Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Honey-Walnut Pie and Homemade Butter Crust

The Setting: Blue and gray are duking it out in the sky...looks like gray is winning.

The Soundtrack: The dishwasher. Oh, how I love that thing! Seriously, sonnets are in order.

Steaming up the Oven: Nothing. So far, it's been a peanut butter and Kashi kind of day.

The Scenario: An alternative to the sweet Southern staple that's become a holiday hit.

Growing up, I never liked nuts until I tried pecan pie. The first bite of that gooey, ultra-sweet filling transformed the nut from just another thing I'd been avoiding (like veggies or the obligatory glass of milk with dinner) to something I actually wanted to eat (like ice cream, or, well, pie).

Last year I all but burnt myself out on pecan pie attempting to perfect my recipe. So this year I decided to do something slightly different but equally festive for the holidays.

Honey and walnuts are a classic combination. Here, they are complimented by butter for richness, brown sugar for depth, and a combo of cinnamon and cardamom for subtle complexity.

The flavor will vary marginally depending on the type of honey used. Honeys are a lot like wines in that they can be blends or varietals. Tupelo, orange blossom, clover, and other varietals are made from nectar gathered from their namesake blossoms, while "local honey" and your standard supermarket squeeze-bear are generally blends. I have no idea what combination of plants the bees of Northern Indiana and Southern Michigan prefer to pollinate, but that's what went into my pie. Whatever honey you choose will bring its own nuances to the recipe--select accordingly.

When fully cooked, the top of this pie will puff and crack slightly, almost reminiscent of the top of a cake. But don't be fooled: underneath the puffy, nutty exterior lies a gooey, honeyed caramel that is nothing but pie.

Honey Walnut Pie
This is one of those recipes that makes you get why people say "easy as pie." Simply whisk up the filling, pour it over the walnuts in the unbaked crust, and bake!

1 unbaked pie crust (recipe follows), fitted into a greased pie pan, placed on a baking sheet
2 cups walnut halves
3 large eggs
1 ¼ cups brown sugar
1/3 cup honey
4 T melted butter
¼ tsp fine salt
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
¼ cup flour
¼ tsp cinnamon
Dash cardamom

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, and make sure a rack is positioned in the center of the oven.

Prick the bottom of the pie crust all over with a fork.

Spread the walnuts out evenly in the unbaked pie crust.

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients.

Pour this mixture over the walnuts.

Cover the pie with aluminum foil, and bake for 35 minutes.  Carefully remove the foil, rotate the pan in the oven, and bake an additional 32-35 minutes.  Don’t worry if the pie cracks slightly--this is normal and can actually be a good indication that the pie has cooked enough to set.

Allow the pie to cool at least 20 minutes to set before cutting.

The pie will keep, covered with aluminum foil, at room temperature for up to 5 days, but it is best eaten within 1-2 days.

All-Butter Crust
Shortening is often used either in place of or in combination with butter to produce flaky pie crusts, but I prefer an all-butter approach. Butter is more flavorful and is naturally free of trans fats. My favorite butter to bake with is Kerrygold, but more often than not, I use the cheap, store-brand stuff. For the liquid component, I have used everything from water to cream to coconut milk, and even spiced rum. Whatever liquid you choose, be sure that it is cold, and use only as much as it takes for your dough to come together. The instructions below are for the food-processor method, but this dough can also be made by hand. Use a fork or a pastry cutter to cut very cold (but not frozen, which is too hard to cut in effectively by hand) butter into the dry ingredients until the largest clumps are the size of a pea and the rest of the mixture looks like grated Parmesan cheese. Add the liquid about 1 T at a time, using either a fork or a wooden spoon to incorporate just enough of the liquid so that if you press a clump of the mixture together, it will form a soft dough.

3/4 cup (12 T, or 1 1/2 regular sticks) cold, unsalted butter
1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour (or whole wheat pastry flour), plus a little extra for sprinkling
2 T sugar
½ tsp fine salt
3-6 T ice water or very cold milk or cream (substitute some of the liquid with vodka if desired*)

Use a knife to cut the butter into cm-sized cubes. Freeze the butter cubes for at least 15 minutes.

Pulse the flour, sugar, and salt together in a food processor several times to mix.

Add the butter to the processor and pulse several times until the mixture has a sandy appearance and the largest clumps are about the size of a pea. The mixture will resemble Parmesan cheese.

Remove the liquid-shoot insert from the processor. Turn the processor on and pour about 1 T of the liquid through the shoot at a time, just until the mixture starts to come together in a mass. Use only as much liquid as necessary and avoid over-mixing.

Turn the dough out onto a large piece of parchment paper and press into a large, flat disk.

Wrap gently in the parchment, and place in the fridge until ready to use (or up to 48 hours).  Allow the dough to sit at room temperature for 15-20 minutes before rolling if it has been in the fridge for more than an hour. This will make it easier to roll out.

When ready to use, unwrap the disk, lightly sprinkle it all over with flour, and place another sheet of parchment on top so that the dough is sandwiched between the two sheets. Use a rolling pin to roll the dough out to a thickness of ¼-1/8th inch.

Gently peel the dough off the parchment and transfer to a buttered pie pan, aiming to align the center of the dough with the center of the pan.

Gently lift the edges of the dough and ease it into the sides of the pan to avoid stretching the dough, which would cause it to shrink during baking. 

Trim the overhanging edges of the dough so that about 1 inch hangs over the edge of the pan all the way around.

Gently tuck or roll the overhanging dough under itself so that it sits up on the edge of the pan.

Use your fingers and thumb to crimp the edges if desired. 

Gently press parchment paper or plastic wrap onto the surface to cover and chill until ready to use. The unbaked crust can be stored like this in the fridge for 1-2 days.

Note 1: I used to make this dough using my food processor's dough blade, but I have found that the metal blade mixes the dough more quickly and more evenly.

Note 2: If desired, dough scraps can be re-rolled, cut out with festive mini-cutters, and placed atop the pie either before baking or before the second phase of baking (after the foil is removed).

Use a paring knife to add detail, such as veins on leaves.

*Aggressively mixing water and flour helps to develop the flour's gluten, which makes for strong, crusty French baguettes, but tough, chewy, gluey pie crusts. This is why it is best to use as little liquid as possible and to mix the dough as little as possible. Alcohol does not activate the gluten like water does, so it may be used in place of some of the liquid to achieve lighter, flakier results.

Thanks for reading! Here's to Being the Secret Ingredient in your life.


Jackie said...

I made this pie last night. It turned out excellent. Great recipe! Will be making this for Thanksgiving!

morgan crumm said...

So glad you liked it!

piligiannini said...

I love this recipe