Friday, June 1, 2012

The heart of Texas—pecan pie

The Beet

Express Staff Writer

Vacations sometimes seem like an unending conveyor belt of food. Maybe I don't go places with interesting enough sites or activities; maybe I'm a total fat kid and unconsciously plan vacations around food. Regardless, my vacations usually end up being more food-related than anything else.

That rule held fast during my recent trip to Texas, where I was actually referred to as a "Yankee" and gained somewhat of an understanding of what that term really means.

It means, among other things, never having tasted Texas barbecue, legitimate Tex-Mex, hushpuppies, the best burger in the entire state or buttermilk-fried chicken that tastes like nothing else I've ever experienced. It's food you can't fake, even if you spend entire weeks studying the complete collected works of Paula Deen.

The food in Dallas, where I was staying, combines Mexican and Southern influences with a lot—a ridiculous, obscene, enormous amount—of beef. Hamburgers, ground beef tacos, prime rib ... it was everywhere. As a former vegetarian, I made up for a lot of lost time in red meat country that week.

And no matter what I was eating, those who knew I was a food columnist would ask, "Are you going to write about this?"

Of course I had to, if only as a sort of penance for my Texan indulgences.

One thing that stuck in my head was the pecan pie I had at a barbecue place in the middle of downtown Dallas. I was attending a rehearsal dinner for a friend's wedding, which meant lots of chatting, lots of festivities and a lot of watching old friends catch up.

As I didn't know most of those people, for me, dinner meant real Texas barbecue with all the sides. And while most people were searching around for a soft-serve ice cream machine after the meal, I had my eye on the luscious, glistening pieces of pecan pie lined up along the buffet line.

At its face, no one should ever have thought to make a pie out of corn syrup, sugar and a handful of nuts. The fact that this dessert shouldn't exist, though, doesn't make it any less transcendent. I promise you, when you take up your fork, shatter the pecan top and dive into the slightly caramelized filling, you will feel like a true Texan.

Katherine Wutz:

Pecan Pie

Adapted from the food blogs Homesick Texan and Pioneer Woman Cooks

For the crust:

1 cup flour

1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 cup oil

2 to 3 Tbsp. milk

For the filling:

3/4 cup sugar

3/4 cup corn syrup (I used the organic vanilla kind)

3 eggs, beaten

2 tsp. vanilla extract

2 Tbsp. milk

2 Tbsp. flour

4 Tbsp. butter, melted

1 heaping cup pecans, chopped

For the crust:

Mix flour and salt. Mix oil and milk. Pour oil and milk into flour and salt and stir until it comes together into a dough ball. Add more milk if it seems too dry—I might have used closer to 1/4 of a cup. Roll crust out between two sheets of wax paper (which is maybe the best tip ever), and line a buttered pie pan with crust.

For the filling:

Mix sugar, syrup, eggs and vanilla. Add milk, flour, butter and stir. Pour pecans into the bottom of the piecrust, then cover with the syrupy filling. The nuts will rise to the top, I promise. Bake at 350 for a little less than an hour, until set. If everything seems to be browning too quickly, cover the crust and top with foil and continue baking until the pie no longer jiggles. Let cool one hour before serving.

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