Coconut Pecan “Why Not” Pie with Walnuts and Toffee

March 15, 2011 at 1:43 am 83 comments

Coconut Pecan "Why Not" Pie with Walnuts and Toffee

17 and Baking turns two years old this week. I almost missed it.

In the past, I spent afternoons alone in the kitchen, flour dusting my palms and lots of quiet thoughts in my head. Afterwards I wrote about the baking process, my love for fresh ingredients, the joy of brainstorming desserts and sharing them with my family. I had more ideas than photographs.

I went a record-breakingly long time without posting as of today. Looking at my life it’s clear why I’m struggling to blog. Though I’m happier than ever, I’m living between sips of coffee and half hour power-naps. The biggest issue is that I haven’t been baking. At all. I use photographs of desserts I baked last summer to keep this blog running. While there’s a trunk of baking supplies beneath my bed and a working oven in the dorm building down the street, I haven’t used it once this year.

Coconut Pecan "Why Not" Pie with Walnuts and Toffee

Over Thanksgiving and winter break, reunited with family, I obligingly creamed butter and whipped cream, but frankly, much of the magic was gone. I’ve never lost my passions for writing, photography and baking, but my weariness shows. I’m scared that 17 and Baking is in decline, that I’m losing something I consider such an important part of myself.

My boyfriend I-’s birthday was a few Fridays ago. He wanted to go up to Maine and spend several days with his family, and at the last minute I went along too.

“You’ll be able to bake,” he said, convincing me to come.

I was nervous to meet his parents and sister and his friends, more nervous than I wanted to let on. But for the first time in a long time, I was excited to make something for his birthday. That outburst of butterflies in my chest was so comfortingly familiar, so nearly forgotten, it was almost painful.

Coconut Pecan "Why Not" Pie with Walnuts and Toffee

The next afternoon we drove to the local grocery store. I’m not used to buying staples at once – usually I have all the basic ingredients on hand, though I might need more chocolate slabs or an unusual spice. We picked up flour, sugar, heavy cream, local homemade butter. But I couldn’t decide what to make. I hadn’t flipped through a cookbook or wanted to make something in so long, and I actually felt out of my element in the baking aisle.

I- kept making suggestions, and I kept shooting them down. The possibilities were overwhelming. “You have to pick something,” he said finally as we wheeled the cart around the entire store for the third or fourth time. “Make a pecan pie.”

Why not?

We threw pecans into the cart. “Maybe some walnuts?” I- was holding another bag. “Those might be good with the pecans.” Into the cart. “Milk chocolate toffee bits? In the pie? Yes?” Yes. He kept smiling whenever he saw me start to smile back.

I don’t always like getting a million suggestions from someone else when it comes to baking, but I didn’t mind. Even when he paused at the end of the aisle and added, “You should put in some coconut.” I know my dad will picture my usual eye-roll and heavy sigh but instead I said, “Why not?”

Coconut Pecan "Why Not" Pie with Walnuts and Toffee

I watched every bag, carton, box pass across the scanner and pack into shopping bags. I helped carry them to the car trunk. At the house, I arranged them on the counter and stared for a good minute. It felt unreal.

I winged a good deal of the recipe, just throwing things in. I-’s mom and sister popped in a few times to see how I was making the pie totally from scratch. There was a moment when the crust was in the freezer and the nuts were all chopped in a bowl and suddenly I felt like I was breathing for the first time in months.

I-’s family and I ate dinner together as the pie cooled in the kitchen. When the plates were cleared, I’-s dad went next door to borrow a bit of bourbon so I could make bourbon whipped cream. I beat the cream to stiff peaks, folded in the bourbon, and cut the pie. I could feel my heart thumping and the heat rising to my cheeks as the first slices made it to the table, so nervous. What if it wasn’t good? What if I was really, really out of practice?

“Oh my gosh,” somebody said, and round 2 of pie became a reality.

Coconut Pecan "Why Not" Pie with Walnuts and Toffee

Later I- and I brought a wedge of pie over to the neighbors, along with some whipped cream. It turned out the bourbon was decades old, saved from a wedding. I couldn’t believe something so special had been opened and shared. When I- and I headed back to his house, I kept hoping the pie would be delicious, wanting them to get as much happiness from it as possible.

None of the whipped cream survived the night, but in the morning, I pulled out the Canon and shot some food photography for the first time in too long.

