Washington - The first thing I do when I spy an intriguing pecan pie recipe is evaluate one all-important ratio.
I don't mean the ratio of flour to butter in the crust, or of sugar to spice. No. I mean the ratio of pecans to that goopy filling.
I used to resign myself to the sad belief that all pecan pies had such a low pecan-to-goop ratio that I'd always be forced to eat them the way I started doing as a kid: combining bites of crust with pecan halves I picked off the top, leaving the rest of the syrupy-sweet filling behind. Or I thought I'd always prefer twists, like a chocolate-pecan pie.
That was until I made Virginia Willis's wonderful pie from “Bon Appétit, Y'all,” and loved how she instructed bakers to coarsely chop or grind the pecans, which occupied most of the filling, rather than lay them on top.
I stopped my search for the perfect pie. Then this year I picked it up again, because I like to make sure my guests who are avoiding animal products can enjoy a slice, too. Could I find a vegan pie that would be otherwise classic - and still emphasise the pecans? Rather than just try to veganise Virginia's recipe, I spied something worth trying in Doron Petersan's “Sticky Fingers Vegan Sweets”: a Bourbon Pecan Pie that is, as the name indicates, spiked.
The crust, I knew, would come together easily, thanks to the use of vegan shortening (although I increased it by half to make for a more substantial base).
The filling uses flour as a thickener in lieu of eggs, and you cook it on the stove before scraping it into the pie shell. It tasted great as I stirred it in the pan - not too sweet, thanks to the maple syrup, and with a depth of flavour from the bourbon. But there was one problem: not nearly enough pecans for my taste. The all-important ratio was off.
It was an easy fix. I added another 2 cups, some arranged on top and the rest added to the filling. One bite, and I knew: This was too good to be called goop.
Bourbon Pecan Pie
8 to 10 servings (makes one 23cm pie)
You'll need a 23cm deep-dish pie plate.
Serve with whipped coconut cream or dairy-free ice cream.
MAKE AHEAD: The pie dough needs to be refrigerated for at least 30 minutes. The filling and the crust can each be refrigerated for up to 1 week before assembling and baking. The crust can be frozen for up to 3 months; defrost before rolling out. The baked pie can be made a day in advance.
For the crust
1 1/2 cups (7 1/2 ounces, or about 210g) flour
3 tablespoons plus 21/4 teaspoons granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chilled vegan shortening (such as white margarine), cut into 1/4-inch (6mm) pieces, plus more for greasing the pie plate
3 tablespoons cold water
For the filling
4 1/4 cups pecan halves
1/4 cup vegan shortening
1/3 cup flour
1/2 cup bourbon
2/3 cup water
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon maple syrup
1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces or 100g) lightly packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
For the crust: Combine the flour, granulated sugar and salt in a food processor; pulse until just combined. Add the vegan shortening and pulse 5 to 7 times or just until the mixture is crumbly. Add the cold water and pulse 5 to 7 times or just until the mixture mostly comes together to form a dough.
Turn the dough out on to a clean work surface; briefly knead until incorporated. Do not overwork, or the crust will be tough. Form into a disk, wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to 1 week.
Lightly grease the pie plate with a little vegan shortening.
Roll the chilled pie dough between layers of plastic wrap to a round that's 13 inches across; transfer it to the pie plate and fit it in, trimming off any overhanging dough or folding it under. Crimp the edges above the rim to allow extra headroom to hold the filling, which will puff up as the pie bakes. Loosely cover and refrigerate while you make the filling.
For the filling: Coarsely chop 3 cups of the pecans, saving the remaining 1 1/4 cups (halves) for the top of the pie.
Melt the vegan shortening in a medium, heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour; whisk until golden brown, 5 minutes. Stir in the bourbon and cook, stirring frequently, until the liquid is almost evaporated and the mixture is a thick paste, 2 to 3 minutes. Whisk in the water and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes.
Whisk in the maple syrup, brown sugar and salt; cook until the mixture bubbles and begins to thicken, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract and the 3 cups of chopped pecans. Let cool for a few minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (180C). Place the pie plate (lined with its chilled dough) on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Pour in the filling, then decoratively arrange the remaining pecan halves on top. Bake until the filling rises and bubbles and the crust browns, 25 to 35 minutes.
Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely (at least 1 hour) before serving or storing.
Nutrition: Per serving (based on 10): 720 calories, 6 g protein, 61 g carbohydrates, 49 g fat, 9 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 240 mg sodium, 5 g dietary fibre, 40 g sugar
Based on a recipe in “Sticky Fingers Vegan Sweets,” by Doron Petersan (Avery, 2015).
* Joe Yonan is the Food and Dining editor of The Washington Post and the author of Eat Your Vegetables: Bold Recipes For The Single Cook. He writes the Food section's Weeknight Vegetarian column.