Bourbon Ginger-Pecan Pie
This is the first recipe I ever really developed on my own, at the tumultuous age of 15.
Every year, our family would drive for 5 hours up winding roads to our ski condo in Vermont for Thanksgiving, and my job was pie.
Through all the teenage drama I was going through (boys, school, drugs, you name it), I found a refuge in baking.
It was a way to tune it all out and just focus on this one thing in front of me, and in that out of control time, that feeling of agency and ownership was really empowering.
Everyone in my family has a food niche: My mom’s a chocolatier, whose delicious truffles were a serious hobby before she made them her profession; my brother’s a chef with expertise in everything from classic French cuisine to the hottest, funkiest southeast Asian dishes; my dad is a Caesar salad virtuoso.
Baker, and pie baker in particular, has always been my culinary role within our family.
Starting with a classic recipe for bourbon pecan pie, clipped from somewhere back when people still clipped recipes, I made annual edits and modifications over the years, until I finally reached what you see here.
Years after coming up with this recipe, I entered it in a local pie contest in Brooklyn on a total whim (and at the vociferous encouragement of my boyfriend, Jay). It wound up winning, and that started me on the exciting and unexpected path of founding my pie company. Funny how something as modest as a pie can change everything.
The crust is savory and super buttery (cultured, high-fat Butter with a capital B), and good enough to eat on its own.
I learned early that swapping traditional, cloying corn syrup for rich, flavorful maple syrup greatly improves the flavor of the filling, while retaining that gooey texture we all want from our pecan pie.
A generous shot of bourbon (don’t use anything you wouldn’t drink) is complemented by a spicy bite of ginger.
I use fresh, dried, and candied ginger in this guy, inspired by my mom’s approach to flavoring her truffles. The basic idea is that layering different variations of a single flavor creates a more intense, nuanced, and sophisticated end result. In this, and many other things, she’s right.
As they should be, the pecans are the star. I get mine from Rio Grande Organics, a family-run business in Texas growing delicious, beautiful pecans without the use of harmful chemicals or pesticides. I like to use smaller pieces as opposed to pecan halves–while the latter may look pretty, I find the smaller pieces to be easier and more pleasant to eat.
I hope this recipe inspires you to bake a pie for your family this Thanksgiving.
Even though I now bake pies for a living, I still love the meditative, soothing process of cutting butter into flour, rolling and shaping the dough with my hands, and dishing up slices for my loved ones.
I’m not 15 anymore, but my life still has its turbulence, and baking is still my refuge.
It’s a wonderful way to create time for your own enjoyment, and to share that pleasure with others.
Makes one 9-inch pie
Classic Pie Crust
3⁄4 cup (11⁄2 sticks/170 g) unsalted European-style cultured butter
1⁄4 cup (55 g) rendered leaf lard OR additional butter
1⁄2 cup (120 ml) whole milk
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar (or any light-colored, mild vinegar)
12 ounces (340 g/approximately 3 cups; see Note) unbleached all-purpose flour (chilled)
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1⁄2 teaspoons salt
Bourbon Ginger-Pecan Pie
1 cup (220 g) firmly packed dark brown sugar
1⁄2 cup (120 ml) real maple syrup (Grade B preferred)
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 to 3 tablespoons good bourbon (I use Maker’s Mark)
2 teaspoons (about a 2-inch/5-cm piece) finely grated peeled fresh ginger (a Microplane is great for this)
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1⁄4 teaspoon salt
1 1⁄2 cups (170 g) pecan pieces
About 1⁄4 cup (43 g) crystallized ginger, finely chopped
Egg wash or milk, for glaze
Classic Pie Crust
My go-to pie crust has undergone a lot of changes over the years.
This recipe is as close to perfect as I’ve been able to find. You can use all butter, or you can replace some of the butter with leaf lard or trans fat—free shortening, which will give you a surefire flaky crust without sacrificing buttery goodness.
As with all simple recipes, both the quality and treatment of your ingredients are paramount. I use unbleached all-purpose flour and add a little cornstarch, which helps to ensure a tender, flaky crust. I use a European-style cultured butter, which is higher in butterfat than most American butters, and its lower water content and rich buttery flavor result in a more reliable and more delicious crust. If you’re using lard to replace some of the butter, try to get your hands on some leaf lard. It’s the superfine lard from around the pig’s kidneys. It has the lightest, least-porky flavor, and will guarantee you an incredibly flaky, tender pie crust.
