Get a jump on Thanksgiving and put this classic pie recipe on your menu now
The fourth Thursday in November comes early this year. With only three weeks to get ready for Thanksgiving, that can put a lot of pressure on those who rightly consider the holiday their biggest home cooking occasion of the year.
Let me help you take a major step in your planning by solving the question of what to serve for dessert by sharing this classic Spago version of an all-time holiday favorite: pecan pie.
Many people who have tried this version tell me it's the best pecan pie they've ever tasted. But, when you bake it and take a bite yourself, you will probably note that there's nothing too out-of-the-ordinary about it. No chocolate chunks or drizzle, no added spices, not even any of the flecks of bacon that seem to find their way into even sweet recipes these days. It's a straightforward pecan pie.
So, what makes the pie so memorable? Like any really good cooking, it is quality results from an accumulation of small details that all add up to a big, noticeable difference.
Let's start with the pie pastry. I start by making my own rather than using something store-bought. I like to use what the French call pate sucree, which translates simply as "sugar dough," a very basic pastry that takes just minutes to prepare in a food processor and bakes up especially sweet and crisp.
Then there's the filling. Instead of using vanilla extract to flavor the syrupy mixture that typically binds the pecans together, I start with a whole vanilla bean, scraping its tiny seeds into butter that I melt and brown to enhance the nutty flavor. For the same reason, I also like to add a spoonful of Frangelico, a widely available hazelnut liqueur, which also emphasizes the nuttiness. And I'm proud to say I include just about as many nuts as can fit into the pastry shell; a full pound of them -- both a base of chopped pecans and then concentric circles of pecan halves. You won't find a thin layer of nuts sitting atop a thick layer of syrup in this pecan pie!
You'll also notice that I bake the pie in a tart pan with a removable bottom, available in any well-stocked kitchen supply store or online, rather than a pie pan. That ensures that the filling has an even thickness right up to the edges, for more uniform baking.
You may be tempted to give the recipe a try now, three weeks before Thanksgiving. Go ahead! You'll probably want to make it again and again, all the way through the holiday season.
Makes one 9-inch (22.5-cm) pie, serves 8