Eye on the Prize: A Practice Maple-Walnut Pie

Maple-Walnut-Pie

Maple-Walnut Pie is similar to the classic pecan pie but this recipe captures the flavor of maple syrup without the shocking sweetness of the holiday favorite.

There’s something magical about a pie contest.  Some of the most humble, least competitive people get mixed up in the anxiety that only a serious challenge can incite.  It’s intense. When I lived in Chicago, I was an eager contestant in the Bucktown Apple Pie Contest. Contestants plan for it a year in advance — testing, tasting and perfecting dozens of apple pies. I don’t even like apple pie, but a year of making pie with purpose is on my list of top ten favorite experiences of all time. That’s in the fall, but KCRW’s Good Food hosts a pie contest in Santa Monica every spring — and they’re not just apple pies, they’re any and every kind of pie you can think of. Sweet, savory, cream, fruit, nut, custard — they even had a kids’ category for judging.

It is a delicious event.

Maple-Walnut-Pie

I went to the one in May this year but I did not enter — I just wanted to see what it was like and relive the electricity of a pie contest, only this time as a spectator. It exceeded my expectations and I got to sample some of the most original, creative pies I’ve ever had the pleasure of tasting. In all, there were more than 300 unique pies that were subjected to the scrutiny of judges and just by talking to some of the contestants, I could feel their butterflies as judging time neared. It was a truly inspiring experience.

Maple-Walnut-Pie

I had two favorites: Turkish Breakfast and Caramel Triple Nut Pie. I have no idea what went into the Turkish Breakfast pie aside from sugar, eggs and cardamom, but it was similar in texture to the Caramel Triple Nut Pie only slightly less sweet. Both were nut pies along the lines of the standard pecan pie — one of my childhood favorites. Those two pies and the entire contest energized me to pull out my rolling pin and pie pans to see if I could come up with a good variation.

Malcolm
Malcolm, the day’s most enthusiastic baker.

Lilliputian Pastry Late food enthusiast, journalist, author, and screenwriter Nora Ephron once said, “There’s no point in making pie crust from scratch.” As smart and entertaining as she was, she could not have been more wrong. In my opinion, it’s very restrictive thinking — knowing how to make a good pie crust from scratch opens up so much possibility in the kitchen — tarts, biscuits, hand pies, pop tarts, empanadas, hot pockets — there’s no shortage of things to do with pie dough outside the standard 9” pie. It also allows me to practice and perfect pies on a scale small enough that I don’t get sick of pie in the name of competition. I actually make 4.5” pies regularly and certainly more often than regular 9” pies. As a single person, a 9” pie just isn’t practical — I couldn’t eat one fast enough for the last bite to be as tasty as the first bite, so most of my recipes are for petite pies.

Consistency & Character The filling was more of a challenge than I expected. I did a few different versions — one with pistachios (too soft), pepitas (too small), and decided on walnuts because they stay crunchy during baking the way pecans do.

For the filling, I was hoping maple cream instead of corn syrup would create the creamy texture of the Caramel Triple Nut Pie. That did not work the way I wanted it to — it turned out gooey (in a good way) like the pecan pies my mom used to make.  Instead of maple cream (maple syrup, water and oil), I made a maple sauce (maple syrup and heavy cream). The maple sauce combined with a little bit of flour generated the smooth and creamy texture I was trying to recreate. For the nuts, I first used ⅔ cup, but that made it more of a nut tart — less sweet and more dense than I wanted, so I reduced it to ⅓ cup.

The last component of the filling didn’t seem like a big deal, but I tried stirring in the nuts as opposed to sprinkling them on top — I wanted to make sure to showcase the texture of the filling as well as get a good crunch from the nuts. It was good both ways, but I preferred the nuts on top. 

None of the practice pies were bad, just not what I wanted. What I wanted is as follows:

Maple-Walnut Pie

Maple Sauce

  • ½ cup maple syrup
  • ¼  teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ cup heavy creamMaple-Walnut-Pie

In a small saucepan, combine salt and syrup over medium heat and bring to a boil, about 4 minutes. Reduce heat to a simmer without stirring for about 6 minutes. Stir in cream and continue to let it bubble until the temperature registers 220°F on a candy thermometer, about 5 minutes.  Transfer to a heat-resistant container and let cool while you prepare the crust.

Maple-Walnut-Pie

Pastry

  • 1 cup flour
  • ⅓ tsp kosher salt
  • ⅓ cup unsalted butter, cubed and cold
  • 3 TB very cold milk

Maple-Walnut-Pie

Pre-heat oven to 350°F.  In a large bowl, whisk together dry ingredients. Add cubed butter.  Work with your hands, squeezing and massaging the butter with the flour mixture until the butter chunks are pea-sized. Make a well, pour in the milk. Using a fork, work the mixture into the center until everything is just wet. Gather together a shaggy ball of dough, wrap it in plastic and refrigerate for an hour.  

Maple-Walnut-Pie

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the ball into a ¼” thick disk and press into a pie pan. Trim and Crimp edges and freeze for 30 minutes.  When it’s ready to bake, brush the edges with egg wash.   

Maple-Walnut-Pie

 

Filling

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 recipe Maple-caramel sauce (about 1 cup)
  • ½ tsp all-purpose flour
  • Pinch kosher salt
  • ⅓  cups chopped walnut pieces
  • ½  tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten

Maple-Walnut-Pie
Combine all the ingredients and stir (here, you can leave off the nuts until after the it’s poured in the the shells). Pour into prepared pie shells and bake for about 30 minutes or until the center is set and the internal temperature reached 200°F.Maple-Walnut-Pie

I love a good baking challenge — I’m not sure if I’ll enter the Good Food Pie Contest next year, but it’s a temptation that’s hard to resist. 

Maple-Walnut-Pie

 

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. mistimaan says:

    Looks yummy 🙂

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