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Chocolate Pecan Pie for Thanksgiving (or Anytime!)

You don’t need to tell me. I know that Thanksgiving’s a few weeks away, so why this recipe for Chocolate Pecan Pie now? Short answer: Because it’s a terrific pie. And because the recipe comes from Maida Heatter, the best dessert recipe cookbook author there is.

I got to know Maida through her first cookbook, “Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Desserts,” which came out in 1974. I was so taken by her writing style and selection of recipes that I couldn’t decide which recipes to try. So I made them all. That’s 276 recipes over a period of 18 months. Too bad there was no internet then or I would have blogged about them all!

While I was happily baking and eating my way through her book, Maida and I became pen pals. And a few years later, when she and her husband, Ralph, stopped in Missoula on their way to Alaska by car, my wife, Dorothy, and I invited them over for dinner. Our two sons weren’t in their teens yet, but they knew Maida well having sampled every one of the recipes from her first cookbook.

By the time of Maida and Ralph’s visit, her third dessert book, all about chocolate, had been published, and that’s where this recipe comes from.

Let me just say that this is a special pie. And it’s really a collaboration between Maida and me. The crust recipe is mine, as is my preference for toasting the pecans, but the filling is Maida’s.

Because I get so many questions about pie crust, I’m writing in detail about it. I like a combination of butter and vegetable shortening or lard in pie crusts, half of each. The shortening that has worked very well for me is mechanically (expeller) pressed organic palm fruit oil. It’s non-hydrogenated and firm at room temperature. I chill it when making pie dough so that it comes close to the texture of cold butter. You can substitute coconut oil (solid at room temperature) for the palm oil if you wish. And don’t be afraid to actually knead pie dough to bring it all together. Just make sure everything’s cold.

Chocolate Pecan Pie

Pastry

This is a classic ratio for pie dough: 5 parts flour to 4 parts fat.

1 1/2 cups (7 1/2 ounces) all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 ounces (4 tablespoons) palm oil vegetable shortening, chilled

4 ounces (1 stick) cold unsalted butter

4 tablespoons ice water

 

Chocolate Pecan Filling

Toasting the pecans first really brings out their toasty nuttiness.

2 cups (7 ounces) pecan halves

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted or salted butter

2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped

4 large eggs

1 cup granulated sugar

1 1/4 cups dark corn syrup

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 tablespoons dark rum, optional (see Note)

 

