Growing up in the United States, you assume pie is something sweet. But if you’re from New Zealand, the default for pie is meat. This was one of the lessons from my first pie competition last year, an annual benefit for Wellington’s City Mission thrown by Daminda and Valentina Dias, Wellington’s “pie queen” of Pudding Lane and Cafe Polo fame. It was also the first time I ever baked a pie (Big Apple Sour Cream Walnut in homage to the Little Pie Company and Adrienne Shelly who made Waitress, the best pie movie ever, both from my old neighborhood in NYC). What a humbling experience! This year I dove deeper into my memory pie-hole and pulled out the decadent chocolate walnut and bourbon pie associated with the Kentucky Derby and a favorite from Tippins Pie Pantry in Kansas City.
Though the exact history of the pie is not clear, it represents not only a preference for sweet foods but two other great American addictions: litigation and corn. Originally called derby pie, Tippins changed the name to dixie pie to avoid litigation with Kern’s Kitchen, who has defended a registered trademark for “derby pie” since the 1950s. In The American Century Cookbook, Jean Anderson notes surprise that there are no records of recipes of this traditional dessert (as pecan pie) before the early 20th century and that it may have actually been created by Karo corn syrup’s economists. If they didn’t originate it, they certainly popularized it, as nearly all recipes call for Karo by name. The ingredients also include bourbon whiskey, which is made from corn.
Here in New Zealand, you’ll find variteties of golden syrup on the grocery shelves rather than corn syrup. I first assumed that “golden syrup” was a euphemism for golden corn syrup, but it’s a thick form of inverted sugar-syrup made from sugar cane, also known as pale treacle. In this pie however, you’ll find organic grade B maple syrup, because that’s what was in my cupboard, and it tastes delicious with both chocolate and walnuts.
Decadent Deep-South Dark Chocolate Walnut Pie
Deep-south here refers to New Zealand as much as the US as my ingredients were not traditional. But the crunchy and custardy textures and flavors hit all the right notes of my dixie pie memories.
Confession: This year I bought fresh pastry dough made by the wondrous Marie of the organic La Patisserie de Marie & Nico in Miramar, Wellington because it’s the best I’ve ever tasted. (And because last year the pie dough making took the better part of a day.) If I hadn’t, I would have used Martin Bosley’s shortcut pastry (adapted from Rachel Taulelei’s 12 September Newsletter for Wellington’s City Market, where she describes her own pie entry, the delicious ‘Four and Twenty Titi” pie that was my first taste of the distinctive muttonbird) below, not only because it sounds simple and good, but also because he was one of the judges.
a pinch of salt
70g unsalted butter, chilled
Put the flour and salt into a bowl and add the butter in small chunks. Cut into the flour with a small knife and rub with your fingertips until the mix resembles fine breadcrumbs. It only takes a couple of minutes to do this, but you could use the food processor if you prefer. Sprinkle a little cold water over the crumbs and bring to a rollable dough (it should look slightly crumbly but firm enough to roll), adding more water if needed. Cover in plastic wrap and set aside in the fridge for 30 minutes. Cut the pastry in half and roll it out on a lightly floured kitchen bench, then line a 22cm/9″ pie pan, leaving a good amount of pastry overhanging the edges to be trimmed off.
1 1/2 cups (150 g) walnut pieces or halves
1/2 cups walnut halves
2 ounces (57 g) organic dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
3 large eggs
1 cup gur or jaggery (unrefined sugar made from raw sugarcane juice)
1 cup maple syrup
2 tablespoons (25g) salted butter
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier (Typically bourbon is used, but this turned out great.)
Preheat the oven to 180Â°C (350Â°F) and place the oven rack in the bottom third of the oven
Melt the chocolate in a stainless steel bowl placed over a saucepan of simmering water, then set aside.
Whisk the eggs in a large bowl, then whisk in the jaggery (sugar), maple syrup, melted butter, vanilla extract, and stir in the melted chocolate.
Place the walnut pieces across the bottom the crust and pour the filling over the walnuts. Arrange the walnut halves in on top of the pie in a decorative pattern.
Place the pie on a baking sheet and bake for 50 to 60 minutes until the filling is puffed up but still wobbly when gently shaken. If the pastry edges are getting brown, cover with foil to prevent burning. (I could have done this a little earlier.)
Remove from oven and allow to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.
This pie features additional dark chocolate drizzled on top, but the walnut design is pretty on its own too. I presented a big bowl of delicious Kohu Road Vanilla ice cream along with the pie, which was not the most brilliant choice for an all-evening event, as the ice cream melted into a bowl of soup early in the evening (see below).
Though my pie didn’t win any awards, it got lots of compliments, and I was delighted it had all been eaten by the end of the evening. The competition was fierce and amazing (examples below). Third place went to a daring combination of spiced duck with medjool dates, and second place was an exquisitely presented, visually pleasing red wine, pear, and pistachio pie with well-integrated flavours. The first prize winner dove and caught his own paua (abalone) for the unusual and wonderful paua, bacon and leek pie.
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And now to start thinking about next year… if you have any recommendations, let me know! In the meantime, I’ll study KCRW’s Good Food Pie-A-Day series and piecasts.
Thanks Stephanie Jaworski for the pie history lesson and inspiring chocolate pecan pie recipe.