Whisky Buttermilk Pie with Mapled Bacon & Pecans

One of my earliest attempts at making pie happened when I was in my early twenties.  I was living in Seattle, apart from my family.  It was Thanksgiving and I was homesick for mom's pumpkin pie so I decided to try and make it the way she did.  My mom always makes her pie crusts from scratch using her mother's and grandmother's recipes.  I didn't think it would be that hard, and as usual, I was wrong about not needing to practice.  The crust fell apart before I could get it into the pie plate and then after getting some of it in the pie plate and adding the filling, I over-baked the pie.  What came out of the oven was a plate of darkened pumpkin with a pool of oil on top and a dark brown crust sticking out on one side, but not the other.  I proudly wrapped it up and took it to a friend's family gathering where I saw someone in the dessert line point to it and say "what the 'expletive' is that?"  

I didn't try making pie again until I moved back to Iowa.  Again I tried making my pie crust using our family recipe, and again it fell apart on me.  I ended up throwing the whole thing out because I was so frustrated and mad.  Still,  I wasn't giving up and decided I would try learning with a different crust recipe.  I went to the library and checked out The Joy of Cooking's All About Pies and Tarts.  I attempted making their Deluxe Butter Flaky Pastry Dough also known as Pâte Brisée and was able to produce my first successful crust.  From then on, I read as much as I could about pie making until I developed an understanding for technique and method.  The crust recipe I most often use these days is one I read about in Cooks Illustrated called Foolproof Pie Dough which uses vodka as way to add more moisture to the crust without the risk of toughening the dough.  So much of the failure that occurs when making and rolling out a pie dough is that it's very dry and temperamental.  If you handle it too much, if you add too much water, if you do anything too much then it gets angry and cracks, sticks, and tears.  So, if you give it a little vodka, then the dough starts to relax and go with the flow.  I'm not kidding about this.  This is one of the best recipes for pie dough I've ever used because of how the vodka interacts with the other ingredients.  Click here to view the recipe for Foolproof Pie Dough which is available on Serious Eats.

In time I became known for my pies and instead of expletives of dismay, my pies began calling forth expletives of gratification  Throughout the years, I've practiced making all kinds of pie following recipes with exact precision.  Now I'm to a point where I feel bold enough to go out on my own in playing with ingredients and coming up with ideas.  This Thanksgiving I wanted to make a buttermilk pie with the flavor of maple and bacon and as I was making it, I decided to add some whisky to the mix.  I made it the day after Thanksgiving and decided it was almost a holiday hangover pie of sorts since it infuses a little hair of the dog with the buttermilk, bacon, and maple for a morning pie that will make friends and family swear in a good way.  I haven't revisited my great grandmother's pie crust recipe since my failed attempts, but someday I'm going to to confront the past.  

Whisky Buttermilk Pie with Mapled Bacon & Pecans

(The beaten egg whites give this pie it's light, airy consistency which pairs nicely with the richer sweetness of the topping.  My inspiration for the buttermilk filling came from a 1958 copy of Good Housekeeping's Party Pie Book.  The whisky simply adds a subtle nuance to the tanginess of the buttermilk filling.)

Make or buy a pie dough of your choice for a single crust 9" pie.  For Cooks Illustrated's Foolproof Pie Dough, click here.  Roll out and fit into a 9-inch pie plate.

2/3 cup granulated sugar

3 Tbsp flour

1/4 tsp salt

3 egg yolks (beaten slightly)

2 tsp vanilla extract

2 cups buttermilk

1/4 cup whisky

1/4 cup melted butter

3 egg whites at room temperature

1 cup chopped toasted pecans

2 Tbsp butter for toasting pecans

1/2 cup crumbled cooked bacon

1 Tbsp maple syrup

Preheat oven to 400℉.  I like to bake the crust a little bit before I add the filling so the crust doesn't get soggy.  This process is called blind baking.  By now you should have already rolled out your pie crust and fit it into the pie plate.  Press a sheet of aluminum foil onto the crust,  draping over rim of pie plate.  To blind-bake, fill with dried beans or pie weights.  Bake it until the edge of the crust is firm, about 20 minutes.  Remove weights and foil; let crust cool completely and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk the sugar, flour, and salt.  In a small bowl, beat the egg yolks slightly and then add to dry ingredients.  Also add the vanilla, buttermilk, whisky, and butter and whisky.

In a large bowl, beat the egg whites until they're stiff and peaks start to form, but don't beat them until they become dry.  The whites should look shiny and form peaks that stand up on their own.  If you see the whites starting to form granules along the side of the bowl, then you'll know you've gone too far.  I use the lowest setting on my electric hand mixer.

Slowly add the yolk mixture to the egg whites and beat just until combined.  Pour into the cooled pie shell and return to the oven to bake at 400℉ for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 325℉ and bake for another 30 to 40 minutes or until a knife or toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.  You'll need to watch and make sure the edges of your crust don't get too brown and if they are, just throw a pie ring over the edges or loosely place a piece of foil over the pie.  When it appears to be done, take it out and place it on a rack to cool.   Note that the buttermilk/egg filling is going to rise up quite a bit because of the air in the egg whites, but as it cools, the filling will go back down.  

As the pie is cooling, you can work on the topping.  Fry the bacon until it's good and crispy, then set it aside to drain and cool on paper towels.

Either on a rimmed sheet in the oven or in a pan on the stove, toss the pecans with the butter and cook at medium heat until you draw out the smell and they start to brown and then promptly take them away from the heat.  I did mine in a skillet on the stove, melting the butter first and then adding the pecans.  It only takes about 5 to 7 minutes to get them toasted.

Crumble the bacon into small pieces and mix with the toasted pecans in a bowl.  Add the maple syrup and toss with your fingers to coat.  Using your fingers, sprinkle the topping over the buttermilk pie.  Don't worry if the pie is still warm, adding the topping won't hurt the structure of the pie.  Then press the topping down a little bit with the back of a spatula.  

It's now ready to be enjoyed for a little day-after-the-feast feasting.

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