The first Christmas my late husband James and I spent together as a married couple was somewhat bittersweet for me in some ways. Having had lost both my parents only a few years before meeting James, I was still mourning their loss and feeling it very deeply during the holiday season. yet here I was, about to set out on a new adventure in life ready to make memories with with my new love.
I had grown up an only child, but on holidays my coal region home was filled with relatives and friends joining in the festivities, surrounding tables tucked in every nook and cranny. James had siblings, and at times cousins who lived with his family so he, too, was used to large gatherings for holiday events. We now found ourselves creating a new nucleus of two and we’re determined that we would celebrate holidays with the traditions we had grown up with even though we did not have our families any more to share them with.
One day as James and I reminisced, it became clear that his family and mine enjoyed many of the same dishes on the holiday table. Although he was unfamiliar with Coasl Region classics like Pennsylvania Dutch potato filling, and Cope’s corn, he enjoyed the traditional turkey or baked ham, a stuffing laced with Bell’s seasoning (a very New England thing) , butternut squash replacing the familiar glazed sweet potatoes that I knew so well, and, in place of the pumpkin pie my mother made every year, James enjoyed pecan pie. In an effort to blend our family traditions and start some new, I decided to forgo the pumpkin pie that year since pumpkin was not one of James’s favorite foods.
Shortly before James moved in permanently to our coal region home, I had gone with him on a trip to Massachusetts to help him pack some of his belongings. Before we left to come back to Pennsylvania, I did some shopping for local New England items, one of those included local pure maple syrup.
As I browsed the aisles at the local Agway, James offered up advice on maple syrup. He said that cooks preferred what at the time was known as Grade B. It was dark deep and delicious and really had a pronounced maple flavor. He told me his mother never used anything else whether it was for cooking baking, or eating on pancakes. I picked up a jug and brought it home to Pennsylvania. James was right; the taste was outstanding.
Although used to pumpkin pie, I enjoyed a piece of pecan pie if it wasn’t cloyingly sweet or from the frozen section of the supermarket. I decided that making my own was the best way to go and would be a fitting tribute to James’ traditions and his family that year.When I found this recipe for maple bourbon pecan tart, I knew this was the one and the perfect dish in which to use the lovely dark New England maple syrup we cherished tucked away for special occasions in the pantry.
I had been a fan of making tarts for a long time, much preferring them to a thick traditional pie. The tart was a hit with James, and I have made it many times since.
James adored this tart paired with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream, but a sweetened whipped cream is also a perfect addition. I recommend not skipping the step of toasting the nuts prior to use because it really brings out a rich nutty flavor. I do not put a layer of pecans completely on the top of the tart, preferring to have chopped nuts throughout the filling. I place a few whole nuts around the edges of the top and a few in the center.
When making this tart, be sure to use pure maple syrup, not the “pancake syrup” that you find on the grocery shelf. And please do not use maple extract or flavoring! Use the darkest maple syrup you can get. “Grade B” the best choice for providing the richest, deepest flavor for home cooking and baking has been re-labeled. USDA revised its standards to match a new grading system implemented by the State of Vermont. Previous grades B and C (C was not sold commercially but used by food manufacturers and candy makers) are now replaced by four levels of Grade A. I have included a primer on maple syrup here to help you when shopping. I recommend using the current Grade A Dark Robust.
Maple Bourbon Pecan TartCourse: Holidays, Recipes, Sweet Things
1 refrigerated pie crust for single-crust pie (or use your favorite single crust recipe
3 eggs, lightly beaten
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup light-color corn syrup
1/3 cup salted butter, melted
1/3 cup pure maple syrup (NOT maple-flavored pancake syrup)
3 tablespoons bourbon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups coarsely chopped toasted pecan halves, reserve 12 un-chopped halves for garnishing the top of the pie before baking
- Toast pecan halves in pre-heated 350 degree F oven in single layer on baking sheet, stirring occasionally, ,until fragrant. Do not burn! Set aside to cool.
- When ready to make tart
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Allow refrigerated crust to come to room temperature before unrolling. Using a rolling pin, roll pastry on a lightly floured board from center to edge into a circle between 11 to 11 1/2 inches in diameter. (If using your own crust recipe, roll to 11 to 11 1/2 inch circle) Wrap pastry circle around rolling pin; unroll into a 9 x 1-inch tart pan with a removable bottom, centering the pastry into the pan. Ease pastry into the pan without stretching it, pressing it into the bottom corner and up the sides. Taking the rolling pin, roll it across the top of the tart pan; this will trim the overhang of any crust. Do not prick pastry or leave any holes in the crust. Refrigerate until needed.
- In a medium bowl combine eggs and sugar and whisk well. Add corn syrup, butter, maple syrup, bourbon, and vanilla; whisk until fully blended. Stir in the chopped pecans.
- Place the unfilled pastry in the tart pan on a parchment-lined baking sheet to help with transfer in and out of the oven and to catch any cook-overs. Pour filling into pastry shell; place un-chopped pecans around the top. To prevent over-browning, cover edge of tart with a strip of foil. Bake for 25 minutes. Remove foil. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes more or until filling is puffed and set (center will jiggle just a little). Cool on a wire rack. Cover and chill within 2 hours.