To MLK — Pecan Pie

January 18, 2010

The megalomaniac differs from the narcissist by the fact that he wishes to be powerful rather than charming, and seeks to be feared rather than loved. To this type belong many lunatics and most of the great men of history.
~Bertrand Russell

Pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. A minister whose nonviolent social activism exposed white American hypocrisy and kindled the way for the civil rights movement. A member of the executive committee of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He conferred with President John Kennedy and campaigned for President Lyndon Johnson. He rubbed elbows with the powerful and walked with the common man. He was arrested upwards of twenty times and assaulted at least four times. Awarded five honorary degrees, he was named Man of the Year by Time magazine in 1963. At the age of 35, Martin Luther King, Jr., was the youngest man to have received the Nobel Peace Prize.

Now to the darker side. Hoping to prove the Reverend was under the influence of subversives, Communists and other sources of obsessive paranoia, the FBI kept the civil rights leader under constant surveillance. The almost fanatical zeal with which the agency pursued King is disclosed in a paper trail of tens of thousands of FBI memos which detailed concerted efforts to derail King’s efforts in the civil rights movement.

The Bureau even convened a meeting of department heads to “explore how best to carry on our investigation to produce the desired results without embarrassment to the Bureau,” which included “a complete analysis of the avenues of approach aimed at neutralizing King as an effective Negro leader.”

In 1963, a month before the March on Washington, the megalomaniacal, capricioius FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover filed a request with then Attorney General Robert Kennedy to tap King’s and his associates’ phones and to bug their homes and offices. Oh, how that whitest of white Hoover destested King. Sadly, Kennedy consented to the technical surveillance, granting the FBI permission to break into King’s office and home to install the bugs, as long as agents recognized the “delicacy of this particular matter” and did not get caught installing them. All ordered with a voyeuristic proviso — Kennedy was to be personally informed of any pertinent findings. Speaking of, was Hoover really a cross-dresser or was that unsubstantiated rumor about the king of rumormongers with his “secret files” on potentates? And as a man that made it his business to blackmail homosexuals, who was this closeted lifelong partner of Hoover’s, agent Clyde “The Glide” Tolson?

Martin Luther King was also a man who adored pie, particularly pecan. As do I. Celebrate his sadly shortened life with a slice.

PECAN PIE

Pastry (Pâte Fine Sucrée)
2 egg yolks
6 T ice water

2 1/2 C all purpose flour
1/4 t salt
3 T granulated white sugar
2 sticks unsalted butter, chilled, and cut into 1″ bits

Filling
1 C dark brown sugar
2/3 C light corn syrup
1 T rum or bourbon
4 T unsalted butter
3 large eggs
1/4 C heavy whipping cream
1/4 t sea salt
2 C pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped

Pastry:
Gently whisk the yolk with the water until it is well blended.

Place the flour, salt, and sugar in a food processor and pulse until combined. Add the butter and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal, about 10-15 seconds. Pour water and yolk mixture through the feed tube until the dough just holds together when pinched. If necessary, add more water. Do not process more than 30 seconds. Knead the dough for less than one minute and your work surface and then gather into a ball.

(Alternatively, place the flour, salt, and sugar in a bowl and combine. Add the butter and work with your hands, mashing it through your fingers to have everything blend together. It will form into small lumps or a cornmeal like consistency after 1 or 2 minutes. Pour the yolk mixture into the bowl and mix vigorously with your fingers until all the ingredients are assembled together into a ball.)

Divide the dough in half, flattening each half into a thick disk, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least one hour before using. This will chill the butter and relax the gluten in the flour.

After chilling, unwrap and place one dough on a floured surface and sprinkle the top of the dough with flour too. Roll the pastry with light pressure, from the center out. To prevent the pastry from sticking to the counter and to ensure uniform thickness, add some flour and keep lifting up and turning the pastry a quarter turn as you roll from the center of the pastry outwards. Turn the dough over once or twice during the rolling process until it is about 11″ in diameter and less than 1/4″ thick. Fold the dough in half and gently transfer to a 9″ pie pan by draping it over the rolling pin, then moving it onto the plate and unrolling it. Once in the plate, press the dough firmly into the bottom and sides of the pan. Trim the excess dough to about 1/2″ all around the dish, then tuck it under itself around the edge of the plate. Brush off any excess flour and trim the edges of the pastry to fit the pie pan.

Refrigerate the pastry, covered with plastic wrap, for about 30 minutes before pouring in the filling.

Preheat oven to 350 F. Place the oven rack in the bottom third of the oven.

Filling:
In a large saucepan, heat the brown sugar, syrup, rum, and butter until boiling, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and let cool until tepid. Meanwhile, in a separate bowl, whisk the eggs. When the boiled syrup has cooled, beat in the eggs, salt, and cream.

Remove the chilled pastry crust from the refrigerator and evenly distribute the chopped pecans over the bottom of the crust. Then pour the filling evenly over the nuts. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the pie will come out clean, about 50 minutes. If you find the edges of the pie crust are over browning during baking, cover with foil. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature with vanilla ice or whipping cream.

Pesto is the quiche of the ’80s.
~Nora Ephron

I have no clue how this marvelous egg and cheese open faced custard pie which was such in the vogue in the 60’s fell so precipitously out of favor—even becoming homophobically contemptible—in just a matter of a couple of decades. It is much too savory to be ill treated.

Although widely considered a classic French dish, quiche actually originated in the German medieval kingdom of Lothringen which the French later occupied and named Lorraine, as in Alsace-Lorraine. (For more on this intriguing region, see Onion Tart (Tarte aux Oignons) 06.02.09.)

