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.
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.
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.”
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?”
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.
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.
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
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.
Printer-Friendly Recipe – Coconut Pecan “Why Not” Pie with Walnuts and Toffee