Vail Baking: Tart is high-altitude alternative to pecan pie
Vail, CO Colorado
VAIL, Colorado –It’s almost Thanksgiving in Colorado’s Vail Valley, a time when food is at the forefront and the whole country shares an expectation of what’s being served.
Several of the anticipated tastes are captured in this bourbon-brown sugar pecan tart – it’s a perfect holiday dessert. The tart is reminiscent of pecan pie (which usually turns out badly when baked at our altitude), but it’s lighter, less gooey in texture and the nuts, rather than the pie’s syrupy sweetness, provide the dominant flavor. As one tester put it when describing the difference between the taste of the tart and its well-known relative: “It’s not as in-your-face as pecan pie, but it’s as satisfying.”
I find the graham-flour crust a perfect match for the filling. Graham flour, a courser grind of whole wheat flour, tastes like tender, home-made graham crackers and complements the nuts and brown sugar beautifully. It comes together quickly and, if you equate rolling dough with going to the dentist, take heart, you can pat this crust in the pan.
The tart can be made a day before serving and over a two-day period. Finish the crust on the first day and add and bake the filling on the second. Store the finished pastry in the refrigerator, covered with foil or plastic wrap.
Make in a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom
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Graham Flour Crust
1/2 cup of graham flour (I use Bob’s Red Mill, which I purchase at Natural Grocer’s; you can substitute one half cup of whole wheat or all-purpose flour–the crust won’t taste the same but it will still be good)
1 1/2 cups of all purpose flour
1/2 cup of powdered sugar
1 teaspoon of vanilla
A pinch of salt
1 cup of cold unsalted butter (two sticks)
1 egg white
Or a tart crust of your choice
2 cups of pecan halves, toasted, separated
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour
1 cup of light brown sugar, packed
1/2 teaspoon of salt
8 tablespoons of unsalted butter (one stick), melted and cooled
2 tablespoons of bourbon
2 1/2 teaspoons of vanilla
2 arge eggs
Whipped cream flavored with bourbon or vanilla ice cream as an accompaniment
Step One: Make the tart shell. Combine both flours, the powdered sugar, vanilla and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until well mixed. Cut the cold butter into small pieces and slowly add them through the feed tube, with the motor running, until the dough forms a ball on the top of the blade. Remove the dough from the processor, form it into a disc and chill it for about 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees, with a rack in the center position. Grease the tart pan and either roll out the dough and fit it into the pan or press it into the pan sides and bottom with your fingers, making sure it’s level and even. Trim the top and place the dough-lined pan in the freezer for about 15 minutes (until dough is quite firm).
Step Two: Prebake the tart shell. Remove the dough-lined pan from the freezer. Cut a piece of Reynold’s no-stick release foil (or grease regular foil) a few inches wider than the tart pan. Form the foil, no-stick or greased sides towards the dough, against the dough so that it lines it snugly. Fill with pie weights or beans. Place the tart pan on a baking sheet to catch any drips (the dough will ooze a little butter through the removable bottom of the tart pan). Bake until the dough is set (21 minutes in my oven). Remove the pan from the oven, carefully remove the pie weights and the foil and return the pan to the oven and bake until the crust is set (10 to 15 minutes). Whisk the egg white in a small bowl until frothy. As soon as you remove the crust from the oven, brush it all over with the egg white. (This will prevent it from getting soft and soggy when filled.) Let the crust cool completely. At this point you can cover it air-tight (I place it in a zip-lock plastic bag) and complete the tart the following day.
Step Three: Make the filling. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the center position. Chop 1 1/2 cups of the toasted pecan halves coarsely, leave the rest whole. Place the flour, brown sugar and salt in a large bowl and whisk until well combined and the brown sugar is lump-free. Add the melted butter, bourbon and vanilla and whisk to combine. Add the eggs, one at a time, and mix well. Add the chopped pecans (but not the whole ones). Spoon the filling into the prebaked crust, place the tart pan on a baking sheet, and bake until the filling is set. This will take about 35 to 45 minutes, depending on the depth of your tart pan. Start checking at 30 minutes; you don’t want to overbake the tart or the filling will get mealy. You may need to cover the crust with strips of aluminum foil to prevent it from over-browning as the filling cooks. As soon as you remove the tart from the oven, place the whole toasted pecan halves in a decorative border around the edge of the tart, gently pressing them into the filling.
Step Four: Let the tart cool completely on a rack. Slice it with a sharp knife. Reheat the pieces in a 300 degree oven until just warm to the touch or serve at room temperature, with bourbon-whipped cream or vanilla ice cream as a topping.
The crust recipe is a variation of one from Caprial’s Desserts.
Vera Dawson, a chef instructor at the Culinary Institute of Colorado Mountain College, lives in Summit County, where she bakes almost every day. Her recipes have been tested in her home kitchen and, whenever necessary, altered until they work at our altitude. Contact Vera Dawson with your comments about this column and/or your baking questions at email@example.com.