There’s not a dessert much more Southern than pecan pie. My Mom made one of the best and she always had one on her holiday table. For a time the pecan pie disappeared from our Thanksgiving table. Some holidays it was a very small group and having more pies than guests seemed excessive. Then Emily found Matthew. Along with allowing him to add a favorite side to the Thanksgiving feast I let him add a dessert. It was pecan pie. My Mom would be so happy!
Pecan pie is a delectable dessert. A pie with a creamy, silky custard-like filling topped with a layer of toasted, crunchy pecans – well that’s a hard thing to improve upon. But what if we turn it into a deep-dish tart encased in a bourbon nut crust? Spectacular! It creates a perfect balance for this sweet delicacy. And if you’re afraid of piecrust, you’ll love the very forgiving nature of this pastry dough.
Many pecan pie recipes call for pecan halves, but I’ve always preferred chopped pecans. They still make a beautiful pie but are far easier to slice through when you’re serving. The filling I make is from my Mom’s recipe and I’m sure it is the same one scattered across many Southern kitchens. Always use real butter (Do I really need to say this?), a bit of whipping cream in lieu of milk and a high quality, pure vanilla extract. The filling needs to burst with vanilla and have a luscious texture to balance out those toasted pecans.
I bake the pecan tart in a 9-3/4” diameter tart pan that is 2” deep and has a removable bottom. The removable bottom makes it easy to remove the edge ring and transfer the tart to your serving plate.
Nut crusts have been around for years but aren’t as common as a basic pastry crust. I ran across the idea of adding bourbon to a nut crust in a recipe posted from Alton Brown. The bourbon adds just a hint of warmth and flavor to the crust. A nut crust can sometimes be crumbly when you roll it out but you can easily press the crumbs and any stray pieces into the tart pan. So don’t stress if it’s not a perfect sheet of pastry! This crust is made in a food processor but you can also mix it together with a pastry cutter.
A beautiful and delicious dessert for your holiday table!
Pecan Tart with Bourbon Nut Crust
For the Nut crust:
¾ cup chopped pecans
1-1/4 cups flour, plus 1-2 tablespoons for dusting the rolling pin and counter
½ teaspoon kosher salt
4 tablespoons butter, well chilled and cut into cubes
2 tablespoons very cold water
2 tablespoons good bourbon
Place the chopped pecans in a food processor and pulse about 10-12 times until the nuts are finely chopped.
Toss in the flour and kosher salt; pulse about 5-6 times until the flour is blended together with the nuts. Add the chilled butter cubes and pulse about 6-8 times until the butter is about the size of small peas.
As with a basic pastry dough, you still want bits of butter visible.
Pour the cold water and bourbon over the top of the mixture. Pulse about 6-8 times or until the dough begins to holds together. Don’t over process or your crust will be tough.
Turn the dough out onto a sheet of parchment or wax paper and form it into a round disk.
Fold the parchment over the dough, drop it into a plastic bag and refrigerate for about 30 minutes.
When you’re ready to roll out the dough, dust your surface and rolling pin with a light coating of flour. Roll the dough into a disk measuring about 11” in diameter. Gently roll it over the rolling pin and place it in the tart pan. Press it into the pan and the fluted edges going up the sides about two-thirds of the way. Set the crust aside while you make the filling.
Pecan Pie Filling:
¼ cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1 tablespoon whipping cream
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
3 extra-large eggs, room temperature
2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract (yes, tablespoons!)
1-1/2 cups chopped pecans
Cream the butter and brown sugar together; add the corn syrup and blend together until smooth. Stir in the whipping cream.
In a small bowl beat the eggs with the kosher salt until the eggs are light and frothy. Pour the eggs into the butter and sugar mixture, beating together on low speed until smooth.
Stir in the vanilla then add the pecans and stir until well blended. The pecans will make their way to the top of the pie while baking.
Pour the pecan pie filling into the unbaked nut crust and bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes.
Lower the heat of your oven to 350 degrees and continue baking about 50-55 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. You can also check the internal temperature by inserting an instant read thermometer into the center of the pie. You want the pie filling to reach 200 degrees. (Thank you Alton Brown for this tip!)
Set the pie on a rack to cool before slicing, allowing it time to set up as it cools.
Note: If you prefer to bake the pie in a traditional pie pan, reduce the second cooking time to 35-40 minutes.