Monday, December 26, 2011
Canadian Maple Walnut Pie
A recent issue of Food Network magazine had a pullout section entitled "50 pies"- the idea was to take four very basic pie recipes and produce as many variations on them as possible. The base recipes were an apple pie, a pumpkin pie, a pecan pie, and a chocolate pudding pie. Pecan pie is always one of my favorites, and after reading the article, it seems almost natural that it can have hundreds of variations just by changing the nuts and the type of syrup used. One of the variations on the basic recipe really spoke to me- and seemed to be such a natural and obvious combination that I can't believe I haven't seen it before. Take a generic pecan pie recipe, replace the pecans with walnuts, and the corn syrup with maple syrup, apply a few minor tweaks to adjust the consistency of the custard, and you have a maple-walnut pie...
The pecan pie recipe I normally use is very basic, but it works. The one I gleaned from Food Network magazine is slightly more complicated, but barely so. It strikes me as being a little more rich (more butter) and a little more flavorful (brown sugar vs white) so it seemed like a better starting point than the basic recipe I usually use. To transform this into a maple walnut pie, it makes two substitutions- trade out the pecans for walnuts, and trade the corn syrup for maple syrup. In order to balance the recipe correctly and produce a stable custard, the recipe adds an additional egg, and a little flour. I presume these additions are to make up for the fact that maple syrup is a thinner fluid than corn syrup.
Of course, I didn't want to copy the recipe verbatim, so I made a few alterations. The original calls for lemon zest, and maple extract - which I thought were either unnecessary or just excessive. I also felt the recipe was missing something- most traditional pecan pie recipes call for a shot of bourbon- this recipe is alcohol free. In keeping with the maple syrup idea, it seemed only natural to spike the pie with a little taste of Canadian whiskey.
Again, I'm cheating by starting with a store-bought crust. I'm more concerned with getting the filling right. The pie starts with about 6 oz of walnuts, rough chopped into small, manageable pieces. Put the walnuts into the pie crust, and distribute evenly, then go to work on the filling. The filling starts with 3 eggs, 1 tbsp of flour, and 3/4 cup of brown sugar. Whisk the sugar/flour and eggs together, then add 2 tsp vanilla extract, 1 tsp lemon juice, 1/4 teaspoon salt, then add in 8 oz of maple syrup, and 6 tbsp of melted butter.once everything starts to come together, add in about a half shotglass of Canadian whiskey (i.e Seagram's 7). Whisk it all together, then pour it over the walnuts, and give the pie a shake or two to make sure everything is distributed evenly.
The key to making this work is to get good quality maple syrup. Don't even think about using that cheap stuff normally sold as pancake syrup... that is usually just watered down corn syrup with a little coloring and artificial flavor added. Spend the money for the real stuff- grade A dark amber, 100% real maple syrup. You're kidding yourself if you think that the cheap stuff will work in a recipe such as this one, where the syrup has such a huge central role.
The rest is easy, simply bake the pie at 325 degrees for 45 to 55 minutes according to the recipe. I followed my nose and pushed it to about an hour- the crust looked like it could handle the extra time, and it looked like the filling wanted a few more minutes to reduce and caramelize, so trust your instincts when it comes to cooking times. After baking, let the pie cool down to room temperature before serving. If time allows, a short rest in the refrigerator will help make sure the custard is completely set.
Remarkably, this pie is not cloyingly sweet. Many people shun the idea of pies such as this one, or pecan pie, because they believe it will be overbearingly sweet. In this case, the earthy, savory flavor of the walnuts brings the sweetness into a balance that works. This pie made a great addition to our holiday table- so much so, that we ended up having one on both Christmas Eve, and again on Christmas Day.