Melissa Clark's Spiced Maple Pecan Pie with Star Anise
Try This Fall Favorite
I never thought to simmer down maple syrup until it turns thick, viscous, and extremely maple-y until I made Bill Yosses's maple ice cream recipe. Yosses, the pastry chef at the White House and a good friend of mine (we wrote a cookbook together), reduces the syrup to eliminate as much of the water as possible, which gives the smoothest, silkiest textured ice cream imaginable, with an intense maple flavor. He also recommends reducing maple syrup for any recipe in which you want an extremely vibrant maple character.
After trying his amazing ice cream recipe, I began to think about what else might benefit from reduced maple syrup's profound caramel sweetness, and came up with pecan pie.
The problem with most maple pecan pies is that the maple becomes shy and quiet in the company of all those assertive toasted nuts. Simmering down the syrup, I hoped, would help it hold its own.
So I tried it and it worked beautifully, with the sweet maple in perfect balance with the nutty pecans. It became my go-to pecan pie technique for years.
Then one Thanksgiving, I decided to add a layer of complexity to the pie by infusing whole spices into the maple syrup while it was simmering. I chose star anise because I thought the sharp, woodsy fennel flavor would add an unexpected nuance to the classic combination of maple and nuts.
That's just what happened. My pie was warm and licorice-y from the anise, toasty from the roasted pecans, and as syrupy, sugary, and toothachingly sweet as a proper pecan pie should be. I wouldn't have it any other way, though a dollop of crème fraîche tempers the gooey filling without compromising its integrity.
To make the crust, in a food processor, briefly pulse together the flour and salt. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture forms lima bean–size pieces (three to five 1-second pulses). Add ice water 1 tablespoon at a time, and pulse until the mixture is just moist enough to hold together. Form the dough into a ball, wrap with plastic, and flatten into a disc. Refrigerate at least 1 hour before rolling out and baking (or up to a week, or freeze for up to 4 months).
On a lightly floured surface, roll out the piecrust to a 12-inch circle. Transfer the crust to a 9-inch pie plate. Fold over any excess dough, then crimp as decoratively as you can manage.
Prick the crust all over with a fork. Freeze the crust for 15 minutes or refrigerate for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Cover the pie with aluminum foil and fill with pie weights (you can use pennies, rice, or dried beans for this; I use pennies). Bake for 20 minutes; remove the foil and weights and bake until pale golden, about 5 minutes more. Cool on a rack until needed.
To make the filling, in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the maple syrup, sugar, and star anise to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until the mixture is very thick, all the sugar has dissolved, and the syrup measures 1 cup, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and let sit for 1 hour for the anise to infuse.
While the syrup is infusing, toast the nuts. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Spread the pecans out on a baking sheet and toast them in the oven until they start to smell nutty, about 12 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
Remove the star anise from the syrup. Warm the syrup if necessary to make it pourable but not hot (you can pop it in the microwave for a few seconds if you've moved it to a measuring cup). In a medium bowl, whisk together the syrup, eggs, melted butter, rum, and salt. Fold in the pecan halves. Pour the filling into the crust and transfer to a rimmed baking sheet. Bake until the pie is firm to the touch but jiggles slightly when moved, 35 to 40 minutes. Let cool to room temperature before serving with whipped crème fraîche.
If you can get Grade B maple syrup, which has a fuller, richer flavor than the usual Grade A stuff, your pie will be even more maple-y. That's what I use.
Toasted cashews would be a really nice, buttery, soft substitute for the pecans.
If you want to skip the star anise, go right ahead. You'll be left with a stellar, simpler, and more traditional pie with an excellent, deep maple flavor.
Sometimes I like to drizzle melted extra-bitter (72 percent) chocolate all over the top of the pie. It helps cut the sweetness and adds chocolate, which never hurts anything.
From COOK THIS NOW by Melissa Clark. Copyright © 2011,
Melissa Clark, Inc. Published by Hyperion. Available wherever books are sold. All Rights Reserved.