Stop Looking! (Tart shell)

Once you find your perfect wedding dress, stop looking!” says Yes to the Dress’s Randy Fenoli (Don’t judge, it’s a guilty pleasure). The same should be said for the ideal tart crust – once you’ve found it, step away from the cookbooks! Wasn’t I done with this process? All that was left was to bake up a batch of the tarts and bring them to the Steakhouse for tasting. My tart shell quandary was solved until… I stumbled upon this month’s Cooks Illustrated recipe for a French apple tart; assuring a tastier and easier shell. Damn you, Christopher Kimball! In my present tart- obsessed hysteria, I couldn’t close the book (literally) on the promise of a perfect shell. This weekend, I placed my list of errands aside and ran a head-to-head battle between the Cooks Illustrated crust and mine. Both recipes came together in under 15 minutes. Both cut easily, cleanly, and with minimal crumbs. My version was sandier, better textured between my teeth. Theirs was buttery – and, I concede, much easier to make. There’s no heavy lifting of mixer from the cupboard – just a bowl and wooden spoon – and no need for almond flour. With the addition of vanilla and lemon zest (special ingredients in my version), it’s a contender, if not the winner. Before I admit defeat, I still needed to ensure the new crust would hold up to the filling test: filled and baked, does the shell collapse upon pan removal? I’ve had a recipe stashed since 1993 for a pumpkin-pecan pie. I decided to use it for my test filling – moist, heavy, dense, and a perfect flavor profile for the season. Instead of making tarts, I took a shortcut, patting the crust into an 8” square pan and making “bites” and omitting the butter sauce. The crust held up nicely.

Pecan Pumpkin Bites

Pecan Pumpkin Bites

Oh lordy! I’m one of those people who love pumpkin pie. When faced with the Thanksgiving pie array, my ranking would be pecan pie first, followed very closely by pumpkin with apple pie in the finish. (Who am I kidding? I like me some pie! Both pumpkin and pecan would make it on the plate, with apple being eaten in secret so I don’t seem a glutton). However, it needs to be the “right” pumpkin pie. I think some pumpkin pies are too firm and sturdy, more like a quiche or Jell-O. If you poke your finger on the surface, it shouldn’t resist or bounce back. It should easily plunge toward the middle with just a bit of surface resistance. On the flip side, it needs to be stable enough to hold up to a knife, not too fluffy or watery. I like my pumpkin pie on the custardy side – somewhere between flan and crème brulee. This recipe captures that texture perfectly.

Pecan Pumpkin Bites Crust

  •  1 1/3 c. APF flour
  •  5 T. Sugar
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 1/2 – 1 t. finely shredded lemon zest
  • 1 t. vanilla
  • 10 T. Unsalted butter

Melt butter.  Whisk together flour, sugar, salt and zest.  Add butter and vanilla.  Stir until dough forms.

Pumpkin Filling

  • 1 cup cooked pumpkin purée
  • 1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 large egg, beaten until frothy
  • 1 tablespoon heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Pinch of ground allspice
  • Pinch of ground nutmeg

Pecan Syrup

  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup dark corn syrup
  • 2 small eggs
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 pinch ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 cup pecan pieces

Preheat oven to 350. Cover an 8” square pan with aluminum foil, leaving an overhang to help remove crust once baked. Butter foil.   Mix crust ingredients in a bowl and press into pan and up sides. Bake crust for 15 minutes or until just beginning to turn golden. While the crust bakes, combine the pumpkin filling and set aside. Combine the pecan syrup and set aside. Cool crust for 10 minutes. Spread pumpkin filling over crust. Drizzle pecan syrup over pumpkin. Return bites to the oven and bake approximately 60-70 minutes until pecans are brown and filling no longer jiggles. A knife inserted should come out clean. Completely cool bites. Carefully remove bites from pan using foil. Remove foil from sides of bites (you may need a knife to help the sides release). Cut into squares and refrigerate until ready to serve.

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