This filling can be made into one 9-inch pie or sixteen 3 1/2-inch mini pies. The smaller ones (see VARIATION) are a nice option for a dessert buffet and do not need to be refrigerated before serving. The larger pie is best served cold, with a dollop of maple-syrup-flavored whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.
Make Ahead: The pie crust dough needs at least 1 hour and up to 12 hours' refrigeration. The unbaked pie shell can be wrapped well and frozen for at least 1 month. The pie shell can be baked several hours in advance and kept at room temperature. The baked pie needs several hours' refrigeration before serving to firm up the filling. Small pies can be made a day in advance and held at room temperature.
Servings: 8 - 10
- For the crust
- 1 cup sifted flour, plus more for the work surface
- Scant 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3 tablespoons chilled vegetable shortening
- 3 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter
- About 3 tablespoons ice water, or as needed
- For the filling
- 4 large eggs
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon flour
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
- 1 cup light corn syrup
- 8 ounces (1 cup packed) pitted dates, each one cut into 6 pieces
- 1 1/2 cups (6 ounces) pecan halves
For the crust: If the room is warm, it is a good idea to chill the mixing bowl and even the flour beforehand.
Combine the flour and salt in a large, wide mixing bowl. Add the shortening and butter. Use a pastry cutter to blend the mixture into something that resembles coarse crumbs, with larger and smaller pieces of butter.
Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of the ice water in small drops all over the surface, using a fork to stir. Add water only until the flour is barely moistened. When just enough has been added, the mixture should still be lumpy and not hold together. The shortening and butter must remain in little flour-coated flakes and be handled as little as possible.
Lightly flour a work surface. Turn the mixture out onto the surface and use your hands to push the mixture together to form a ball. (If the dough seems too dry to hold together, do not knead it further. Return it to the bowl and use the pastry blender or a knife to process it into smaller pieces. Add a few drops of water, and stir with a fork.)
Flatten the ball of dough slightly, smooth the edges, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour and preferably overnight. If it has been refrigerated overnight, let it stand at room temperature for 10 to 15 minutes before rolling it out.
Lightly flour a work surface. Have a 9-inch pie plate ready. Unwrap the dough and, starting at the center, roll it out to a circle about 7 inches wide at first, then to 12 inches, patching any cracks or gaps as needed. The thickness should be a scant 1/8 inch. Reflour the rolling pin as necessary.
Carefully drape the dough over the rolling pin to transfer it to the pie plate, or carefully fold the dough in half and transfer to the pie plate, placing it on one side of the plate then unfolding it. Do not stretch the dough, or it will shrink when baking. Press the dough into place all over. If your fingernails are in the way, cut a small portion of the dough from an uneven edge, form it unto a small ball, flour it lightly and use it as a tamping tool to press the dough.
Use clean kitchen scissors to trim the edge of the crust, leaving an even 1/2- to 3/4-inch overhang.
Use floured fingertips to fold in the overhanging dough, making an edge that extends about 1/2 inch higher than the rim of the pie plate. Press it lightly together between your floured fingertips to make it stand upright.
Use the tines of a fork to prick holes in the bottom of the pastry. Freeze for 15 minutes or until firm. (This helps prevent shrinking in the oven.)
About 15 to 20 minutes before baking, position an oven rack in the lower third of the oven; preheat to 450 degrees.
Cover the pie shell (not the edges) with a sheet of aluminum foil, then add enough pie weights, uncooked rice or dried beans to weigh it down. Bake for 12 to 13 minutes, until the shell is set and slightly colored on the edges. Remove from the oven; reduce the heat to 400 degrees. Remove the weighted foil and return the bare pie shell to the oven to bake for 7 to 8 minutes or longer, until evenly golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
For the filling: When ready to bake, position an oven rack in the lower third of the oven; preheat to 350 degrees.
Beat the eggs in the bowl of a stand mixer or hand-held electric mixer on medium speed for a few minutes, until they are quite foamy. Add the sugar, flour, salt and vanilla extract; beat until well combined.
Add the melted butter and the corn syrup, beating just until incorporated, then remove the bowl from the mixer.
Sprinkle the dates and pecans evenly over the prebaked pie crust, then slowly and carefully pour the filling over them. Place the pie on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 45 minutes. The pie will be browned, but its center will be somewhat jiggly. Do not overbake.
Transfer to a wire rack to cool, then refrigerate for at least several hours, until the filling is firm. (Alternatively, place the cooled pie in the freezer and monitor carefully, freezing just until firm.) Serve chilled.
VARIATION: For small pies, divide the dates and pecans among sixteen 3 1/2-inch prepared graham cracker crusts, such as Keebler Ready Crust brand. Pour 2 or 3 tablespoons of the filling on top; this may be even with the rim of the crust. Place on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 35 minutes or until nicely browned. The filling will be firm. Transfer to a wire rack to cool just enough to dislodge the pies from their aluminum foil pans.
Adapted from "Maida Heatter's Book of Great American Desserts" (Knopf, 1985).
Tested by Leigh Lambert.
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