The word “quiche” originally derived from the German “Kuchen,” meaning cake. The German dialect spoken in the region altered “Kuchen” to “küche,” not to be confused with cooch, cooche, coochee or coochie. Over time, further linguisitic changes unrounded the ü and shifted the “ch” to “sh,” resulting in “kische,” which in standard French became spelled and pronounced “quiche.”

Authentic Quiche Lorraine is supposed to be cheeseless, but I cannot resist the temptation.

QUICHE LORRAINE

Savory pie dough (pâte brisée*)

2 T shallots, minced
2 T butter
8 strips bacon cut into 1/4″ lardons

1 1/2 C heavy whipping cream
3-4 farm fresh large eggs, room temperature
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Nutmeg, grated

Optional: 1/4 C Gruyère or Compté, grated
1/4 C Emmental, grated

Preheat oven to 350 F

Prepare pâte brisée dough and after it has chilled, roll out to about 1/8″ thick. Place a 9″ pie or quiche dish on a baking sheet. Roll the pastry up on your rolling pin and then unroll and lay it into the dish. There should be plenty of dough overhanging the edges. Reserve a small piece of dough to fill any cracks that might open in the dough as it bakes.

Line the dough with parchment paper and fill it with dried beans or pie weights. Place in oven to bake. After 30 minutes, remove the weights and parchment. Gently patch any cracks that may have formed with the reserved dough, and continue baking until the bottom of the crust is golden and cooked, about 15 more minutes. Set aside and allow to cool to room temperature.

Increase the oven temperaturee to 375 F

In a heavy medium skillet, sauté shallots over medium heat in butter until soft and translucent. Set aside and allow to cool to room temperature.

Sauté the bacon lardons over medium heat until crisp. Drain well on paper towels and combine with the shallots.

Combine and vigorously whisk together eggs, cream, nutmeg, salt and pepper until frothy. Strew the shallots and bacon evenly over the bottom of the shell. If you opt for cheese, sprinkle over the shallots and bacon, reserving 1-2 tablespoons. Pour the custard to within 1/4″ of the rim of the dish and top evenly with the reserved cheese.

Bake until puffy and brown, about 30-35 minutes.

Allow the quiche to cool to room temperature before serving.

*Pâte Brisée

1 1/4 C all-purpose flour
6 T unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
2 T lard or shortening
1/4 teaspoon salt

3 T ice water

Place all the ingredients except the water, in a large bowl. Add the water mash and work with your hands and fingers so that is assembled into a solid, smooth ball. If it is crumbly, add more ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Yes, life has many onions.
~Skip Coryell

While tartes aux oignons are considered a specialty of the formerly embattled northeast border region of Alsace, they are found throughout the country — so it is a recipe that bodes well in any département.

Passed back and forth between tribes, royalty, governments and churches over centuries, Alsace-Lorraine (Ger: Elsass-Lothringen) eventually evolved into a region shaped by both French and German cultures. Space does not permit me to adequately recount its strife-ridden, treaty-rent past. Suffice it to say despite its beauty Alsace-Lorraine was partially born of a dolorous recipe with unsavory ingredients: men, liberally seasoned with lands, boundaries, intolerance, suppression and religion. Sound familiar?

Even an aperçu of modern times reflects these geo-political vacillations. Following the Franco-Prussian War, the area was annexed by the German Empire in 1871 via the Treaty of Frankfurt and became a Reichsland. At the conclusion of World War I, the province reverted to France under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles of 1919. Nazi Germany then again occupied the territory during World War II, beginning in 1940, but the end of the war placed Alsace-Lorraine back in French hands where it has remained since.  With each war, inhabitants of this fair land were made to overhaul their allegiances, citizenship, language, and the like to appease the conquering forces.

In more recent history, efforts have been made to embrace Alsace-Lorraine’s duel Gaullic and Germanic personalities. The cuisine of both cultures have retained their individual identities yet have also remained intertwined — bäeckeofe, foie gras, sauerkraut (choucroute), quiche lorraine, sausages, smoked pork, and so on, all cohabitate peacefully.

ONION TART (TARTE AUX OIGNONS)

1 recipe pâte brisée*

3 slices bacon or pancetta
2 C yellow onions, peeled and very thinly sliced
1/4 C chives, chopped
Pinch of dried thyme

3 large organic, free range eggs
2-3 C heavy cream
Sea salt
Freshly ground pepper
Grated nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Roll out the pâte brisée on a floured board, and line a 9” removable-bottom tart shell with it. Flute the edge of the pastry. Cover with plastic wrap, and chill in the refrigerator while making the filling.

Cut the bacon into lardons and fry in a heavy skillet until crispy brown. Set aside and drain on paper towels.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat, and sauté the onions, stirring regularly, until they are tender and just beginning to caramelize. Stir in the bacon, chives and thyme until well mixed. Remove the skillet from the heat.

In a small bowl, beat the egg and cream together. Add a pinch or two of salt and pepper and a pinch of nutmeg. Add this to the onions, stirring to combine.

Pour the onion and egg mixture into the pastry shell. Bake tart for about 40 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown and the custard is firm. Let rest 5 to 10 minutes before serving. Serve warm or room temperature.

*Pâte Brisée

1 1/4 C all-purpose flour
6 T unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
2 T lard or shortening
1/4 teaspoon salt

3 T ice water

Place all the ingredients except the water, in a large bowl. Add the water mash and work with your hands and fingers so that is assembled into a solid, smooth ball. If it is crumbly, add more ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Makes for rich but delicate fare when paired with a simple green salad, a crusty baguette, and a crisp Alsatian white or Provençal rosé