I avoid shortening; I’m just not a fan of putting such highly processed ingredients in my pie dough. However, if you want to use shortening, be sure to get one with no trans fats.
To bind the dough together, instead of water I use organic whole milk, which I sour with a little apple cider vinegar. Again, this is all about adding fat (which is synonymous with flavor!) and keeping the water content down, which helps prevent your crust from shrinking and helps it stay nice and flaky.
Lastly, the most important thing to remember is to keep your ingredients COLD, and to avoid overworking the dough while you’re making it. I keep my flour in the freezer so it’s ready at all times, and after cutting my butter into cubes, I put it back in the fridge to cool down for a few minutes before using.
This should be a fun, soothing, and meditative process that is full of enjoyment, so do what feels right!
Prepare the butter and lard, if using. Cut the butter into ½-inch (12-mm) cubes (a bench scraper is perfect for this, but a sharp knife works well too), and cut the lard into small pieces. Return them to the fridge or freezer to cool.
In a liquid measuring cup, stir together the milk and vinegar. Refrigerate the mixture until ready to use.
On a clean flat surface or in a large shallow bowl, toss the flour, cornstarch, sugar, and salt together lightly to blend. Add the butter and lard (if using) to the dry ingredients and, using the tool of your choice, cut the fat into the flour with speed and patience, until the fat has been reduced to small pea-sized chunks. Try to use a straight up-and-down motion, avoiding twisting your wrists, as the more you press on the flour the more tough gluten will develop in the dough. Avoid using your fingers, as the heat from your hands will melt the fat and further encourage gluten development. Unlike with pasta or bread, gluten is the enemy of pie dough, so be gentle, and be quick!
Once your fat has been cut down to size, spread your mixture out gently to expose as much surface area as possible. Gently drizzle about half of your milk mixture over the flour, trying to cover as wide an area as you can.
Using bench scrapers or a large spoon, toss the flour over the liquid (don’t stir; just lightly toss), spread everything out again, and repeat the process with the second half of the liquid.
You should now have a dough that will just hold together when pressed against the bowl, with visible little chunks of butter. If you need to add more liquid to bind it, do so with more cold milk, adding a tablespoon at a time until you reach the right texture. It’s not an exact science, as everything from the humidity in the air to the dryness of your flour will affect the consistency of your dough.
Once you’ve reached your goal, cover the dough tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for at least 1 hour. The dough can be kept in the fridge for up to 1 week, well wrapped, or in the freezer for up to 2 months.
Food Processor Instructions
Prepare the butter, lard, and milk mixture as instructed above.
In the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade, add the dry ingredients and pulse once to blend. Remove the lid and add the fat. Replace the lid, have your milk mixture ready, and turn on the processor. After a couple of seconds, start to slowly pour the milk down the feed tube of the processor. As soon as all the milk has been added, turn off the machine. Pour the dough onto plastic wrap, bind it tightly, and refrigerate it for at least 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 425°F (220°C).
Roll out the dough into a circle about 11 inches (28 cm) in diameter. Transfer it to a 9-inch (23-cm) pie plate, trim the overhang to about 1 inch (2.5 cm), tuck the overhang under, and crimp decoratively. Blind-bake the pie crust until partially baked; set it aside to cool. Lower the oven to 350ºF (175ºC).
Make the filling: In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar, syrup, eggs, bourbon, fresh ginger, ground ginger, and salt.
Put the pie crust on a baking sheet. Brush the crust edges with egg wash or milk. Add the pecans and crystallized ginger to the pie shell. Pour the liquid filling into the pie shell and bake it for 25 to 30 minutes, until the filling has just set and is still slightly wobbly in the center. Remove the pie to a wire rack to cool completely, at least 1 hour.
This pie can be refrigerated for up to 1 week, covered in plastic wrap. Let it come to room temperature before serving, or warm it in a low oven.
It can be kept frozen for up to 2 months: Cover it in plastic wrap, then in foil, and let it come to room temperature before serving.
This pie can easily shoulder some chocolate! Just melt about 2 ounces (55 g) of bittersweet chocolate and stir it into the filling before pouring it into your pie shell.
Photo credit: Tina Rupp
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