Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Pieathlon the Ninth: Walnut Pie from the Stars!

The Pieathlon is back!

This is how I felt when Yinzerella sent out an email asking who wanted to make more pie:

I could not answer yes to more pies fast enough. After getting two absolutely delicious pies in a row, I decided to step away from the weird recipes and send in something that would almost certainly make someone really happy. Dr. Bobb may have made a few pumpkin pies before, but has he made praline pumpkin pie? It looked so delicious that I just knew whoever got it would love it, so hopefully he did.

And now, let's have a look at what came to my kitchen in return! I was super excited to see whether we got something really delicious, or something so frightful that making the pie is its own entertainment. (Good or terrible, no one ever sends in a boring pie recipe to the Pieathlon.) And so, a week after dispatching a praline pumpkin pie, who should appear in my mailbox but Yul Brynner!

This comes to us from Jenny of Silver Screen Suppers. Jenny writes about the recipes in celebrity cookbooks, which makes for a wonderful look through random pieces of pop culture of the past. I also have to mention that she and some friends are DJs who use antique windup record players instead of those newfangled electric turntables. I can't lie, donning fabulous vintage clothes and entertaining people with the sounds of windup Victrolas sounds like a dream come true.

Anyway, back to Yul Brynner. Of all the pies fit for the king and I, which one did we receive?

Yul Brynner's Walnut Pie
1 c flour
½ c unsalted butter, at room temperature
Pinch salt
1 egg
1 or 2 tbsp milk

Mix flour, butter, and salt. Add the egg, mix until you have a smooth dough. If the dough is too dry, add the milk a very little time.
Coat a plate with cooking spray. Place the dough on it and pat it into a flat patty (1 inch thick or so). Refrigerate until firm.
Remove the pie crust from the refrigerator. Place the dough on a well-floured countertop, and coat it well with flour. Roll it out quickly so it doesn't have a chance to warm back to room temperature, and lay it in a 9" pan.

1 c light corn syrup*
1 c dark brown sugar
⅓ c sour cream
Dash salt
⅓ c melted unsalted butter
1 tsp vanilla
3 eggs
1½ c whole shelled walnuts

Heat oven to 350°. Beat the eggs well with a whisk until they are a uniform yellow.
Combine the corn syrup, brown sugar, sour cream, and butter in a large bowl. Mix well. Then add the eggs. Stir thoroughly.
Pour into the unbaked pie crust. Sprinkle the walnuts over the pie filling. If they sit on top of the filling in a pile, use the spoon to push them under. Before putting the pie in the oven, set it on a baking sheet with either foil or parchment paper on top in case it boils over.
Bake for 45 minutes, or until the pie is completely cooked. The pie should be jiggly (a bit like a gelatin), but it should not slosh like a liquid. It will probably also puff up a bit when it's ready.
Serve warm with whipped cream. If making the pie ahead, you can rewarm it in the oven just before serving.

*Just leave the corn syrup out. You don't need to substitute anything for it. Simply forget all about corn syrup and make the pie without it.

The Yul Brynner Cookbook: Food Fit for the King and You, Yul Brynner with Susan Reed, 1983 via Silver Screen Suppers

You know how a lot of people hate raisins? And how a lot of them start shouting and ranting when they encounter the evil raisins in a batch of cookies or a pie? Well, I hate walnuts just as much. After I swore I would never allow walnuts near my kitchen again, I got sent an entire pieload of them! Walnuts! 

In a tacit admission that walnuts apparently go rancid quicker than strawberries rot, the recipe notes "For the best flavor try to use very fresh walnuts." We are limited to what's at hand at the nearest supermarket, because I am not driving 130 miles (that's 210ish kilometers for our metric friends) to the nearest nut wholesaler. We did get the actual name-brand walnuts instead of the cheapest ones. The bag says they expire in two years. Nevertheless, I made someone else taste one for my own safety.

