Baking challenge: Miss American (Pecan Malt) Pie

This post is part of my challenge to bake my way through all the challenges of the Great British Bake Off. The challenge below is the showstopper challenge for week five (pie week) of series three: an American pie.

Four and Twenty Blackbirds pecan pie

There are many types of people in the world, and many ways of sorting through them. One of them is what I think of as ‘the bruschetta test’. Bruschetta is an Italian word, and, in Italian, the ‘ch’ is pronounced as a hard ‘k’ sound: brus-ketta. There are people who know this, and people who don’t; and people who are very relaxed about how to say it and people who deliberately pronounce it, with much pleasure, in the most authentic way possible.

Which is all well and good, if you’re speaking Italian, but if you’re saying ‘pass the bruschetta’ at a dinner party in the English-speaking world, I…do not think it matters at all if you pronounce it ‘broosh-etta’. It’s inevitable that when a word is borrowed from another language that its pronunciation is massaged a little to fit more readily into the borrowing language’s flow and rhythm. I actually find that pronouncing ‘bruschetta’ in the Italian style sounds a little jarring in English. Maybe this relaxedness about ‘mispronunciation’ comes from me being a native Dutch speaker: if there’s one language a native English speaker mangles to distraction, it’s Dutch, with its plethora of guttural, back-of-the-throat sounds, its rolled Rs, and the spattering of French-style inflections.

Chocolate pecan pie

I was thinking about this because there’s a super-snarky comment on the Wikipedia page relating to this episode of GBBO which notes that ‘During the broadcast, Ryan’s pie was identified as a key lime pie. However, it was made with ordinary limes rather than key limes, and thus was not a key lime pie. Moreover, the pies described as American-style were actually tarts. American pies are baked in a smooth, slant sides pie pan, not the fluted tart pans that were used.’

This really is taking pedantry to the next level – in the UK, at least, ‘key lime pie’ now just refers to a particular style of pie: I doubt most people would even know that ‘key’ refers to a particular type of lime grown in the Florida Keys – and even if we do know, getting hold of them is very difficult. It did make me smile, not to mention shake my head, because Brits have had, after all, to accept that they’ve lost the battle on how to pronounce Worcestershire.

The pie I chose to make was a recipe from Brooklyn-based pie shop Four and Twenty Blackbirds: a malted chocolate pecan pie. I love a traditional pecan pie, with its translucent, almost gelatinous filling of brown sugar custard holding cupfuls of pecan pieces, but the Four and Twenty Blackbirds version has depth and gravitas, anchored by the addition of deep dark chocolate and the sticky, comforting flavour of malt.

Chocolate malt pecan pie

It was a wonderful pie, but I would add that you do need to follow their (meticulous!) instructions on chilling the pie crust. I don’t have a freezer, and my fridge was broken and consequently not very cold when I made this; as a result the pastry started melting before it set in the oven and I had to perform some hasty surgery. Nonetheless, it was absolutely delicious: sticky, chocolatey and much less sweet than a typical pecan pie.

You will need to buy malt extract for this recipe, which I bought ages ago at Holland and Barrett, but I see it a lot in almost all health food shops.

Malted chocolate pecan pie
Adapted from The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book

You will need a pie plate/tin of around 23cm (mine looks a bit like this – it’s slope-sided, not a fluted tart tin)

You will also need baking weights/pie weights/baking beans – most recipes will say you can use dried uncooked beans for blind baking, but I much prefer using ceramic baking weights; they work much better at weighing down the pastry and conducting heat evenly.

