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Author Notes: Salted caramel poured over delicious pecans in a homemade pecan-flour crust is a luxurious alternative to traditional pecan pie. The lighter depth means less guilt and more enjoyment. Topped with homemade whipped cream and flecks of homemade vanilla maple sea salt, this dessert is sure to impress. The recipe is adapted from a Food Network recipe. I reduced the vanilla extract to 1/2 teaspoon in the filling and added 1 tablespoon of turbinado sugar, sprinkled across the top prior to baking. I also changed the finishing touches and used homemade whipped cream and vanilla maple sea salt in place of chocolate drizzle. The finishing touches are what make this dessert stand out. —Dee Wilcox
- Pure canola or olive oil cooking spray
- 1 3/4 cups pecans
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 6 tablespoons cold salted butter, cut into small pieces
- 1 large egg yolk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 large eggs
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon turbinado sugar
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly coat a 9-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom with cooking spray. Spread the pecans on a baking sheet and roast until golden brown, 5 to 10 minutes. Watch carefully and be sure not to let the pecans burn. Remove from oven and let cool.
- Transfer 1/2 cup of the pecans to a food processor; add the flour, sugar and kosher salt and pulse until the nuts are finely ground. Add the butter and pulse until it is in pea-size bits. Pulse in the egg yolk and vanilla until large clumps form.
- Transfer the dough to the prepared pan and press it into the bottom and up the sides. Prick the bottom all over with a fork, then freeze until firm, about 20 minutes. You can freeze the crust longer if you are making this recipe ahead.
- Line the crust with foil and fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake until set, about 25 minutes, then remove the foil and weights and continue baking until golden, 10 to 15 more minutes. Transfer to a rack and let cool completely.
The Salted Caramel Filling and Finishing Touches
- 1 3/4 cups maple syrup
- 2 vanilla beans
- 2 1/2 cups coarse sea salt
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 4 tablespoons salted butter, thinly sliced and at room temperature
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup whipping cream
- 4 tablespoons creme fraiche
- Prepare your ingredients prior to beginning cooking. The process of making caramel moves quickly, so it is important to have your ingredients prepared ahead of time to prevent the caramel from burning. Pull the butter out of the refrigerator first to allow it to come to room temperature.
- Prepare the maple vanilla sea salt ahead of time, a day ahead if possible. Preheat the oven Stir together the maple syrup and sea salt. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and pour the salt mixture into the pan as thinly and evenly as possible. Roast at 200 degrees Fahrenheit for 60 minutes,stirring occasionally. Remove from oven and allow to dry, overnight if possible. In the morning, break apart the salt and allow to dry 2 more hours. Pulse in a blender or food processor to the desired consistency -- still coarse enough for sprinkling. Store in a large jar. Cut open and scrape the inside of the vanilla beans into the salt. Stir or shake to combine. Cut and store the vanilla beans in the salt jar. Remove the beans prior to using.
- Combine the sugar, 1/4 cup water and the kosher salt in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring just until the sugar dissolves. Cook, swirling the pan but not stirring, until amber, 8 to 10 minutes. Brush any sugar crystals off the side of the pan with a wet pastry brush. Remove from the heat and carefully whisk in the heavy cream, butter and vanilla (the mixture will bubble). Return to medium heat and simmer, whisking constantly, until thick enough to coat a spoon, 3 to 4 minutes. Let cool 5 minutes.
- Gently whisk the eggs in a large bowl or 2-quart glass measure with a spout, and gradually whisk in the flour until smooth. Then, whisk in the caramel. Remove the cooled tart crust from its pan and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a Silpat. Arrange the remaining 1 1/4 cups pecans in the bottom and add the filling. Sprinkle the turbinado sugar across the top of the tart. Bake until set around the edge, 30 to 35 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool.
- While the tart is baking, prepare the whipped cream. Follow the instructions for Nancy Silverton's "Whipped Cream with Staying Power": http://food52.com/recipes/14500-nancy-silverton-s-whipped-cream.
- When the tart is completely cool, slice into 8 equal slices. Fill a plastic ziploc with whipped cream, snip a corner, and pipe a small amount of whipped cream onto each slice. Sprinkle with vanilla maple sea salt and serve.
- This recipe was entered in the contest for Your Best Thanksgiving Pie