#37 Caramel-Pecan Hand Pies

Posted by Chrisi

I know that pure corn syrup is not the same as high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Yet, I have avoided the genre of nut pies like the plague (it’s rare to find a recipe without it!). My irrational-self made a villain of corn syrup just a mass media has made a villain of HFCS. While corn syrup is a precursor to HFCS, it shouldn’t be “guilty by association.” That said, Alton Brown provided my irrational-self with a loop hole… Lyle's Golden Syrup. Golden syrup, according to all-knowing Wikipedia, is “a thick, amber-colored form of inverted sugar syrup, made in the process of refining sugar cane juice into sugar.” My scientific self wonders if replacing one manufactured syrup for another is really a gain (I’ll leave that to the nutritionists to debate) but my taste buds claim a victory. Golden syrup has a toasty sweet flavor that adds more dimension to the pie filling (think turbindo sugar in liquid form). Alton Brown uses it in his pecan pies… and I’m not one to argue to Alton Brown. You won’t find Lyle’s gold syrup at your local market. I found it at Harry’s Market in Marrieta, GA (Harry’s is owned by Whole Foods) and at amazon.com.

After that relatively non-informative dissertation on syrups, let me move on to something MUCH more important… the salted caramel pecan hand pies. I am in LOVE with these pies, which were featured in the November 2011 issue of Food & Wine. They are a sh*t-ton of work (it will take you a least half a day to make them) but their sweety-salty-gooey goodness makes the effort worthwhile. I made them for Thanksgiving and again for Christmas (in fact, this is how I spent most of Christmas Day). They are beautiful (make excellent Christmas gifts—just place them in a cellophane bag and tie with a festive bow) and have a long self-life when stored in the frig (one survived two weeks post-bake and it was still amazing). The recipe’s creator, Dani Cone, owner of Seattle’s High 5 Pie, is a genius. If you take the time to make these pies (or you’re luck enough to get one as a Christmas gift), I think you’ll agree… they’re worth loosing great syrup debate.

The recipe below is largely unaltered from the version published in Food & Wine. The on-line recipe can be found at http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/caramel-pecan-hand-pies. I have made minor revisions (replaced corn syrup with golden syrup) and added commentary.

Makes 18 6” hand pies

·       4 cups organic all-purpose flour
·       3 teaspoons salt (original recipe called for 4)
·       2 teaspoons fine raw sugar
·       3/4 cup ice water
·       4 sticks unsalted organic butter, cold and cut into 1/2" dice

·       2 cups fine raw sugar
·       6 tablespoons unsalted butter
·       1/2 cup heavy cream
·       2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
·       Pinch of sea salt
·       5 large eggs; 1 egg beaten (pie glue)
·       6 oz. pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped (toast at 375F for 8-10 min.)
·       1 cup of Lyle’s Golden Syrup (original recipe used corn syrup)
·       Turbinado sugar for sprinkling the tops


Making these pies will take half a day.  When I made them for Thanksgiving, I made the dough and filling on one day and assembled/baked the pies the following day.

Crust: In a large (preferably 12-cup) food processor, combine the flour, salt and sugar. Pulse the mixture once or twice.  Add the butter and pulse ~8 times.  Fluff the dough with a fork, then add half of the ice water.  Pulse ~8 more times and fluff.  Judge the consistency of the dough to determine if all of the remaining water is needed.  Enough water has been added when the dough holds together when pinched.  After addition of all the water, repeat final pulse/fluff step.  Turn the dough onto floured parchment paper and form into two equally-sized disks. 

Now here is where I disagree on technique…. Most pie recipes chill the dough prior to rolling it out.  If you work quickly with the food processor, the dough is cold but MUCH easier to roll out than thoroughly chilled dough.  I immediately rolled the dough out on floured parchment paper to ~1/8” thick, slid the paper onto cookie sheets, and chilled in the frig while I made the filling.  It’s much easier to cut and assemble the pies when the dough is just above refrigerator temp.  If you choose the two-day-assembly approach, cover the dough with Saran wrap so that it doesn’t dry out.

Caramel sauce.  In a smallish saucepan, combine 1 cup of sugar with 1/2 cup of water.  Cook over medium heat, allowing a low boil.  Periodically swirl the sugar solution to check the consistently (otherwise, let it be).  Cook until the caramel is a medium-amber, about 10 minutes.  Remove from heat and whisk in the butter, cream, 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract and a pinch of sea salt.  Transfer 1 cup of the caramel to a large bowl and let it cool slightly (please let me know what you do with the remaining sauce??).  Whisk 1 cup of sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, the golden syrup and 4 unbeaten eggs into the caramel.  Mix in the toasted pecans and a pinch of sea salt.

Spread the pie filing onto a greased 9x13 baking sheet.  Bake at 350F for ~30 minutes, or until the filling is set.  (Note: Rotate the tray at ~15 minutes to ensure even cooking and carefully watch the edges to ensure they don’t burn).  Transfer the filling to a bowl and re-mix.  Allow the filling to cool to room temperature before assembling the pies.

Cut the chilled dough into ~6” circles.  (The first time I made the pies, I used my mother’s Faberware saucepan lid. Perfect!  The second time around (I was at home) I had to purchase a set of circular cookie cutters from Michaels). Brush each disk with beaten egg.    Add a scant 1/4 cup of pecan filling onto each round and fold the dough over to form a half-moon.  Press the edges to seal and crimp with the tines of a fork.  Brush the tops with beaten egg and sprinkle with turbinado sugar.  Use a sharp knife to make decorative vent holes.  Bake at 350F for ~40 min. or until golden brown.  Cool slightly on a wire rack before serving. 

Note: These pies are excellent re-heated in the microwave (~30 s).


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