16 December 2010

Rough Around The Edges but Sweet In the Middle (Deep Dish Pecan Pie)

   Life in our household has been both extraordinarily busy and exhaustingly wonderful lately.  Since the end of November, we have flown 2,000 miles with two under three, celebrated Thanksgiving once, Chanukah twice and a birthday thrice.  We haven't slept more than 2-3 hours at a stretch in 6 weeks.  We haven't had a working refrigerator in over a month (hence the lack of any recipe here that can't be baked quickly and served at room temperature).  We will celebrate Christmas next weekend but haven't started shopping yet.  The house is (still) a mess.  We are tired.  And crabby.  And overwhelmed.  And not quite sure where our days begin and end. 

    But we are also very, very blessed.  And in life I tend to think that without rough days, it is hard to fully appreciate the wonderful moments.  Our beautiful oldest child turned 3-going-on-16 but had THE BEST TIME EVER celebrating it.  Our spunky youngest babe turned holy-4-month-Wakeful-Period but also giggles loudly and unabashedly at even the slightest hint of a tickle.  Our home is warm and filled with love.  Our families are supportive and generous.  Good friends help keep our spirits bright.  And while we don't have a way to keep food cold right now, we never, ever have to worry about how we will fill our bellies or access clean water or clothe our children, thanks to my husband's hard work.  

     This incredible pie was a team effort between my brother, sister-in-law and me this Thanksgiving but would be delicious on any Christmas menu as well.  Between the homemade crust and concentric pecans, it took a fair amount of work to make.  The crust is slightly salty and as you can see from the pictures, not pretty.  (We prefer to call it rustic.  :) )  The filling is warm and nutty and gooey and intensely rich.  It also has the perfect amount of sweetness when paired with the salty bite of the crust.  Separately, the parts of this pie would be missing something, but together they form a delicious balance of flavors.  The salty balances the sweet.  Crunchy meets gooey.  Pecans meet bourbon.  (Okay, maybe that one doesn't really fit...)  

So in this crazy, busy, sometimes overwhelming holiday season full of salty, rough edges, where do you find your sweet middle? 

Deep Dish Pecan Pie
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1/2 pound cold unsalted butter, cut into dice
  • 1/2 cup ice water, more as needed
  • About 5 cups dried beans or 3 cups pennies (for baking)

  • 5 eggs
  • 1 1/4 cups light brown sugar
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/3 cup molasses, dark or unsulfured
  • 1/3 cup light corn syrup
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons bourbon
  • 2 cups finely chopped pecans
  • 2 1/2 cups pecan halves
  • Whipped cream, for serving. 
1. Make the crust: In a mixer fitted with paddle attachment, combine flour, salt and white sugar at low speed. Add butter and mix until pea-size lumps form. Raise the speed to medium-low and add 1/2 cup ice water in a slow, steady stream, mixing just until dough holds together. To test, pinch a small amount of dough. If it is crumbly, add more ice water, one tablespoon at a time. Shape dough into a ball and wrap it loosely in plastic, then roll it into a disk. Refrigerate at least one hour, or up to 3 days, before rolling. (Dough can be frozen for up to a month.)
2. Open a 10-inch springform pan, flip the bottom over so the outside surface faces in, then close. This will make removing the pie easier when it is done, by preventing the dough from sinking into the pan’s crease. On a lightly floured surface, roll chilled dough into a circle 16 inches in diameter. Lift it and let it settle into pan, fitting the dough down into the edges. Press the sides firmly against pan and pinch around the top rim. Trim dough with kitchen scissors so it hangs over the rim by one inch, reserving excess. Refrigerate in pan until very cold and firm, at least 45 minutes.
3. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Prick bottom of dough with a fork. Lay a piece of parchment or wax paper in pan, then a piece of aluminum foil. Fill foil lining with dried beans or pennies. Bake 15 to 25 minutes, until the sides of the crust have set and turned slightly golden. Remove from oven and lift out the beans, foil and parchment.  Bake 10 to 15 minutes more, until bottom turns a light golden brown. Let cool at least 30 minutes before filling.
4. Fill the pie: Heat oven to 325 degrees. In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, brown sugar, melted butter, molasses, corn syrup, vanilla, salt and bourbon. Place baked pie shell, still in the pan, on a sheet pan. Gently pour in the filling. Sprinkle chopped pecans evenly over surface. Working from outside in, arrange pecan halves in concentric circles, without overlapping, until entire surface is covered. (Use only as many as needed.)
5. Bake 50 to 60 minutes, just until filling is firm and a wooden skewer comes out clean when inserted into center. (Do not worry if the overhanging crust becomes very dark brown.) Let cool completely. Use a serrated knife to saw off all overhanging pie crust. Carefully remove outer ring of pan. Slice with a large, very sharp knife and serve with whipped cream.
Yield: About 12 servings.

-adapted (only slightly) from this NYT recipe

02 December 2010

To her, it was perfect.

She asked for a pink cake.  ALL pink.
"Mama, I want a PINK strawberry cake with PINK strawberry frosting for my birthday!" 

I couldn't WAIT to make it for her.  I had visions of perfectly piped roses, swooping buttercream swaths, fluffy pink layers of cake, fresh strawberry filling and three pink birthday candles to top it off.  I pored over pictures of beautiful cakes and even sketched out a version of The Perfect Pink Cake on paper.  The cake recipe was one I'd made numerous times before and knew would be delicious.  The frosting was one I'd perfected just a few weeks before. 

This is quite possibly the prettiest cake on the planet.  Leave it to Martha...

     Since we were celebrating a few days after Thanksgiving, we would be at my parent's home in Florida.  In my suitcase I packed 8 different frosting tips (each handpicked for a different purpose), a rose nail, silvery candy pearls and piping bags.  I sent my mom a detailed shopping list of ingredients to buy ahead of time, in case the store were too crowded or closed to buy what I needed the weekend after Thanksgiving.  I. Was. Prepared.
Reality Hit:
A last minute grocery trip, disposable cake pans, a fussy baby, humid Florida air, uneven layers, persnickety buttercream, and not enough time.  It was, officially, the ugliest cake I've ever made.
I was heartbroken.  Disappointed.  Frustrated.  

Melty frosting.

The leaning tower of Pink Cake Wreck.

   And then she saw it.  Eyes wide and smile even wider, she reached a finger out to steal a taste of frosting and then extended her arms for a hug.  As she snuggled into the crook of my neck, she whispered, "Mama, I love my pink cake."

A few days later her Bompa would ask her, "What was your favorite thing about your birthday?"
Her answer? "Eating cake!"  Mission accomplished. 

Happy 3rd Birthday to my sweet, bright, chatty, loving, curious girl!