Let's set the bitter, banana-bread-ruining walnuts aside. We have already bought them and opened the package, thus exposing the kitchen to walnuts. That's enough walnuttery for the moment. Instead of walnuts, let us examine my favorite line in the recipe. You will find it at the very end:

That's right, this entire pie is only six servings. That's a big fat chunk of a full-size pie for every person. Let's have another look at our heart-smoldering cookery author:

After cross-checking the copyright date on the book with Yul Brynner's Wikipedia page, he was 63 when this book was published. If you exercise enough to pull off an outfit that's all sleeves and no shirt at age 63, you have earned the right to an extra-large slice of pie.

This picture is relevant because it's the author of today's recipe--- and for absolutely no other reason at all.

As long as we have the walnuts safely banished to the back corner of the countertop (for now), let's begin with the pie crust. For once, I actually planned ahead and set out the butter earlier in the day so that it could reach room temperature. I rarely bother with such formalities, but you don't contravene the recipe when it's a Pieathlon.

The recipe notes to add milk if the dough is too dry, but we had the opposite problem. Before we added the egg, the dough was already unworkably sticky. I thought about adding more flour, but then I wondered if the pie dough is supposed to look like this, and whether that gives the baked crust a different texture which improves the recipe.

After getting the egg mixed in, the pie dough looked almost like cake batter. But instead of adding scads of flour to it, I just put it in the refrigerator and hoped it would firm up enough to work with. I figured that if the dough remained sticky even after a long time in the refrigerator, I could pat and finger-smear it into the pie pan.

After refrigerating, the pie crust was a lot easier to work with, though I had to be hasty lest the dough come back to room temperature and melt before I got it into the pan. To Yul Brynner's credit, the recipe makes just about enough pie crust for one pan. There's almost no extra crust dough. We at A Book of Cookrye always appreciate minimizing food waste.

All right, enough of playing with pie dough, it's (almost) time to face the walnuts! 

We began by beating the eggs. I really don't understand why we're supposed to separately beat the eggs. You could easily mix the eggs with the sugar and let the gritty crystals completely break the eggs up. But because we have a dishwasher and therefore I don't mind getting out extra bowls, I gave our eggs a spirited beginning of the Mrs. Goodfellow treatment.

Moving on to ingredients I don't like (besides the walnuts of course), we have now gotten to the oddly sparkling corn syrup!

I found the corn syrup in the back of the pantry, where I suspect it has lived ever since someone long ago made a pecan pie. I'm not saying half-bottles of corn syrup lurk in the dark corners of everyone's kitchen. However, a lot of people I know made a pecan pie once and have permitted a half-used bottle of corn syrup to live in cabinet shadows ever since. 

This particular bottle expired in 2019. In an attempt to guess how long it's been in the refrigerator, I checked the expiration dates on corn syrup the next time I got groceries. Most of the bottles of corn syrup at the supermarket had about three years of shelf life. So someone (probably) made a pecan pie like five years ago and put the bottle away, where it slowly got nudged further into the back of the shelf every time someone put more groceries in the pantry. But I figured corn syrup is nearly pure sugar, so I don't think it can ever really expire. Also, I didn't want to buy another bottle of corn syrup and have it move in next to the old one and stay in the pantry until the end of time.

You might think that doesn't look like I'm using a lot of that weird transparent syrup. But have a look at the main bowl, where the corn syrup drowned all the other ingredients. 

I tried some of the corn syrup on the tip of a spoon, and it wasn't nearly as sweet as I thought it would be. The syrup was bland instead. Hopefully the brown sugar and sour cream make up for that. 

Moving on in the recipe, don't you think the well-beaten eggs look like a very cheery shade of yellow paint?

At this point, we could avoid the walnuts no longer. I really like the choice to sprinkle the nuts into the pie after you've got the rest of the stuff into the pan. As we have seen in the Osgood and rhubarb pies, the star ingredient in pies like this often lands in a big mound in the center of the pie pan while the rest of the filling spreads out and fills the crust. Sprinkling the nuts over the pie pan ensures an even walnut distribution.

I first suspected that this pie would be like the ones I have seen served at many a depressing luncheon: a parsimoniously thin layer of nuts sprinkled on a pie full of syrupy glop. Given that we're using walnuts, I can't decide whether that's a bad thing or not.

As you can see, the walnuts sat on top of the syrup instead of sinking into it. I know the recipe says to use whole walnuts, which may have sank into the filling instead of remaining high and dry. But when we were at the grocery store looking at the shocking prices of nuts these days, I was asked "So, um, how good is this pie?"

