Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Hard Nut: Black Walnut Tart

If you go out walking in the early fall, you may come across round, green-husked black walnuts lying on the ground.  The nutmeat hidden inside may not be as well known as the English walnut but the black walnut’s distinctive flavor has its own enthusiasts.  If you have a black walnut tree in your back yard, you may already harvest your own, which can be messy, tricky and a bit of work. One of my sisters-in-law, inspired by the supply of black walnuts in her backyard tried harvesting them but she found it to be too much work for the reward.
They are a hard nut to crack.
This recipe was inspired by a black walnut pie I once had at a local diner. It has the basic pecan pie-style filling but with the addition of molasses to complement the dark, rich flavor of the black walnut. Black walnuts can be hard to find but there are several companies that process and package them. Diamond Walnuts of California and  Hammons Products of Missouri are two companies who save us from the inevitable mess of shelling them.
Black walnuts do have a distinctive flavor some people don’t like. This may be that they have eaten them raw, in the same way you would eat English walnuts. They are best roasted, or baked as part of a sweet treat.
Or maybe they just don’t care for them. Like jazz and Mozart, they can be an acquired taste.

Because of the rich nature of this dessert, I have made it as a tart, but it can be made as a 9” pie.

Black Walnut Pie or Tart
For one 9“ pie or tart
You will need pie dough for a 9“ pie or pate sablee or a 9” tart.
There will be a little leftover filling if making a tart.

3 eggs
¾ cup sugar
¼ cup molasses
1 cup corn syrup, light or dark
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
pinch of salt
1 ½ cups black walnut pieces

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Roll out the pie dough and fit it into the pie pan/ tart ring. With a fork, lightly prick the bottom and sides of the shell. Refrigerate or freeze the shell for 20 minutes.
2. In a bowl, mix together the eggs, sugar, molasses, corn syrup, vanilla, melted butter, and salt until smooth. Set aside.
3. Remove the pie shell from the refrigerator/freezer and place it onto a baking tray. Line the shell with a piece of aluminum foil and fill it with dried beans, rice, or pie weights. Bake the shell for 15 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven. Carefully remove the piece of foil filled with the pie weights. Place the shell back into the oven for an additional 5 minutes of baking. Remove the partially baked shell from the oven and set aside to cool.
4. After the shell has cooled, spread the black walnuts on the bottom of the pie shell. Fill the shell with the completed filling mixture. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, until the filling has set. Remove the pie/tart from the oven and let cool.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Pumpkin Pie

(Listening: Elliot Carter *: String Quartets Nos. 1 & 4)

Growing up, there was an unwritten rule: pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving and mince pie on Christmas. Or is that two rules?  There also was “elbows off the table!” but that’s not about pie unless you’re eating it with your elbows on the table.
This is the recipe my mother used for years and the tradition continues. I don’t know where she found it (back of a can of pumpkin puree?) but it’s the pumpkin pie we grew up on. Some recipes use half and half or cream or evaporated milk or a different spice blend  (nutmeg and mace, the dried outer covering of the nutmeg seed, are commonly used). If you grew up on a specific recipe you tend to honor it on the holidays.
There is one ingredient that doesn't appear in the original recipe and that’s cornstarch. Pumpkin pie has a tendency to crack. Cornstarch prevents surface cracking in custard pies.
This year I used puree from a sugar pumpkin I found at the store but feel free to be less “Martha-like” and open a can of pumpkin puree. We always did.

Pumpkin Pie
For one 9” pie
You will also need crust for one 9” pie

1 ¼ cups pumpkin puree
1 cup milk
2 eggs                                                              
½ cup sugar
½ cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground allspice
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon cornstarch

1. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Roll out the crust to 1/8th inch thickness and fit it into the pie plate. Trim and  crimp the edges and refrigerate the shell while you make the filling.
2. Place the pumpkin puree into a bowl along with the milk, eggs, and sugars. Whisk until smooth. Add the remaining ingredients and whisk until combined.
3. When the oven is hot, remove the pie shell and place it onto a baking pan. Fill the pie shell with the filling. Place the pie into the oven and bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until the filling has set. Remove pie from oven and let cool before serving.

* 1908 - 2012  Rest in Peace