  1. To make the pastry, if not weighing, measure the flour by dipping dry measures into the flour, filling to overflowing, and sweeping off the excess with a straight edge. Put the flour, sugar, and salt into the work bowl of a food processor and process 5 seconds to mix. Cut the cold vegetable shortening and butter into tablespoon-size pieces and add to the work bowl. Pulse 4 times for 1 second each.
  2. Then begin pulsing very rapidly for a fraction of a second each time while you dribble in the ice water through the feed tube. After 20 to 30 or a few more pulses you’ll see the dough forming several large lumps. Stop pulsing at this point. If the dough seems at all dry, add a teaspoon more of ice water and pulse quickly twice. Dump the dough lumps onto a lightly floured work surface, press the lumps of dough together and shape it into a 5-inch disk about 1-inch thick.
  3. And that’s all there is to it. Wrap the pastry securely in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. The dough may be made a day ahead and refrigerated.
  4. On a lightly floured surface ( I use a pastry canvas), roll the chilled dough into a 14-inch circle. The dough will be about 1/8-inch-thick, ideal for a pastry shell. If the dough feels too firm to roll, let it stand about 10 minutes to soften a bit. Check frequently as you roll to make sure the dough is not sticking. Flour lightly as necessary. Roll from the center of the dough outward, and rotate the dough frequently to maintain a round shape. Roll the dough onto your rolling pin and unroll the dough onto your pie plate letting the dough drape over the edges of the pan. Lift an edge of dough and nudge the pastry into the pan. Continue going all the way around the pan. It’s important not to stretch the dough or it may bake unevenly.
  5. Once the pan is lined with the dough, trim off excess dough with kitchen shears leaving an overhang of about 1/2 inch of dough. Fold this overhanging dough under itself onto the dough on the rim of the pie pan to form a high standing rim. Press firmly on this double layer of dough going all the way around the pan. To crimp the dough, press an index finger against the inside of the dough rim and pinch the dough on either side of the finger to make a V. Repeat, making a pattern of Vs all around the top of the crust. With a fork, prick the bottom all over at 1-inch intervals. Refrigerate for 45 minutes, then freeze the pie shell for 15 minutes or until frozen solid. Freezing helps prevent shrinking.
  6. For this pecan pie, you prebake the shell so that the bottom will remain crisp once the filled pie is baked and cooled. While the crust is in the freezer, adjust an oven rack to the lower middle position and preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Line the chilled pie shell with a square of aluminum foil, pressing the foil evenly onto the sides and leaving the edges of the foil pointing upward. Pour in enough dried beans to fill the shell by about three-fourths; a 2-pound bag should do it. Put the shell in the preheated oven and bake 15 minutes, or until the edge of the pastry is a light golden brown color. Remove the pie shell from the oven, reduce the heat to 400 degrees, and carefully lift off the foil and beans. Return the shell to the oven to bake for another 10 minutes or so until the edges are a rich golden brown and the bottom is a shade lighter in color. Check often to see If the dough puffs up anywhere at all; if it does, prick it gently with a skewer. Cool the baked pie shell completely. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees. When cooled, store the beans in a zip-top bag. They may be reused over and over.
  7. To make the filling, arrange the pecans on a baking sheet in a single layer and place in the oven. Bake 8 to 10 minutes, until the nuts are fragrant and lightly toasted. Set aside to cool.
  8. In a small heavy saucepan (1-quart) melt the butter over low heat. Add the chocolate and cook, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate is completely melted. Remove from the heat and cool slightly.
  9. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs just to blend the yolks and whites thoroughly. Beat in the sugar and syrup just to mix. Add the vanilla, rum (if using, see Note), and the butter/chocolate, and whisk thoroughly. Stir in the pecans with a rubber spatula.
  10. Put the partially baked pie crust on a baking sheet and carefully pour in the filling. Do this slowly. Watch the edges of the crust as you pour. If it isn’t high enough or has a low spot, you may not be able to use all the filling.
  11. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes. When done, the center of the pie should jiggle just a bit when you pull out the oven rack. If the pie filling is very jiggly, bake a few minutes more. The filling will set and firm up as the pie cools. Another way to make sure the pie is done is to look for a few small cracks on the top of the pie. An underdone pie will not have these cracks.
  12. Cool the pie to room temperature. Then refrigerate. This pie is really at its best served cold. Maida says whipped cream is traditional with pecan pie. Offer it or not. It’s up to you. Serve small portions. This pie is very rich!

Note: If you omit the rum, increase the vanilla to 1 tablespoon.

Makes 10 servings.

 

{ 3 comments… add one }
  • Kay Whitlock November 8, 2017, 7:15 pm

    Terrific story backdrop to this pie that looks wonderful. Thanks so much for the clear, detailed counsel on pre-baking pie shells. Very helpful.

    • Greg Patent November 8, 2017, 7:46 pm

      Thank you, Kay. It’s really a great pie.

  • Marcellina November 8, 2017, 9:17 pm

    Hi Greg! Would you believe I have a pie crust chilling in the refrigerator at the moment. The recipe is from your book A Bakers Odyssey which as you know I’m baking my way through…yes, a lot slower than you! I’m making Betty’s Shoofly pie but with the pastry from the Original Shoofly pie. Unlike you I can’t get a good shortening here in Australia so I chose to go the all butter route. I particularly like how you write in such detail about the pie crust. Say hello to Dorothy. Take care.

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