Growing up, my family opted for ease at Thanksgiving, as there were at least twenty of us gathering around. And that meant ordering the cooked turkey and dressing from S&S Cafeteria and picking it up on Thanksgiving morning. Needless to say, the side dishes were the stars for me in those days. Sweet potato casserole (with marshmallows on top — can you say "Sugar Coma"), asparagus, green beans, and rice and gravy were our family's traditional side dishes. Dessert for the children was often red Jello, with boiled custard. No wonder my father and I took up baking together!
In 1999, we were gathering at my aunt's house and by then the crowd had increased with the addition of spouses and grandchildren. Lucky for everyone, we had also discovered that a homemade bird was infintely better than the "store-bought" ones of our youth. There is absolutely no comparison to the cafeteria turkeys of my childhood!
Everyone chipped in to bring a dish and I opted for dessert. I brought Derby Pie, and also tried my hand at the Pecan Tart in that year's Gourmet magazine. The Derby Pies were a family favorite from my college days when I worked at the Pawleys Island Inn, but the Pecan Tart immediately replaced Derby Pie as the dessert with the “wow” factor. I have made it every year since as you can tell by the battered recipe.
Gourmet | November 1999
Makes 8 servings
• Pastry dough
• 3/4 cup sugar
• 1 cup light corn syrup
• 3 large eggs
• 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
• 1 teaspoon vanilla
• 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
• 1 3/4 cups pecan halves
• 10- by 1-inch tart pan with a removable fluted bottom
• Pie weights or raw rice
• Accompaniment: lightly whipped cream
Make pastry dough as directed. Roll out dough into a 15-inch round on a lightly floured surface and fit into tart pan. Roll rolling pin over top of pan to trim dough flush with rim and lightly prick bottom all over with a fork. Chill 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 375°F.
Line shell with foil and fill with pie weights. Bake in middle of oven 20 minutes. Remove weights and foil and bake shell until pale golden, 6 to 10 minutes more. Cool in pan on a rack.
Cook sugar in a dry heavy saucepan over moderately low heat, stirring slowly with a fork, until melted and pale golden. Cook caramel without stirring, swirling pan, until deep golden. Add corn syrup and simmer, stirring occasionally, until caramel is dissolved (it will harden before dissolving). Remove pan from heat and cool mixture until it stops bubbling.
Whisk eggs with a pinch of salt in a bowl. Whisk caramel mixture into eggs in a slow stream and whisk in butter, vanilla, and lemon juice until butter is melted. Spread pecans in bottom of tart shell and pour in filling, tapping down pecans to coat.
Bake tart in middle of oven until crust is golden and filling is puffed, 20 to 25 minutes, and cool in pan on a rack.
Cooks' note: Tart may be made 1 day ahead and chilled, covered. Warm in a preheated 375ºF oven to recrisp crust.