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THE BUTTER LAB

holly ricciardi’s coffee chocolate cinnamon pecan pie

 
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Before we get into it, please indulge me with these fun historical facts about pecan pies:

  • Pecans are the only nut native to the United States!

    • In fact, the word “pecan” is Algonquin in origin.

    • Pecan trees grew wild as far north as Illinois!

  • After the Civil War, commercial developers domesticated the crop.

    • There were lots of pecans around.

    • People started baking with them.

  • In the 1920s, sugar was expensive!

    • So the corn syrup company Karo came to the rescue!

    • They also made some unsettling ads.

    • And started to distribute a recipe for pecan pie.

    • It went #viral.

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If that ad isn’t enough to put you off pecan pie, then maybe its sweetness is. According to an old Southern baker’s credo, pecan pie should be “sweet enough so that the fillings in your teeth hurt.” Traditionally, pecans are folded into a cloying goo made from corn syrup, white sugar, butter, and eggs. Variations exist with bourbon, whiskey, and chocolate. And brown sugar, molasses, or golden syrup can be substituted for corn syrup. The formula, though, is essentially the same.

But there’s a case to be made for pecan pie, too. For me, it’s texture. If done right, the pecans form a beautifully crisp layer which shatters into a caramel-like custard. I don’t care as much about the addition of corn syrup as I do about the overall flavor and consistency. A pecan pie should have depth. And, old Southern bakers aside, I think it should never be tooth-achingly sweet.

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Years ago, I stumbled on a recipe that manages to do just that. It’s from Holly Ricciardi of Philadelphia-based Magpie, whose brown sugar crumb recipe I’ve already written about here. Holly is best known for her otherworldly butterscotch bourbon pie (which I promise to post about one day), but her pecan pie is just as brilliant. She not only adds chunks of bittersweet chocolate, but also a good amount of coffee and cinnamon. This does two things: it cuts the sweetness of the traditional goo and somehow brings out the deliciousness of the pecans. Sometimes more is more.  

Finally, and most importantly: the original Algonquin word for pecan/nut is “pakani.”


holly ricciardi’s coffee chocolate cinnamon pecan pie

Adapted from Magpie: Sweets and Savories from Philadelphia’s Favorite Pie Boutique by Holly Ricciardi and Miriam Harris.

There are actually two versions of this recipe, one from the book and another adaptation from Tasting Table. The latter has more espresso powder and cinnamon and a slightly increased ratio of brown sugar to corn syrup, which I prefer. I’ve included those changes along with my one other modification which is to toast the pecans before using them (I’m a firm believer in toasting one’s nuts). I’ve tried this recipe with Trader Joe’s corn syrup, but I must say Karo works better. I’m interested in trying this recipe with golden syrup in place of corn syrup because Deb Perelman swears by it, but it’s proven difficult to track down. I’ll update this recipe if that changes.

INGREDIENTS
1 cooled, par-baked pie crust for a single-crust pie
(use your favorite recipe, or this one here)

1 1/2 cups pecan halves or pieces
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
3/4 cup light corn syrup
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
3 large eggs
2 1/2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3 ounces (1/2 cup) bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 egg, lightly beaten

METHOD

  • Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spread the pecans on a rimmed baking sheet and toast in the oven for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring once or twice so that they toast evenly. Set aside to cool. Increase the oven to 400°F.

  • In a large bowl, beat the brown sugar and corn syrup with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until smooth and creamy, about 3 minutes. Reduce the speed to low and add the butter, mixing to combine. Increase the speed to medium-high and add the eggs one at a time, beating until foamy, about 3 minutes more. Add the espresso powder, vanilla, cinnamon, and salt, and beat until the mixture is thick and frothy. Rap the bowl against the counter a couple of times to pop any bubbles that might have formed.

  • Brush the crimped edge of your cooled pie crust with the beaten egg. Spread the chocolate across the bottom, then top with the pecans. Pour the sugar mixture evenly over the top. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes, then rotate the pie, lower the oven to 350°F, and bake for another 20 to 25 minutes, or until the middle and the edges of the filling are puffed and the top is beautifully browned and no longer jiggles when tapped.

  • Set the pan on a wire rack and let cool completely. Cover and let sit at room temperature overnight (at least 12 hours and up to 3 days) before cutting and serving. (You can also serve the pie after 4 hours, but it will be runnier and more difficult to cut.)

November 18, 2018