For the pastry

  • 200g plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp flaky salt
  • 1.5 tsps caster sugar
  • 115g unsalted butter, cut into large-ish 1cm pieces
  • 125ml cold water
  • 2 TBS cider vinegar
  • ice
  • 1 egg white whisked together with a teaspoon of water
  1. Stir the flour, salt and sugar together in a large bowl. Add the butter pieces and toss to coat them all with flour using a spatula or metal spoon (don’t touch them with your hands as the heat from your fingers will melt the butter).
  2. Using a pastry blender, cut the butter into the flour mixture until most of the pieces are pea-sized, with a few larger pieces.
  3. Combine the water, vinegar, and ice in a bowl.
  4. Sprinkle two tablespoons of the water mixture over the flour mixture, cutting it in with a spoon or spatula until fully incorporated. Add more water, 1-2 tablespoons at a time, mixing it in fully with the flour mixture each time.
  5. Use a bench scraper and your hands to mix the dough until it comes together into a ball, with some dry bits remaining. Squeeze and pinch the dough with your fingertips to bring it together, sprinkling any dry areas with a few drops of the water mixture, if necessary, to combine.
  6. Pat the dough into a flat disc, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least one hour, and preferably overnight. You can make this up to three days in advance and freeze it for up to a month.
  7. Remove the pastry from the fridge around 10 minutes before you begin rolling it. Lightly flour your work surface and rolling pin and roll out evenly until it is about 2.5cm larger than the pan you are using and 2-3mm in thickness. Make sure to rotate the pastry as you roll it to ensure it is even all the way through and not tapered.
  8. Butter your pie dish of choice, lift the pastry using your rolling pin, and gently drape it over the tin. Gently pat it into place if necessary, making sure there are no gaps between pastry and pan. If you see any visible air bubbles in the pastry, pop them with a fork.
  9. Trim the dough to allow for an overhang of around 3.5cm, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for a minimum of 30 minutes and ideally an hour or more.
  10. Remove from the fridge, crimp the dough and rest an additional 30 minutes. (I like to crimp by pinching around my thumb using the index finger and thumb of my other hand).
  11. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 220C. Place a baking sheet in the oven to heat up.
  12. When fully chilled, prick the base and sides of the pastry around 15-20 times. Place the crust in the freezer for ten minutes.
  13. Cover the frozen crust tightly with a piece of foil, ensuring that the crimped edges are completely covered and that there are no gaps between the foil and crust. Pour your pie weights into the pan, spreading them so they are concentrated towards the sides rather than the middle of the tin.
  14. Place the pie tin on the preheated baking tin and bake for 20 minutes, until the crimped edges are set but not browned.
  15. Remove the pie from the oven, remove the foil and baking weights, and let the crust cool for a minute. Use a pastry brush to coat the bottom and sides of the pastry with a thin layer of the egg white glaze. Return to the oven (on the baking sheet again) and bake for a further three minutes. Remove and cool completely.

For the pie

  • 200g pecan pieces
  • 60g unsalted butter, melted
  • 60g dark chocolate (around 55% cocoa)
  • 240g light brown sugar
  • 60ml barley malt extract/ syrup (measure this by very lightly greasing an American 1/4 measuring cup and pouring the syrup into the greased cup – it should slide right out)
  • 3/4 tsp flaky salt
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp dried ginger
  • 125ml sour cream
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 large egg yolk
  1. Preheat the oven to 180C.
  2. Toast the pecans: spread them in a single even layer on a baking sheet and bake for 6-8 minutes, until they are fragrant. Let cool.
  3. In a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water, combine the butter and chocolate and melt together, whisking until smooth. Remove from the heat and add the brown sugar, malt extract, salt, cinnamon and ginger, and stir well until fully combined.
  4. Mix in the sour cream, then the eggs and egg yolks, one at a time, stirring well after each addition. Stir in the cooled pecan pieces.
  5. Place your prebaked pie shell on a baking sheet and pour in the filling. Bake in the centre of your oven for 52-57 minutes, rotating the pie 180 degrees after about 35 minutes of baking. Bake until the edges are set and puffed up slightly, and the centre is firm with a very gentle wobble (like a jelly or soft custard). If you over-bake, it will separate so be careful at this stage – it will continue to set even after being removed from the oven. Allow the pie to cool completely on a wire rack for 2-3 hours before serving.

2 thoughts on “Baking challenge: Miss American (Pecan Malt) Pie

  1. I don’t think it’s pedantic to note that the “American” pies on the show lacked most of the attributes of what we call pie here; they really were tarts, perhaps inspired by American flavors at best- the crusts were wrong, they used tart tins, not pie pans, and the fillings were odd (so-called “key” lime with ginger?). Hollywood started right out by dissing pies, saying you have to make them British to taste good. And it was taken as a given that peanut butter, pumpkin, and squash are somehow bizarre, “disgusting” ingredients. So it was a very strange episode to watch and hard to understand why they were simultaneously attempting (and failing) to duplicate and while insulting their inspiration for the bake all the while. I’ve enjoyed the show and learning about British baking, but this really turned me off.

    1. Fair enough – I disagree (gently), partly because the pies made followed a British interpretation of classic American pies; partly because there’s ‘bastardisation’ (too strong a word really) of classic dishes on both sides of the Atlantic (some supposedly British or English food in American food media makes me raise my eyebrows; sometimes it engenders far stronger reactions!). I think it’s easiest just to roll with these changes and appreciate that there are differences in interpretation every time food, and language, travels. Obviously it’s just my opinion.

      In terms of the flavours, contestants were putting their own twist on things, so I don’t think, personally, it’s a big deal to add ginger to a key lime pie (which, in the UK, is really referring to a style of pie rather than a type of limes) – especially when the outcome was so delicious.

      English humour can be quite spiky – I do think Hollywood was just joking around rather than trying to insult American food culture. He is quite abrasive and I’ve been put off by his banter in other places. The reference to ‘making things British’ was just a sly dig at the supposed American fondness for over-sweetened desserts; and it’s not common to have pumpkin and squash in sweet applications here, so it does often come across as bizarre (I read a lot of American food media so it’s pretty normalised in my head) – a bit like marshmallows in savoury applications. So I think there was a light ‘culture shock’ element which they were playing up. I’m sure it was meant to be good-natured – I’m sorry it put you off the show.

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