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Along with molasses, maple syrup (or sugar) is the sweetener of choice in old-time New England recipes. Cold nights and warm days make the sap start to flow, and buckets appear on trees all over the landscape. Small producers, those making just enough for family and friends, still harvest sap the traditional way, with metal (or even wooden) taps and buckets. Large producers snake miles of plastic tubing through the woods, tapping into each tree and funneling the sap directly to the sugar shed, bypassing the collection-by-hand process. Once in the shed the sap—a clear, thin liquid, ever so faintly sweet—is boiled down in a large, flat pan till it's thick and golden, ready to be strained, bottled and paired with pancakes.
Maple walnut pie is a standby of northern New England and we hope you enjoy this wonderful recipe as much as we do.
1 cup (4 1/4 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1/4 teaspoon salt (use a heaping 1/4 teaspoon if you're using unsalted butter)
1/4 cup (1/2 stick, 2 ounces) butter
2 tablespoons (7/8 ounce) vegetable shortening
1 teaspoon lemon juice or vinegar
2 to 2 1/2 tablespoons (1 to 1 1/4 ounces) water
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups (16 1/2 ounces) Grade B pure maple syrup*
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) butter, melted and cooled to lukewarm
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon maple flavor (optional)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 heaping cup (4 ounces) walnut pieces
*We realize many people can't obtain maple syrup locally, so feel free to substitute supermarket maple-flavored syrup. The flavor won't be exactly the same, but you'll still have a delicious pie.
Crust: In a medium-size mixing bowl, whisk together the flour and salt. Using an electric mixer, a pastry blender or fork, or your fingers, cut the butter and shortening into the flour mixture until the fat and flour form a crumbly mixture. Add the lemon juice or vinegar, then sprinkle on just enough water so that you can gather the dough into a cohesive ball.
Flatten the ball of dough into a 1-inch thick circle, and transfer it to a well-floured work surface. Roll it into a 12-inch circle, using as few strokes of the rolling pin as possible; the less you fool around with the crust at this point, the more tender it'll be when it's baked.
Transfer the circle of dough to a 9-inch pie plate (a giant spatula works great here), and gently fit it to the pan's contours. Again, if you push and stretch the dough too much during this stage, it'll shrink when you put it in the oven. Crimp the edges of the crust.
Line the crust with parchment or waxed paper and fill it partway with pie weights or dried beans. Or set a perforated pie pan onto the crust. Bake the crust in a preheated 425°F oven for 15 minutes, then transfer it to a cooling rack, remove the pie weights and parchment (or perforated pie pan), and allow it to cool while you prepare the filling. Lower the oven temperature to 375°F.
Filling: In a large bowl, beat the eggs till well-combined, then add the maple syrup in a slow stream, beating all the time. Stir in the melted butter, vanilla and salt, then the walnuts. Pour the filling into the prepared crust.
Bake the pie at 375°F for 40 to 45 minutes, until it's somewhat puffed, bubbling, and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. The crust will be a deep, golden brown. Remove the pie from the oven, and let it cool at least 30 minutes before serving (the filling will sink as it cools; that's OK). Serve with a gilding of whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, if desired. Yield: 10 servings.
Nutrition information per serving (1/10 of pie, 123g): 396 cal, 17g fat, 5g protein, 12g complex carbohydrates, 43g sugar, 1g dietary fiber, 101mg cholesterol, 139mg sodium, 215mg potassium, 90RE vitamin A, 1mg vitamin C, 2mg iron, 112mg calcium, 82mg phosphorus.