Twist on pecan pie adds flair to tradition

Shockingly, just 15 days separate this column from Thanksgiving. For those who will be wearing the apron on Nov. 22, this means that a finely choreographed production is about to commence. Anyone who has been through this holiday ritual knows that organization and advanced preparation are key.

For those of us who spend Thanksgiving with the same family and friends every year, the menu is often more or less set in stone. Family traditions dictate that a certain dressing and various relatives’ recipes for customary side dishes are the ones to be served. Not serving Grandma’s cranberry sauce would be sacrilege.

I used to wish that the Thanksgiving menu could be more flexible, but I’ve resigned myself to the social necessity of the holiday routine. Even if Grandma’s cranberry sauce recipe could use a little more cinnamon and a little less sugar, such traditions reunite us with childhood and family history. They anchor our lives.

That’s not to say that I’ve given up trying to slip a new dish into the time-honored menu or to reinterpret the old standards. Subtlety and compromise are essential, though. The most effective approach is to leave the traditional dishes on the table but to add an alternative.

The easiest place to update the Thanksgiving menu without raising hackles is the dessert selections. Particularly if a large crowd is expected or guests will be staying and eating over a couple of days, additional desserts will be appreciated. So long as the traditional pumpkin, apple and pecan pies are represented, what is the harm in offering another choice?

This year my subversive offering will be a pie made from a recipe in the November issue of Fine Cooking. The recipe, for a Chocolate Espresso Pecan Pie, was developed by Karen Barker of the Magnolia Grill in Durham, N.C. Barker also is the author of “Sweet Stuff: Karen Barker’s American Desserts,” a wonderful collection of recipes.

Use your favorite recipe for a single, pre-baked 9-inch crust with this filling. Also, don’t worry about pouring filling over the pecan halves. The pecans will rise as the filling cooks and will be sitting on top of the finished pie.

Chocolate Espresso Pecan Pie

3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped

2 ounces (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter

4 large eggs

1 cup light corn syrup

1 cup granulated syrup

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

2 tablespoons instant espresso powder (or instant coffee)

2 tablespoons coffee liqueur (Kahlua or Caffe Lolita)

2 cups lightly toasted, coarsely chopped pecans

About 1/2 cup perfect pecan halves

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Melt the chocolate and butter in the microwave or in a small metal bowl set in a skillet of barely simmering water, stirring with a rubber spatula until smooth.

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk the eggs, corn syrup, sugar and salt. Dissolve the instant espresso in 1 tablespoon hot water and add to the egg mixture, along with the coffee liqueur and the melted chocolate and butter. Whisk to blend.

Evenly spread the toasted pecan pieces in a 9-inch, pre-baked pie shell. To form a decorative border, arrange the pecan halves around the perimeter of the pie shell, on top of the pecan pieces, keeping the points of the pecan halves facing the center and the backs just touching the crust. Carefully pour the filling over the pecans until the shell is three-quarters full. Pour the remaining filling into a liquid measuring cup or small pitcher. Transfer the pie to the oven and pour in the remaining filling.

Bake until the filling puffs up, just starts to crack and appears fairly set, 45 to 55 minutes. Transfer the pie to a rack and allow it to cool completely (at least 4 hours) before serving.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.