Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Pecan Pie with Chocolate Ganache Topping

Pecan pie is a classic southern dessert. A sweet, gelatinous filling studded with flavorful pecans- the ones at the top are nicely caramelized adding even more flavor- sweet and decadent, it is easy to see why it is many people's favorite. It is also remarkably simple to make- and like many other simple ideas, small variations can have a huge effect on the outcome. My favorite way to modify the simple pecan pie is to add a layer of rich, chocolate topping- a simple idea to enhance a simple dessert...

There really isn't much to a pecan pie. The base recipe I use is the very same one found on the back of almost every bottle of that popular brand of corn syrup. It works, and you can add a shot of bourbon to it if you want to make it a little "extra special" for the holidays. It's basically a sugar and egg "custard"-like mixture studded with pecans. The base for the filling (for a 9 inch pie) consists of three eggs (lightly beaten), 1 cup of corn syrup (I prefer dark corn syrup rather than light corn syrup for the color), and 1 cup of sugar.

Add about a tablespoon of vanilla extract- and/or your favorite bourbon and you have the base of flavor. You'll also want to add two tablespoons of melted butter to give the mix a nice shine, and add a little richness. Remember to be careful when you add anything hot to anything with eggs- add it too fast and you'll end up with scrambled eggs instead of pie filling, so add a small amount of your melted butter, stir immediately, then add a little more, stir. Repeat a few more times then go ahead and add the rest- always stirring. Tempering your eggs like this will keep them from turning into breakfast before you've fully combined your filling. Yes I'm being a little paranoid, but the last thing you want is to wreck your pie before you've even started!

You should now have a dark, syrupy, sweet mixture that may or may not smell suspiciously like your favorite bourbon. All that you need to complete the filling are the pecans. You'll need about 6oz of pecans. As much as I like whole pecans in my pie- it will be VERY difficult to slice your pie into reasonable wedges if your pecans are too chunky, so Give them a good chop, and add them to your filling once you've got them down to roughly fingernail sized pieces. Make sure your filling is thoroughly combined, and all the sugar grains are incorporated.

Next we'll prepare our crust. OK, you got me, I'm cheating, and using a store-bought pie crust. It may not be the best, but it certainly won't come out bad. If you're up to the challenge of making your own pie crust- go for it, and send me the recipe please! Either way, I dust my 9 inch pie pan with flour- if your pan (like mine) sheds flour too easily from the sides, just give the pan a very light spray of cooking oil or water  (and I mean VERY light- just enough to make a little flour stick) and dust with flour to help keep the crust from sticking. Lay the crust our as evenly as you can, and patch up any holes you accidentally poked through, then carefully pour in your filling, and use a fork to gently nudge the pecans into an even distribution.

Trim away any excess crust, and dress the edge- you'll want a little bit of a lip of crust to help contain the good stuff we're going to add a little later on. You can do all sorts of fancy stuff with fork marks and pie crimping if you like, but I like to keep it simple and rustic- so I just roll up the edge of the crust and lightly press it together to form a plain lip around the edge. It may be simple, and not particularly artistic, but it works, and is very forgiving of mistakes.

Once you are happy with whatever fussing over the edge you choose to do, pop the pie in a 350 degree oven and bake it for about 55 minutes. When done, the pecans on top should be nicely caramelized, and the surface of the egg and syrup mixture should have formed a nice tough crust. You should be able to stick a fork in the middle and have it come out clean- but generally, 55 minutes will probably do it (and the center will carry-over cook a few more  minutes if it's a little short). You could dive in and eat this pie as is (once it cools down) and be happy with it...

...but that's not good enough. We are going to up the ante a little. We're going to make a chocolate ganache and cover the pie with a thin layer of it. Is taking a very good, but very sugary pie and pumping it full of rich glossy chocolate going a little over the top? Well, yes it is. Hey, this is dessert, going over the top into the realm of excess and decadence is the way it should be. Wait until your pie has cooled down to room temperature, then just go for it.

Anyway, a Ganache is a very simple chocolate frosting made from chocolate, and cream or milk. A little butter may be added to make it have a glossy finish, and you can even add more of your favorite bourbon to this too. You can control how thick or thin the ganache is by using fattier liquid (cream=thick, milk=thin), and by using more or less liquid. A thin ganache is great for pouring over and coating things, a thick ganache can be whipped into something like a normal frosting and spread.

The type of chocolate is also an important consideration. Generally, darker chocolate works better, and since the pecan pie is already very sweet, you'll want to use semi-sweet, or bittersweet chocolate to keep the sugar from being overbearing. I'm going with semi-sweet, and I want a more liquid ganache that will set just enough to hold together but still be a little gooey, so I'm going to use whole milk, and a little butter for a shiny finish.

Assembling the ganache is very easy- to make enough to cover this pie, you'll need about 6 oz of chocolate, and a half cup of whole milk. Warm up the milk in a small pot, and drop in about two tablespoons of butter (and your optional bourbon!). When the butter is melted, and the milk is just starting to boil, take it off and pour it on top of your chocolate. When the chocolate begins to melt, start stirring until it melts completely and is fully incorporated. A skilled pastry chef knows exactly how to balance the few ingredients to get a perfect texture, and a perfectly smooth ganache- but mine usually comes out just a little bit grainy. Don't fret if it does, just stir a little more to make sure it's broken up and smoothed out as much as possible and don't fret over it too much- it will still look and taste great even if you don't have a finish like a perfect pane of chocolate glass. It's chocolate, it's awesome anyway, so forgive yourself the small errors, and dive in.

Set your ganache aside and let it cool down for a few minutes- you still want it to be warm enough to pour and be runny, but not nuclear, off-the-stove hot. It should be cool enough to handle without a trip to the E.R. if you spill a little on yourself, but still fluid- so give it a moment or two to rest, then carefully pour it on top of the pie. Pour slowly, right into the middle of the pie, and let gravity and newtonian fluid dynamics spread it out for you. Six ounces of chocolate should be just about enough to give you a nice even layer of ganache over the entire pie.

Give the pie a few gentle shakes back and forth to help the ganache settle into the last few nooks an crannies around the edge. You could cut it right now, and it would be great (and a little messy)- but I recommend letting the ganache cool off and set first- depending on how thick your ganache came out, you may even need to let the pie sit in the fridge to help set the chocolate better- don't worry if it stays a little gooey- it takes a bit of practice to make something so easily thrown off balance like a ganache come out exactly the way you want each time. Of the two of these I made, one set into a soft but firm gel-like consistency, and the other was on the runny side- both were still good.

Either way, you'll be more than happy with the results. The sweetness of the pie filling balances well with a darker chocolate- and even though we added something completely decadent to a pie that is already considered to be too sweet by many people, we ended up with a result that strikes a balance. You have sweetness from the pie filling, the richness and slightly bitter notes from the topping, and the slight crunch and toothiness of the pecans all working together. Enjoy.


  1. it looks like great minds think alike, I made the same pie last week, love the gananche topping too!

  2. I have tasted Pecan icecream but never a pie. Pecan is not easily available in our part of the world. I think I really need to do some hunting for this and make this recipe.

  3. waffles are always and easily found both in supermarkets and in restaurants. For instance, waffles by Kellogg's Eggo are famous and easy to find particularly in frozen food sections at supermarkets.

    Chocolate waffle topping