This is the first time I’ve been back in the UK for Thanksgiving since I started to celebrate it and so I brought the festivities with me across the pond. In addition to dinner with friends and family tonight, I could not let today pass without jumping on the opportunity to make one of my favorite desserts of all time: a Pecan Tart.
This is pecan pie with a Yorkshire twist. Once again I reach for the Lyle’s golden syrup, with its complex, almost honey-like flavor, as my trusty secret ingredient. I’m proud to say that this recipe was met with great enthusiasm when presented at an authentic American Thanksgiving dinner last year. “Just how did I get the filling to taste like that?!” guests demanded. Well, ladies and gentlemen, now you know.
I was a relative latecomer to pecan pie. My mother swears that I was fed pecan pie from the grocery store freezer department as a child, but I really don’t remember (perhaps for the best…). No, I first recall eating a slim slice of pecan tart, slightly warmed from the oven and served with a large dollop of clotted cream, at the Queen’s Lane Coffee House in Oxford. It was literally a “Where have you been all my life?” kind of moment. From then on I often sat in that little historic cafe, reading over a scientific paper, drinking their ridiculously strong coffee, and indulging in this rich and delicious treat.
The pecan pies I make are as close to the Oxford version as I can get. More of a tart than a pie, with pecans elegantly arranged in a relatively shallow crust before the filling is carefully poured in. They then magically rise to the surface in the oven and remain there once the filling has cooled and come to rest. It is just perfect served with very thick cream (use whipped heavy cream if you can’t find clotted) and a bitter espresso to balance out the sweetness.
Adapted from a recipe by BBC Food
First make the shortcrust pastry. Put 6 oz all purpose flour, a pinch of salt, and a pinch of sugar in a large bowl. Add 3 oz butter that has been brought to room temperature and cut into cubes.
Rub the butter into the flour using your fingertips until you have a mixture that resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Don’t overwork it as you don’t want it to become greasy.
Using a knife, stir in just enough ice cold water to bind the dough together (I used around 3 tbsp). Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and place in the fridge for 10-15 mins before using.
While the pastry is in the fridge, preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4 and grease a 9-inch tart tin with butter.
Place 4 oz unsalted butter, 4 oz golden syrup, 1 tsp vanilla extract, and 8 oz soft brown sugar into a heavy-based saucepan over a low heat. When melted, remove the pan from the heat and leave to cool for 10-15 mins.
While the mixture is cooling, roll out the chilled shortcrust pastry and line the tart tin. Leave a little pastry hanging over the edge as it is likely to shrink slightly when baked.
Press pecans into the base of the tart, making a star pattern radiating from the center outwards (or any pattern that takes your fancy). Fill in as many gaps as you can with shards of pecans.
Beat together 3 eggs and stir well into the butter and sugar mixture when it is cool enough. I find it best to add a little egg at a time, stirring well between each addition.
Pour the syrup mixture gradually over the pecans in the tart base. Carefully transfer the tart to the oven and bake for 40-50 mins (although 35 mins was enough in my mum’s fan oven). The pie should be golden brown – and a little more so if using dark soft brown sugar – and the filling should be slightly soft.
Allow to cool for 20 mins in the tin and then transfer to a wire rack so the bottom of the tart doesn’t get soggy. In my opinion, this tart is best served slightly warm but is also excellent cold if that’s what you prefer or if you are making ahead. Dollop with cream and serve.
Wishing you all a very Happy Thanksgiving!