An out-of-the-blue pecan pie, dropped into my life weeks before 17 and Baking turns two. There are a lot of things I love about this pie – it’s sophisticated and rustic, unfussy with complex flavors. It isn’t overly sweet or sticky and there’s no light corn syrup involved. I love that my boyfriend came up with most of it. I love that it was shared and gobbled up embarrassingly fast. In so many ways, this pie reminded me of why I love to bake and why I’ll continue to blog.

Happy birthday, 17 and Baking. Eat some pie.

Coconut Pecan "Why Not" Pie with Walnuts and Toffee

No light corn syrup! The resulting pie isn’t as sturdy to slice as others, but it’s a lot less sticky and sugary. It wasn’t soupy at all, a pitfall some pecan pies fall into. It helps that the pie filling is nestled between a flaky, buttery crust and a not-too-sweet whipped cream jazzed up with bourbon.

The toffee bits we found were from Hershey’s, in the baking section. You could replace them with chocolate chips or leave them out completely, but I thought they added something special and different to the pie.

When I considered the coconut flakes, I didn’t want the pie to become too sweet. We got sweetened coconut flakes (and besides, it’s so hard to find unsweetened ones in the average grocery store.) I discovered a way to “unsweeten” sweetened coconut flakes, and while it isn’t a perfect substitute, it works in a pinch.

Place the sweetened coconut flakes in a sieve rinse with very hot water, until all the sugar washes off. Squeeze out the excess liquid with your hands and spread the flakes out on a flat sieve or paper towel. When they dry they’ll be un-sweetened and fluffy again.

Coconut Pecan “Why Not” Pie with Walnuts and Toffee
Makes a 9″ pie
A 17 and Baking original

1 stick cold butter, cut into small pieces
1 ½ cups flour
1 ½ tablespoons sugar
4 tablespoons ice water

2 eggs
½ cup butter, melted and cooled to room temperature
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 tablespoon flour
1 tablespoon milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup chopped pecans
½ cup chopped walnuts
1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
½ cup chocolate toffee bits

Bourbon Whipped Cream
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon bourbon

To make the crust, stir the flour and sugar together in the bowl of a mixer. Use the paddle to beat the butter in, cutting it until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs (you can also do this in a food processor or by hand with a pastry blender or fork.) Dribble in the water while stirring the mixture until the dough clumps. Gently knead a few times until the dough forms a ball. Flatten into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Roll the dough out into a circle and press into a 9″ glass pie pan. Freeze for half an hour.

To make the filling, lightly beat the eggs in a medium bowl. Stir in the melted butter, which should be cooled to room temperature. Mix in the sugar, flour, milk, and vanilla extract. Mix the pecans, walnuts, coconut and toffee bits together in a large bowl, then combine with the egg mixture. Pour into the unbaked 9” pie crust and top with pretty pecan halves. Bake at 350 degrees F for 15 minutes, then lower the oven temperature to 300 degrees F and bake for another 55 minutes, or until crust is golden and top has gently cracked. Cool to room temperature.

To make the bourbon whipped cream, whip the heavy cream by hand or with an electric mixer until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in the sugar and continue to whip until stiff peaks form. Gently fold in the bourbon with a heavy spatula. Refrigerate until using and dollop on the slices of pie.

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83 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Rayna  |  March 18, 2011 at 5:42 pm

    Just found your site and I love it! I guess you could say I’m 18 and baking, and I just started my own food blog after following a few others for quite some time. Looking forward to keeping mine up and hearing more from you! that pecan pie looks awesome :)

  • 2. Anne  |  March 19, 2011 at 6:52 pm

    What a great recipe and great story. Can’t wait to try this. Have a stash of pecans just waiting to be used up for this pie. Thanks so much. Great blog!

  • 3. Dylla Burn  |  March 20, 2011 at 10:05 am

    hi there…
    honestly, i cant wait for your new post everyday! your baking is amazing and it keep on inspiring! keep on posting good recipes, i m sure i,ll try to make all the recipes posted by you. thanks sis!

  • 4. Geni - Sweet and Crumby  |  March 20, 2011 at 5:58 pm

    Amazing to make a pie on the fly like that in an unknown kitchen. Obviously, you are a gifted baker and a very talented writer as well. College is a tough time to conquer all of the things you want to do. Your blog will always be here so just let it wait until inspiration hits you like it did and then it will be great as usual.—Take care.

  • 5. annelise  |  March 21, 2011 at 10:43 pm

    Hey Elissa, I just wanted to let you know that I made this pie today and it is DELICIOUS! It is probably the best pecan pie I have ever had.
    I’m 16 and you inspire me to keep baking and pursuing my passions. I know college is stressful, but hopefully you don’t lose sight of who you are and what you love along the way.
    Again, great recipe and I’m looking foward to your next post!

