There are three words I want you to remember when you set out to make either pecan pie or World Famous Kentucky Horse Race Whose Name Rhymes with “Herbie” pie. Those words are: syrup holds heat. That concept is critical because just like pumpkin pie, pecan pie and World Famous Kentucky Horse Race Whose Name Rhymes with “Herbie” pie are custards. Overcook the filling and they will curdle. The result? Lumpy-textured slices that weep syrup on the plate.
On the flip side, an undercooked pie is no better. It may have a smooth filling, but the crust will be wan and greasy. Yuck. But such are the wages of fear in the world of corn syrup custards. One must go boldly on the crust yet baby the center. This method, which is very similar to the one I use for pumpkin pie, will allow you to do both. Start by preparing your dough, either standard pie crust or a perfect pie crust. Both work great with this pie. Roll and shape your dough then rest the crust for at least an hour in the refrigerator.
When you’re ready to make your pie, preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a sheet of aluminum foil with vegetable oil, melted butter or cooking spray.
Lay it, greased side down, onto your rested crust. Gently press it into the form.
Apply the loose change. Or you can use pie weights. Or dried beans. Whatever floats your…er, sinks your…whatever does the job for you. Put the pie plate in the oven for 25 minutes.
Meanwhile, get your filling ready. The idea here is to prepare the filling so that it’s nice and hot (or at least hot-ish) when the crust comes out of the oven. What will this do? It will help the filling heat through faster in the oven, thus preventing curdling around the outside of the pie. Applying the eggy filling to the hot crust will also help “seal” the crust, preventing sogginess.
Great, right? But there’s a risk. As anyone who’s every been burned by hot caramel knows, once a syrup gets hot it tends to want to stay that way (syrups holds heat, remember?). If the syrup hasn’t cooled down to below 150 degrees Fahrenheit when you add the eggs, the syrup will begin cooking the eggs right then and there. No good.
So. Combine your brown sugar, butter, corn syrup, vanilla extract and salt in a medium saucepan and gently bring it to a simmer over medium-low heat. You’ll want to have it off the heat after the crust has baked for 15 minutes or so, so it can cool down.
While the syrup is heating, wreck the eggs in a bowl and add the whiskey. Just proceed on down the tutorial while I keep pouring here. I like my pie with a little extra kick. Go on now.
Mix the nuts with the chocolate chips. These chips have bloomed as you can see. Must have been hot in that delivery truck.
So alright. Once the 25 minutes are up, remove the pie pan from the oven and gently remove the foil and weights. Return the crust to the oven for a further 5-6 minutes, until the edge is very lightly browned. Check the syrup mixture. If it’s got a thick skin on it or seems cool, you can give it a short shot of heat to warm it. For extra safety you can check the temperature with a thermometer. Anything between 130 and 145 is OK. Egg whites start to set at 140, but the beaten eggs will also cool the syrup a little when they go in.
Now for the baker’s ballet. Remove the crust from the oven and turn the heat down to 275 degrees Fahrenheit. Promptly whisk the eggs into the hot syrup mixture…
…pour that mixture into the hot shell…
…and sprinkle on the nuts and chips.
Apply a pie shield to the crust if you like at this point to keep the crust from over-browning, then put the pie into the oven and bake it for 50-60 minutes. This low-and-slow approach, baking the warm filling at just 275, will help ensure a perfect, curdle-free pie.
At about the 40 minute point you’ll want to check the pie by giving it a little jostle. The uncooked center will slosh from side to side. Keep baking until the very center just barely stops its sloshing and the whole pie is slightly domed and jiggly. Because — remember what I wrote at the very beginning? — syrups hold heat, the pie will continue to cook for another ten minutes or more once you take it out of the oven. It’s this continued cooking that causes so many homemade corn syrup custards to overbake.
I wish I could show you a picture of a slightly domed and jiggly pie, but static photography just doesn’t work that way. I think you’ll know it when you see it, yes? Let the pie rest on a rack and cool it for at least three hours before slicing. Five is better, overnight is better still. Slice and serve.
I think you’ll agree that World Famous Kentucky Horse Race Whose Name Rhymes with “Herbie” pie is a very different animal from traditional pecan. The black walnuts and the bourbon give it very distinct flavors and aromas. And then there are the chocolate chips of course. They help too…a lot.
Of course I know that a lot of you are admiring the punchiness and pith of the name I created for this pastry: World Famous Kentucky Horse Race Whose Name Rhymes with “Herbie” pie. You may well be tempted to steal it. Let me warn you right now that I have already applied for a trademark on it. Just think about using the name and I’ll slap a lawsuit on you faster than you can say Kentucky Derby. Don’t think I won’t!