A sweet-tooth truce

pecan-2by Kaitlyn Goalen

photographs by Jillian Clark

Some houses are divided by sports team affiliations or politics. My house is divided by dessert.   

I’ve always been a loyal cake fan, preferring a fat slice of carrot cake or a dense devil’s food as the way to end my meals. But most of the people I love insist on pie as the postprandial offering, especially around the holidays.

My mother makes the same chocolate pie every single Christmas from a recipe in a community cookbook that my grandmother edited. My dad’s favorite thing in the world is apple pie – it doesn’t really even matter if it’s good or bad, because he gets almost as much enjoyment out of critiquing the unsatisfactory versions as he does in savoring the delicious ones. And my girlfriend’s desert-island dessert is coconut cream pie.

Pecans have become a form of sweet-tooth truce. The nuts are iconic in both pies and cakes, starring front and center in a way that walnuts rarely do. They’re also widely grown nearby, and, in the wake of California’s drought, have become a more sustainable choice than almonds. What’s more, they’re best in the early winter, right after they fall from their trees and are harvested.

So I used pecans as my kitchen peace-making treaty by applying my favorite pecan-based cake recipe, German chocolate cake, to the bones of a pecan pie. It’s a recipe that everyone can get behind, with a crispy, flaky crust and a center that’s both fudgy and textured.

Now if only I could find an ingredient that would get my brother to quit hogging the remote …

pecan-8German Chocolate Pie

Makes 1 9-inch pie

It’s worth the extra effort to toast the pecans and the coconut flakes, as it’ll activate the oils in both, which heightens the flavor.

1 ¼ cups pecan halves

2 cups unsweetened coconut flakes

One 9-inch pie shell, homemade or store-bought

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter

1 ounce good-quality semi-sweet chocolate

¾ cup granulated sugar

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

¼ teaspoon salt

Preheat the broiler. Place the pecans on a rimmed baking sheet and toast for 3 to 4 minutes (watch carefully as broiler strength varies from oven to oven). Let the pecans cool, then slice lengthwise into slivers. Place the coconut flakes on the same rimmed baking sheet and toast until just turning brown, about 2 minutes. Transfer the flakes to a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped.

Turn the oven temperature down to 350°. Line the pie shell with parchment paper and fill with pie weights (or dried beans). Par-bake the shell for 20 minutes.

While the shell is baking, melt the butter and chocolate in a medium saucepan over medium heat. When both are completely melted, pour into a mixing bowl and add the sugar, vanilla, and salt. Stir to combine, then mix in the eggs.

Stir the pecan slivers and coconut into the chocolate mixture until just combined. Pour the mixture into the par-baked pie shell and transfer to the oven. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the center is set. Let cool slightly, then serve.