’t forget the chocolate. And don’t even think about the bourbon. Ok. This was a fun project until people started weighing in with their demands assuming that I wasn’t already letting their needs guide my experiments. And what, by the way, will she be contributing to the meal since her husband and kids are vegetarian? And where was everyone last year when I nearly sliced off my finger with a mandolin while making a fennel salad? “Oh, it looks fine, just put on a Band-aid!” my father said as my hand throbbed all through the night and by the time I went to the CVS Minute Clinic they said I should have gone to the ER but it was too late for stitches. At least the salad was good.
I got over my irritation as soon as my 22 month old niece took the phone and said “Mimi comin’ house?” meaning “when are you coming to see me?” and that was all I needed to hear. Operation Pie was back on.
My goal was to bring together the toffee notes, good chocolate and a little bit of the structure of the chocolate chip cookie with the toasted nuttiness, slight gooeyness of a pecan pie. I also added some instant coffee just to give my trying-to-be-all-things-to-all-people-pie another dimension, and as a way to ward off the cloying sweetness both of these pies can fall victim to. If you're worried about the kids, don't be-the tart does not have a pronounced coffee taste. But if you're still worried, reduce the amount to one teaspoon.
After four experimental pies (too sweet, too dry, too gritty, too pasty) I think the fifth one is "just right." Unfortunately, if I have to so much as look at another pecan or a chocolate chip I will lose it completely. Luckily, I have 3 weeks to get my appetite back. Now let’s hope the family is satisfied. (I know I am!)
*Note-I’m as scared of making pie and tart crusts as much as the next person. But this crust is really so easy and doesn’t require a rolling pin! But, if you’re still scared you could make this as a pie and use a pre-made crust. Just read the ingredients and be sure it is all natural. I think I’d still par-bake it as I do below, just to make sure the bottom isn’t soggy.
What About Me Toffee Pecan Chocolate Thanksgiving Tart
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1 1/4 cups all purpose flour (spooned and leveled)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup sugar
8 Tablespoons butter-cut into small size pieces
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Place flour, sugar, salt and butter in bowl of food processor. Process until large moist pieces form-when you grab a handful it should hold together.
Spill out contents of processor into tart pan.
With floured fingers press dough evenly along bottom of pan and up the sides. This takes a little time and patience. Hang in there and it will be fine.
Freeze dough filled pan for 15 minutes.
Remove pan from freezer, prick the bottom of the crust with a fork repeatedly.
Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden.
Cool on a rack completely.
(adapted from Everyday Food July/August 2005)
1 ½ sticks of unsalted butter
5 Tablespoons sugar
7 Tablespoons dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons instant coffee or espresso powder
½ cup all purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup Ghiradelli 60% Cacao Chocolate Chips
1 cup pecan halves
Preheat oven to 325 degrees
Heat pecans in toaster oven or in a skillet over medium heat until fragrant. Keep an eye on them-you do not want to waste them so don’t let them burn! Set aside and let cool.
Place both sugars in large heatproof mixing bowl. Set aside.
Heat butter in medium skillet and melt over medium-high heat until the melted butter turns dark golden and smells nutty, 2-5 minutes.
Carefully pour hot butter over sugars and whisk thoroughly to combine. Allow to cool 2 minutes.
Add eggs and coffee powder to sugar/butter mixture and whisk thoroughly until fully incorporated.
Add flour and salt to sugar/butter/eggs and coffee mixture and whisk gently first to combine and then vigorously until flour is completely mixed in. Batter will look like caramel.
Stir in pecans and chocolate chips with wooden spoon or spatula.
Spoon batter into cooled tart pan and smooth.
Place a piece of foil on oven rack just in case there is some overflow.
Bake 55 minutes-1 hour. Top of tart may sport little cracks.
This tart is easier to cut if it has cooled completely.
Yield-One 9” pie or tart.
Depending on the pigginess of your crew 6 (big hog)-10 (a tiny piglet) slices. Feel free to go whole hog and top with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.