I answered "I don't know, I haven't made it."

"You don't even like walnuts."

"That's right..."

We therefore got the far cheaper chopped nuts instead. Sorry for going off-recipe a little bit. But to the recipe's credit, it uses a lot of nuts. So if you like walnuts (and please tell us what that's like!), you won't be disappointed with Yul Brynner's pie. I took out a spoon and did a bit of gentle mixing to ensure that I didn't bake a mound of dry burnt walnuts floating on corn syrup. Would you trust a pie that looks like this to bake correctly?

While the pie baked, I sprinkled a little sugar on the extra crust dough and put it on a little pan to bake next to the pieload of walnuts. I may have overbaked the scrap crust a bit, but it was still promisingly flaky when you broke it in half, which suggested that the crust that's actually in the pie would be really good.

When we took the pie out of the oven, it was merrily bubbling and boiling. Aside from the excessively browned crust, the pie looked so gosh-darned pretty I didn't want to cut it. I've never seen walnuts look this good.


We let the pie cool until it was just a bit warm, as specified in the recipe. When we cut out a slice, it was simultaneously runny and sorta-set-ish. The corn syrup glued the crust to the pie pan, making it simultaneously soft yet impossible to remove.

I think people like goopiness in their corn syrup-based pecan pies-- maybe? It's been a long time since I made or ate one. At first I thought the walnut pie was still underbaked, but the gelatinous filling stayed in a mound on my little plate instead of just dripping all over it.

Oh wait! We're supposed to put whipped cream on top! Or at least, discover that the spray can of it that lives in the refrigerator has finally sputtered out.

I tried.

I really don't like those mostly-corn-syrup pecan pies, but I will try to get past myself in saying what I think of this pie.

I'm as surprised as anyone else to say this, but the candied walnuts were the best part of this pie. I would skip the whole pie business and just coat walnuts in this mixture before baking them. The pie really didn't have enough nuts for all the syrup that went into it. As I feared, it's a dense layer of nuts on top of a hot, gooey pie full of corn syrup. The corn syrup part really isn't all that great without the nuts in it. 

So, just as some people pick the shredded cheese off the casserole and leave the rest, I really only liked the top of this pie. I think it would have been better for stirring the nuts in so that they were a part of the pie filling instead of something on top of it. But again, I just don't like the half-a-bottle-of-corn-syrup version of pecan pie very much to begin with. From what I can tell, this is a pretty good example of it if you like walnuts.

With all that said, I ate far less than what Yul Brynner thinks is one serving, and I had to make myself dry toast afterward.

But that's just me. What do others think? 

No one in the house exactly rushed to the kitchen upon hearing that the walnut pie awaited. However, a few curious people eventually drifted in. The first thing that was noticed: the pie weeps corn syrup into the empty parts of the pan.

Assorted comments: "It's very liquidy. The nuts on top are good, but the filling is bland. It tastes like nuts and sweet." Also noted: "I don't think I'll be having another slice." Final remarks pronounced over the pie: "I would take this to a church potluck if I didn't like them very much."

I have to blame the corn syrup for this one. Since we had extra walnuts, I decided to give the recipe another go without the offending ingredient. (To my own surprise, the offending ingredient is not walnuts.) Usually you ruin a recipe when you omit large quantities of ingredients, but I said to myself "The hickety heck with it! We have nothing to lose but the extra walnuts!"

As you can see, the pie is actually runnier without the syrup. You'd think removing liquids would have the opposite effect, but corn syrup is an abomination that defies nature. On a somewhat related note, I think removing the corn syrup makes this pie at least as nutritious as a granola bar.

We cut the recipe down to a third of the original amounts. That is, we cut it down as far as you can go without subdividing eggs. The pie went very easily into the tiny pan I chose for it. You may recognize this skillet from the onion pie we made to compensate for a serious case of onion withdrawal. As aforementioned, the filling was runnier without the corn syrup than with it. The walnuts sank into it a little bit instead of floating on top.

At first, I worried that I had picked too big a pan for the pie, but then it puffed up so much that it filled up all the space given to it.