  • 6. leslie  |  March 22, 2011 at 10:26 pm

    I have anticipated another post. This, as usual, was lovely. It is a treat to read your blog. The story, the description of the ingredients, the adjectives, the photography, the inspiration…….Every post is like the best gift. It is well thought out, it is “presented” perfectly and beautifully, the “card” is heartfelt, and it just all seems to be completed with such flair. Lots of people can bake. Lots of people can write beautifully. Lots of people can take lovely photos. It takes real finesse to bring all those talents together like you do. I love it when people are willing to share their recipes and talents. It is a shame to selfishly keep them. Further, you are generous enough to share your baking notes and experiences. Don’t worry about that trunk…it will be waiting for you as will those of us who admire your work and passion. I look forward with wonder to your next inspiration……eye rolling and all.

  • 7. K  |  March 23, 2011 at 5:39 pm

    E. . .I am so proud of you. . I have only known you for a short while through work in Seattle, but I feel like I have known you forever through your writing and photo’s. . .I really look forward to your posts. . Hope you are well in Boston!!! xoxox Karin

  • 8. Darina  |  March 24, 2011 at 11:38 am

    I can totally relate to the feeling of being overwhelmed and wanting to let the blog fall by the wayside. I really hope you don’t give up anytime soon. Your writing is wonderful and you’re really going places.

  • 9. Madison  |  March 24, 2011 at 4:14 pm

    Like others have said, things will balance out eventually. That pie looks so yummy. You haven’t lost your ability to bake or write, my friend.

  • 10. Monica H  |  March 24, 2011 at 5:45 pm

    Happy birthday 17 and Baking! I love this story abot how this pie came about and I’m even more impressed that you and your boyfriend made it up together. Looks delicious.

  • 11. Emily T  |  March 29, 2011 at 9:05 pm

    Happy birthday blog! This was such a cute story!

  • 12. Lexie  |  March 29, 2011 at 10:28 pm

    I LOVE this post because it shows your true and intense passion for baking and what it means and where it stands in your life. Your passion is admirable, so much so that you not only make me want to get up and bake but feel the wholeness in myself by doing so. I love that it is so much more than a past time to you, but an escape, something that makes you feel complete. Thank you for sharing, love the ideas, love the recipes, love it all!

  • 13. Amanda  |  March 29, 2011 at 11:51 pm

    I just love how you describe your love for baking. It shows how you are a true baker, especially the way you allowed your boyfriend to help you whip all sorts of ingredients together. I was shocked when you said that you felt you were in some way neglecting 17 and Baking. I absolutely love your blogs and with the way you describe your love for baking and the experiences that goes along with it, I hope you never feel like you are neglecting it again!

  • 14. ashley  |  April 4, 2011 at 8:18 pm

    I don’t think that your passion for writing and baking could ever let 17 and Baking go away. All your recipes look delicious and the way you relate it to events in your life is amazing. I love your blogs and am so happy that your continuing them!

  • 15. Heather H.  |  April 5, 2011 at 9:09 am

    I can relate to feeling so swamped with school and other various commitments that can lead you to invariably neglect your passions. When this happens, I usually take a break to reavaluate my priorities for a while, then consider where I spend my time, and how my time management skills can be improved.

  • 16. I-  |  April 12, 2011 at 1:28 pm

    It was as wonderful as you are.

    Love, I-

    • 17. Elissa's Dad  |  April 26, 2011 at 1:59 am


  • 18. Aundrea L.  |  May 10, 2011 at 11:16 am

    So glad you were able to bake something for someone special! It makes it that much more delicious (: No matter how long it takes for you to blog all your friends are here waiting to see what new recipes you have to share with us!

  • 19. S.  |  May 16, 2011 at 10:02 pm

    I can totally relate when you said that you hate it when people give you suggestions about baking! Maybe it’s just an ego thing, but whenever I think that I’m good at something, or even just a little better than average, I hate it when others try to suggest something about it because then for some reason it makes me feel like they don’t think that I’m as good as I think that I am and my ego takes a hit. It’s vain and immature, but I can’t help but feel it. Makes me smile to think that I’m not the only one!

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  • 21. Jean J P  |  January 9, 2012 at 5:27 am

    Being a photographer I loved the photographs more than anything! :) Theyre great!

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Elissa Bernstein

I'm Elissa: a 17 (now 21) year old baker in Seattle Boston juggling creative nonfiction workshops, subway maps, and my passions for writing, baking, and photography. Photo above © Michelle Moore

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