Monday, November 28, 2011

Recipe: Bourbon-Spiked Chocolate Chip Pecan Pie with Salted Caramel Sauce

For the past three or four years, my parents have had Thanksgiving at our house, with just my grandmothers, my brother, and me (long story short, it's easier this way, and we do a larger family gathering for Christmas). This year was my first Thanksgiving as a college grad, and because I'm living at home and only employed part time, I was more available to help with dinner preparations than I have been in the past (oh, and my entire family figured that, since I love to cook and I have culinary class experience, I could probably just do the whole meal myself—I'm not quite that good though, haha). We had all of our traditional dishes—stuffing (or rather, dressing, because we cook it outside of the turkey), this Grand Marnier-spiked cranberry relish my mother makes (I find this dish amusing, because she hates cranberries but gets compliments on this dish all the time), turkey, mashed potatoes (though not as many as the good ol' days, when my cousins, Katie and Jess, and I would wolf them down like we'd never get a chance to eat them again), and a brown sugar-and-pecan-topped sweet potato mash, plus a few other sides. My mother and I did a lot of preparation on that Wednesday before the holiday so we wouldn't be overwhelmed on the day of, and my grandmothers each took turns washing dishes and helping us put things away. While I had a hand in a number of dishes, I wanted to make something on my own, and, since we already had so many dinner dishes, I thought I'd go for dessert. We always have pumpkin pie (this year was no different) and the occasional fruit pie, and sometimes cookies or some sort of cake, but I got hooked on the idea of making a chocolate chip pecan pie. I found this highly rated recipe from Emeril Lagasse on Food Network's website, tweaked it a little to get it exactly how I wanted it, and it turned out beautifully. The pie was sweet and rich, but not overwhelming, and the salted caramel sauce and some freshly whipped cream were perfect on top. The pie is best served the day of or the next day, and it's delicious served warm, cold, or room temperature. I highly recommend making the crust from scratch, but you could use a pre-made crust if desired—just make sure you use a deep pie dish, otherwise you may have issues with the pie filling overflowing while the pie bakes.

Yields: 1, 9 inch pie; approx. 1 cup caramel sauce
Prep. time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 1 hour, plus approx. 10 minutes for the caramel sauce
Difficulty: Moderate

For the pie filling
  • 1 & 1/2 cups pecans (I used a mix of chopped and whole pecans)
  • 1 cup semi sweet chocolate chips (I use Ghirardelli brand; you may want to use a little less)
  • 1 unbaked 9-inch pie shell (my mother makes homemade crusts and I highly recommend making your own)
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar (I used dark, but light or dark would work)
  • 1/2 cup corn syrup
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • Approx. 1/8 tsp. salt 
  • 1 tbsp. bourbon (any brand will work)

For the salted caramel sauce
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tbsp. water
  • 1/2 tsp. lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 2 to 4 tbsp. 2% or whole milk (I used a little over 2 tbsp.)
  • 1 tsp. bourbon
  • Good quality salt, to taste (I highly recommend sea salt, or some sort of high quality coarse salt; just add a small pinch at a time, and taste the sauce as you go to make sure you don't over salt it)
  • 1-3 tbsp. butter (salted or unsalted; if you use salted, don't add as much salt) 
(It's really important to taste this sauce at the end, when you're adding in the final ingredients. You want it to be sweet, with a buttery, salty background and just a hint of bourbon)

For the pie: Preheat the oven to 350* F. Spread the pecans and chocolate chips evenly on the bottom of the pie shell. In a mixer or just in a bowl, whisk together the ingredients for the pie filling until well blended, then pour the filling over the pecan and chocolate chip mixture in the pie shell (the pecans and chocolate chips will rise up into the filling so that the filling is "mixed"). If you want a pretty design on top of the pie, arrange whole pecans on top in the desired pattern. Bake the pie until the filling sets, about 50 to 60 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool for 30 minutes before slicing.

For the caramel sauce: In a medium, heavy sauce pan/pot, combine the sugar, water, and lemon juice and cook over medium-high heat, stirring, until the sugar dissolves. Let boil without stirring until the mixture becomes a deep amber color (watch it carefully to make sure it doesn't burn). Slowly add the cream, whisking to combine, and remove from the heat. Add 2 tablespoons of the milk, adding more (I didn't add any more to mine) until the desired consistency is reached. Stir in the bourbon and butter until the butter has melted into the mixture. Sprinkle in salt, to taste. Let cool before serving (the sauce will thicken as it cools). Gently reheat before serving atop the pie.

This pie is perfect for Thanksgiving or Christmas (I feel like a lot of people make plain ol' pecan pies for the holidays, so this fits right in), but it could easily be served any other time of the year. Many pecan pies call for ungodly amounts of sugars and syrups that make them cloyingly sweet, but I think this pie has just the right amount of sweetness. Semi sweet chocolate chips add a richness and the warm caramel sauce adds a buttery, salty flavor to the pie that perfectly blends with the pie's sweet filling. This dish was a huge success with my family (even my brother, who rarely eats sweets), and I'll definitely be making it for Christmas.

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