One thing about being a grown-up: it can be tricky to make new friends. Sure, I meet people that seem like I’d like to be friends with them, but finding the time to become friends is tough. Then there is staying in touch with old friends. People you’d love to talk to everyday. People who make you smile and feel good about the world and the way you go through it. People you truly love but to whom you only speak or see occasionally because everyone has not just jobs but careers and not just families but small children. Some days I feel very forlorn that so many people I love live far away and in any case we’re all so busy as evidenced by how infrequently I see dear friends who live within an hour (hey, even a five minute walk is too much to navigate much of the time!) of my house; on better days I feel extraordinarily lucky that I have so many people to miss.
On top of all this is the difficulty of finding couples with whom one can, if one is in a couple, be friends with as couples. My dashing husband and I definitely have an ample shared section of the Venn diagram of people we like. And yet… so many factors have to come together for it all to work. The least of which may be the extent to which couples come in the very oddest combinations sometimes.
So when on Sunday night we had dinner at a couple friends’ house and were served scrumptious roast chicken and mushroom risotto and all the adults had a bit more wine than perhaps they should have while the children entertained themselves in other parts of the house, I was very happy I had spent the afternoon baking them a pie. It is a sad cliché, but it is true (and the reason why I have never ever wanted to work in or run a restaurant) that when I cook for you I am saying “I love you,” or at the very least I am saying “I think you are a lovely/funny/interesting person, I hope you enjoy this pie.”
Wait a second, you ask, back up. Why would it take all afternoon to bake a pie? Well, I didn’t get started until 2 because my son and I had spent the earlier part of the day with my Very Tall Cousin Sam being thwarted at every turn: it rained at the flea market and instead of leaving with a coffee table and a dining table and nightstands and a few chairs and a desk and vintage Christmas ornaments and “toys” we left with a coffee table and not one single other thing except a now-broken once-favorite umbrella, the Pixar show at the Oakland Museum was sold out, the tofu place wasn’t open.
So around 2 I donned my apron and started in on the walnut pie I had in my mind’s eye. The first walnut-laced crust was a disaster. It melted into a puddle of an overly buttery cake-like-but-not-delicious thing in the middle of the pie pan.
So I made a regular crust and what was essentially my world-famous pecan pie with walnuts and maple syrup in lieu of pecans and corn syrup. It wasn’t the pie I imagined but it was, by all accounts, fabulous. Best crust I have ever made. Ultra-flaky. I finally tried that trick where you use vodka instead of water. There simply isn’t as much water in 2 tablespoons of vodka as there is in 2 tablespoons of water, so there is less water to develop the gluten in the flour and take away from the flaky-tender potential inherent in flour and butter. The dough, however, is tender and delicate too, so it requires a kind hand when rolling out and getting into the pie pan.
May I suggest bringing it to people who make you smile?
This is basically my pecan pie recipe. I love pecan pie but find most of them cloying. The bitterness of the walnuts tame the already not-too-sweet nature of this particular version. Plus I used maple syrup in place of the corn syrup, but I think we’ve established that I’m a bit maple-crazy these days.
2 1/2 cup walnuts
1 9-inch pie crust (buy one or make one – I used this pie crust recipe but left out the sugar and used vodka instead of water)
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup packed brown sugar (dark or light, either works)
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons whiskey of whatever sort – including bourbon – you prefer (optional but very tasty)
Preheat oven to 350F.
Lay walnuts on a baking sheet and bake until toasted, 5 to 10 minutes. Watch them very carefully. Walnuts go from toasted to burnt in a snap and this is a lot of walnuts. Let them cool. (Alternatively, you can toast them in a large frying pan over medium-high heat watching constantly and stirring frequently for 5 to 10 minutes.)
Roll crust and place it in a pie pan. Oil or butter the shiny side of a piece of foil and place it, oiled side down, on the pie crust. Fill with pie weights or dry beans. Bake 15 minutes. Carefully remove the foil and bake another 5 minutes. Let cool a bit.
While pie crust bakes, melt the butter in a medium saucepan. Add the syrup, sugar, cream, and salt. Stir until the sugar completely dissolves. Take off the heat and let cool to at least a warm room temperature. Stir in cooled off walnuts. Pour into partially-baked pie crust, place pie pan on a baking sheet (to save your oven in case it bubbles over), and bake until the entire filling is bubbling vigorously – and that includes the very middle of the pie, about 40 minutes. Let cool until set (see above) before serving.
Be warned that this pie has some body to it. It’s basically caramel-coated nuts in a crust. It is not for the weak of jaw or the newly crowned teeth. If you want that gooey, soft style nut pie there are many recipe out there that use a lot more cream and a fair amount of corn syrup and even eggs. Those are not the nut pies for me. This one is good on its own and sheer perfection with whipped or ice cream.