I don’t have a lot of enthusiasm in my heart for the other big “P” of the Thanksgiving table. Pecan pie. I’ve always put it into the category of Stuff My Dad Eats: Pickled beets, spinach with vinegar, chicken livers, cole slaw… food that I’m convinced takes a heavy dose of testosterone to palate. I usually put it in the corner with the other marginal food, and leave it to be eaten by the grown men.
But this year I’m having a change of heart. It’s not you dear pecan, it’s that Karo Syrup you insist on hanging out with. Why are you so intent on burying your best qualities in a sea of gelatinous, sugary mess? Can’t you get some new friends like caramel, chocolate and espresso? Yes he can. And oh yes, I did.
Enter Caramel Pecan Hand Pies. I was inspired to try these by an article in this month’s Food and Wine magazine. They scoured the country for Fall’s best pies and one of the features was a Caramel Pecan Hand Pie from Seattle’s High 5 Pie shop. Like the pumpkin pie recipe from last week, the addition of homemade caramel made me think twice, and the crust to filling ratio of a hand pie was much better than the overload of pecan filling in a pie.
But, the recipe sill seemed to rely too much on corn syrup, so I made some adjustments including infusing a little Dorie Greenspan and adding some bittersweet chocolate, espresso powder and subbing brown sugar for the corn syrup. The results? This is not your Father’s pecan pie! You MUST try this – they are worth the time and will blow your mind!
Caramel Pecan Hand Pies (adapted from High 5 Pie)
All butter pastry crust
4 cups all purpose flour (cold!)
2 teaspoons salt
4 teaspoons sugar
4 sticks unsalted butter cut into cubes (frozen)
3/4 cup ice water
If you have a 12-cup food processor, you can do this recipe all at once. If you’re like me and have a smaller one, then you will need to half it and make two smaller recipes of dough.
Place dry ingredients into food processor and pulse a few times to distribute the salt and sugar. Scatter frozen cubes of butter on top of the flour.
Pulse in processor for about 1 second each time until the mixture looks like coarse meal. You can take a knife and fluff it around to be sure no large chunks are under the blade. This should be about 7-9 pulses. I learned the hard way that you need to be sure the butter is small – you want flecks, but not large chunks or you’ll have a pool of butter on the baking sheet. Once the butter is cut in, add the ice water through the chute about a tablespoon at a time while you continue short pulses. The mixture will not look like cookie dough – it will probably look a little crumbly. Periodically check to see if the dough pinches together. When the dough begins to hold together, turn it out onto saran wrap, form into a ball, wrap and press it into a disc. If you did one large batch, separate the dough into two discs. Refrigerate for an hour or up to two days.
1 1/2 cups pecans (6 oz)
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
5 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup half and half
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate
2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
3/4 cup brown sugar
4 large eggs
Preheat the oven to 375. Toast pecans on a baking sheet for 8 minutes until brown and fragrant. Coarsely chop them (not too fine – chunks are good).
Make your caramel. In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, place one cup of sugar and 1/2 cup water. Cook on the stove until is begins to thicken and caramelize. When the mixture begins to turn color, swirl it occasionally and stand guard until it is a light to medium amber color.
CAUTION – this step is easy to mess up. I did and had to start over.
When the caramel has reached the right color, reduce the heat to low and add the butter while whisking. As soon as the butter is incorporated, add the half and half a little bit at a time, then 1 teaspoon of the vanilla and a pinch of salt. Whisk until smooth. Remove from heat and pour 1 cup of the caramel and set the rest aside.
Let the sauce cool for a few minutes and then add the chocolate, espresso powder, brown sugar, corn syrup and remaining 1 teaspoon vanilla. Once incorporated, add the eggs and whisk until smooth. Fold in pecans and a pinch of salt.
Coat a 9 x 13 baking pan with non-stick spray. Spread the pecan mixture into the pan and bake at 375 for about 25 minutes or until puffed and set. Gently stir to recombine and pour in additional caramel sauce. Cool completely in the refrigerator.
While the filling is cooling, remove dough from fridge and let rest for about 5 minutes. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough as you would for a pie – about 1/8 inch thick. Using a 5 inch round cutter (can, glass…), cut circles and place on parchment lined baking sheets. Return to the refrigerator until filling is cool.
Remove dough circles from fridge and lightly brush with a beaten egg. Place about 2-3T of filling in the middle of each circle. Experiment to see how much you can put in without a disaster. Fold the circle in half and seal edges with the tines of a fork. Place in the freezer while you do the other tray. When both trays have been filled and chilled again, lightly brush each hand pie with beaten egg. Cut a slit in each one to vent and sprinkle with turbinado sugar.
Bake for 35-40 minutes or until golden brown in the middle and lower third of the oven. Rotate baking sheets half way through. Cool on a wire rack.
Enjoy warm with a cup of coffee. Will keep in the refrigerator for three days and you can warm before eating.