Thanksgiving goes largely unnoticed in Australia, much like the change of seasons. As winter withers into spring without so much as a snowflake, it’s easy to forget how blessed we are with sunshine. Like most things in life, we take for granted what we hold most dear until we feel its absence. And as days drop one by one into the lap of Time, our opportunity to show appreciation slowly shrinks. So in the spirit of giving thanks, let us stuff our loved ones with turkey.
Now the turkey doesn’t have to be a real bird. If feathers frighten you, try making these candy turkeys instead (pictured). They won’t squawk, bite, move, moult or require compulsive oven-door opening. All you need is 2 tubes of coloured icing writing (red and yellow), Oreos, Reese’s mini peanut butter cups (with one edge cut off), Maltesers and cherry passion Tic Tacs. Other recipes use candy corn, which is unavailable in Australia, so I substituted Tic Tacs instead. The final ingredient is a tube of chocolate icing to glue all the turkey parts together. If you can keep your hand steady, and your other hand out of the bag of peanut butter cups, you should have a rafter of beautiful turkeys in no time.
For those of you who prefer birds made of protein, not sugar, a real turkey is a holiday treat. Not to mention a feat. This beast was cooked by B, and he did a wonderful job (as the photos demonstrate). At dinner time, the table groaned under the weight of bowls of brightly steamed vegetables sprinkled with pine nuts, glossy Dutch carrots, crispy golden wedges of polenta, caramelised sweet potatoes with crispy burnt edges and boats of smooth, silky gravy. But no eye strayed from the turkey, in all its golden glory.
To finish the festivities, we had pecan pie. Perhaps the smell of cooking turkey had gone to my head. There was no other fathomable reason why I would take it upon myself to make a pie from scratch. Pie crust absolutely terrifies me because so many things can go wrong. Undercooking, overcooking, burning, potholes, pie innard leakage, fault lines, cracks … the possibilities are endless. My friend M had provided me with (what she assured me was) a faultless recipe, so it was time to face my fears head-on.
This pie crust was made using 2.5 cups of plain flour, a pinch of salt, and 110g of unsalted butter. Mix everything together with an electric mixer on slow speed, gradually adding a few tablespoons of water, one at a time. I have great difficulty knowing exactly when the consistency feels right; sometimes it seems too dry and sandy, at other times it’s wet and gloopy. You’ll need to rely on your own intuition and add more butter or water depending on how the mixture feels. When you’re finally happy with it, wrap it in clingfilm and pop it in the fridge for an hour. Preheat the oven to 170 degrees Celsius, roll out the dough, cover with baking paper and baking beans, pop it in the oven for 10 minutes, remove the beans and paper and return to the oven for another 10 minutes. The dough should still be pale and slightly raw in the middle, because the pie will be baked again once the mixture is poured in.
A shot of my completed pie. Just look at that glisten. It was a proud parent moment. Once the pie crust was done (and I could breathe again), the inner mixture was relatively easy to prepare. 200g of caster sugar, 250ml of corn syrup, and a pinch of salt, all thrown into a large saucepan to boil and then cool. The mixture (once it had cooled) was then added to 3 whisked eggs. The hardest part was making sure that the mixture was cool enough to avoid scrambled eggs, but not too cool that it hardened into thick liquid snow. Once the consistency was perfect, it was combined with 60g of butter and lashings of vanilla extract to create a syrup of pure happiness. Chuck 100g of chopped (toasted) pecans into the partially baked pie crust, pour the filling on top, and decorate with pecan halves. Pop in the oven for an hour, put up your feet, and let the scent of caramel envelop you in its warm sugary embrace.
The sight of your pie surface puffing up like a cloud, as if to escape its crusty prison, may send your alarm bells ringing (as it did mine). But I soon realised that this was just an oven thing, and the surface soon settled and subsided into this beautiful golden tapestry once the pie had been removed from the oven and cooled.
Now pie-regret is a fearsome thing. That sinking feeling in your stomach when you see a fault line the size of the Pacific, and innards slowly leaking out. Or when the decorative pecans on top are slightly out of line (*shudder*). But if there’s one pie-regret you must avoid at all costs, it’s not trying the pie while it’s still oven-hot. There’s a difference between reheating pie in a microwave and eating pie that’s just been pulled from its oven womb. Trust me. If there was ever a reason to carry a fork in your pocket (in case of surprise cake), this is it. Make sure you dig into that pie 10 minutes after its creation. Once you taste its gooey, crunchy, caramelised interior, you will thank me.
See what I mean?