Man, and woman, can only eat so much pumpkin.

That's the conclusion I've reached after preparing many years of Holiday dinners. This year, you might be serving the pumpkin-and-oyster soup I featured recently in this column. And it's very possible you'll be offering the people at your table some sort of baked pumpkin side dish (or yams, which -- let's be honest -- can be very similar to pumpkin).

So, do you really want to serve them a pumpkin pie, too?

Well, maybe you do. After all, pumpkin pie is steeped in tradition.

But I think it's important to offer an alternative as well, something that offers flavors and textures that are not only perfect for the holiday season but also end your meal with some variety.

That's why I, like so many other Americans both naturalized and native-born, love pecan pie.

Of course, I try to bring my experience as a chef to the pecan pies, so they'll taste as wonderful as they possibly can. And I'm happy to share that experience with you here.

First of all, you may notice that I call my recipe a pecan "tart" instead of a pie. That's because I bake it in a tart shell with a removable bottom, which you can find in any good kitchen supplies store. It allows more room for the filling than a sloping-sided pie pan; and, by slipping off the side ring after the tart has cooled, you can transfer the tart on the metal bottom to a flat platter for easier cutting and serving.

Next, I like to do everything I can to heighten the flavor and texture of the tart. Unlike many recipes, I toast the pecans first, to enrich their nuttiness and make them as crunchy as they can be. I don't just melt the butter for the filling, either. Instead, I brown it (watching carefully, of course, so it doesn't burn), so it contributes its own nutty richness to the final results. And along with the eggs you often find in pecan pie fillings, I also include some extra egg yolks, which help give my tart's filling a hint of custardy consistency and taste.

Even with such special touches, the tart is also surprisingly easy to make. And you can even feel free to use store-bought pie dough, if you wish.

It all adds up to a holiday dessert that you and your guests will find pleasingly familiar and yet surprisingly different. Add a touch of whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, or, if you must, a companion slice of your favorite pumpkin pie!

Wolfgang Puck's Pecan Tart Recipe

Serves 6 to 8

1/2 recipe Sugar Dough (recipe follows), or 1 round refrigerated and rolled-out pie pastry

1-1/2 cups shelled pecan halves

1-1/2 cups light corn syrup

3/4 cup granulated sugar

3/4 cup packed light brown sugar

4 large cage-free eggs

2 large cage-free egg yolks

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

The day before, prepare the Sugar Dough. Start making the pie at least several hours before serving, and up to a day ahead.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large skillet over medium heat, toast the pecans, shaking frequently to prevent scorching, until fragrant and a rich golden color, about 7 minutes.

Put the corn syrup, granulated and brown sugars, eggs, and yolks in a mixing bowl. With a hand-held electric mixer, beat on medium speed until thoroughly combined and the sugars have dissolved completely. Set aside.

Put the butter in a small skillet. Melt over medium heat and continue cooking just until the butter turns brown and smells nutty. Immediately remove from the heat and stir into the syrup mixture.

On a lightly floured work surface, use a rolling pin to roll out the Sugar Dough into an even circle about 12 inches in diameter. Loosely roll up the dough around the rolling pin, then unroll over a 10-inch tart pan with removable bottom. Gently press the dough into the bottom and sides, neatly folding any overhang back into the rim and pressing it into the side.

Arrange the pecan halves in the bottom of the shell. Ladle the filling over the pecans.

Bake in the preheated oven until a skewer inserted into the filling near the center comes out clean, about 40 to 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool to room temperature.

To serve, set the bottom of the pan on top of a bowl smaller than its diameter. Carefully ease off the ring. Transfer the tart to a serving platter and cut into wedges.


Makes 2-1/2 pounds

1 pound unsalted butter, slightly softened

12 ounces pastry flour, about 3-1/3 cups

12 ounces all-purpose flour, about 3-1/3 cups

3/4 cup sugar

Pinch salt

3 large cage-free egg yolks

2 tablespoons heavy cream

Cut the butter into large pieces and place in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle or dough hook. Add the flours, sugar, and salt. Mix on low speed until the butter is evenly distributed throughout the flour.

Add the yolks and cream. Continue mixing on low speed until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl.

Remove the dough to a lightly floured work surface and divide into 2 equal pieces. Flatten each piece into a 6-inch round. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight. Use as needed. The dough will remain fresh in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days; it can also be wrapped securely in plastic wrap and then in foil and stored in the freezer for 2 to 3 months. (Thaw overnight in the refrigerator before use.)


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