After a separation of several months as we both looked for work on separate continents, my husband and I were finally reunited in Dubai for the holidays. We’ve been staying with extended family who have opened their homes and hearts in the most generous way, even going so far as to put up a real Christmas tree complete with ornaments and garland and to gather for a proper Christmas dinner of turkey with all the fixings. The entire event made me both deeply lonely for friends and family back home and deeply grateful for the company and affection of those surrounding me on this warm, sunny Christmas day in Dubai.
My husband has always been a big fan of pecan pie at the holidays. I suppose it makes sense because it’s the American treat that’s probably most like a middle-eastern sweet (which usually features some combination of dough, nuts and some sticky sweet to bind everything together). The problem this Christmas was, the local grocer in our high rise complex didn’t have Karo syrup or cane syrup, which I usually use to make pecan pie. Hmmm, what to do. I know, let’s eat something else and think about it.
The day before Christmas, as my husband, his cousins and I sat at the Dubai Marina having a hybrid American/Middle Eastern breakfast (scrambled eggs AND foull) one cousin was asking about date jam for his toast and instead got date syrup, called Dhibis. It turned out to be not only a great spread for toast (and I suspect would be an amazing substitute for maple syrup on banana walnut pancakes), it also made for a delicious substitute for corn syrup. The cousin who told me about it not only polished off the small container of Dhibis we got at the Marina, but also three slices of Dubai Pecan Pie.
This time I made my pie crust by hand, but of course any pre-made pie crust from your refrigerator section at the grocery will work just fine.
Basic Pie Crust
10 Tablespoons COLD butter, cut into cubes
2 cups flour
1 teaspooon of salt
5-6 tablespoons of ice water
Combine the butter, flour and salt together in a food processor, or with your hands or a pastry blender until the mixture is mostly incorporated but there are at least several lumps of butter the size of peas. This is what will make your crust flaky. Starting with three tablespoons of ice water, mix the water with the butter/flour mixture and stir to incorporate, adding water a tablespoon at a time until the dough just starts to clump together into a ball. Don’t overwork it or the pastry will be tough. It’s better to have too many crumbs than too few.
Turn the mixture out onto a piece of plastic wrap and use the wrap to bring to dough together into a disc about 6 inches across and an inch or so tall. Wrap tightly and let sit in the refrigerator for at least thirty minutes to cool and rest. When you’re ready for the crust, turn the disk out onto a floured board or counter, dust your rolling pin with flour (this particular night I used a wine bottle as no rolling pin was to be found) and roll it to a circle just a bit larger than the tin you’re baking in and about a quarter inch thick. Gently push (don’t stretch, push down) the crust into the tin and crimp the edges as you like. Now the crust is ready for the filling. (Side note: I’ve heard of a professional baker who uses vodka instead of water to make a flakier pie crust because the alcohol evaporates when you bake it. Haven’t tried it but if you’re feeling adventurous, let me know how it went.)
Here’s the recipe for the filling, adapted from several good pecan recipes I’ve found on-line and on the back of syrup bottles.
1 cup sugar (cane or demmerera)
1 cup Dhibis/date syrup
4 tablespoons of melted butter
1 cup of pecan halves (either whole or chopped. depending on how you like them)
Beat the eggs with the sugar until combined, then add the remaining ingredients, mix to combine and pour into a prepared pie or tart shell. Bake at 350 degree farenheit/180 celcius, for about 50 minutes to an hour until the crust has browned and the filling set. Cool and serve.
Variations: Though I was able to pay a small fortune for some pecans at the local Spinney’s, I realized walnuts would work equally well with the date syrup. Almonds would be too hard unless slivered and pistachios are best saved for other desserts.