It fell back down as it cooled, but the extra room up top nevertheless prevented the pie from boiling over as it baked. Have a look at this corn-syrup-free beauty! As you can see, the walnuts all floated back to the top as it baked.

No one was exactly thrilled to cut into this pie (they were wary of a gloopy pan of walnuts like the last one), but at last I managed to badger people besides myself to try some of it. With great reservation, someone took a knife to the pie and said "It cuts well. It's not weeping." He lifted out a slice. "Hmm. No soggy bottoms this time." (I have never seen The Great British Bakeoff, but I understand that "no soggy bottoms" has become something of a catchphrase on the show.)

I have to give Yul Brynner credit. This is the first time I have ever liked eating walnuts. 

We actually kept the syrup-free pie instead of sending it to the municipal hereafter. This pie was so good that one could understand why Yul Brynner tells us it serves six. Keep in mind that for the de-syruped pie, I cut it down to one third of the original amount. Therefore, half of the pie is one serving.

Throw out the corn syrup and the pie is just that good! I still don't like walnuts, but I am willing to make an exception for Yul Brynner's pie. 

In closing, we would like to thank Yinzerella for organizing the Pieathlon! If you haven't yet, go see what pies everyone else has made!


  1. I will confess that I am one of those people with a half-empty bottle of corn syrup floating in the back of the pantry.
    color me impressed! Kudos to you for making the pie TWICE and kudos to Yul for getting you to enjoy walnuts! Fabulous pie. Fabulous post. Your version looks great.

    1. Thank you! I may actually get walnuts again-- but for this pie only!

  2. Believe it or not, corn syrup can go bad. I once had a bottle of it in the back of the cupboard that grew mold. I have no clue how old it was. I don't think that it had an expiration date on it.

    1. I did not know that is possible. I thought corn syrup lasted forever like honey does.

  3. I laughed as soon as I saw that you had a walnut-based pie. That's what happens after openly admitting you hate them, apparently! I'm glad you were able to make this one work. (And, as an aside, I finally threw away my bottle of probably-close-to-a-decade-old corn syrup a few months ago.)

    1. It really does figure, doesn't it? I keep meaning to make a pecan pie with hazelnuts instead, but I never seem to get around to it.
      And I'm thinking of throwing out the bottle around here, but in a weird way it feels like when one chucks out that box of outdated cables and phone connectors that follows oneself from house to house.

  4. I actually like walnuts, but when they go bad, they go really, really bad. Your second pie does look much better than the first. When someone gives me pecan pie, I usually end up eating the pecans and the crust because the goo is just too much. This looks like a great solution!

    1. Yeah, the fresh walnuts were actually not that bad- and this is coming from someone who fundamentally does not like them. We ended up mostly just eating the nuts off the top of the syruped pie too.

  5. I kind of think that the Karo people just dumped a lot of syrup into an existing recipe, given how easily the syrup lifts right back out of it.
    And yeah, you don't argue with grandma recipes! I don't know what makes the difference, but if you change a recipe from, say, a 1920s cookbook, it comes out fine. But if you change a recipe that someone's grandma wrote down in the same year, it just does not come out right.

  6. even the cookbook said to forget the corn syrup ......the only use ive ever seen corn syrup is good for it nut brittle .....

  7. I love that you made this twice! And that the corn syrup free version was great - it looked delicious! xx

    1. Thank you! It was really delicious the second time, which I did not expect since it's loaded with walnuts!

  8. I have been chuckling away to myself in my pyjamas here in London. I can’t believe that someone with a walnut aversion scored the walnut pie. Kudos to you for soldiering on with it. I need to store this phrase up for an appropriate moment, “That’s enough walnuttery for the moment.” I am quite your opposite though, I love walnuts and luckily for me, my parents have a walnut tree in front of their house. It’s in a communal area and my 92-year-old mother gives me conniptions by sneaking around, bending over to gather walnuts for me when she thinks nobody is looking.

    But please, please, please I beg all of you, NEVER throw away corn syrup. It may amaze you to hear this, but we cannot buy this nectar here in the UK. Whenever I need some for a movie star recipe, I have to spend one trillion pounds or more to have some sent to me from outer space. I cherish it. But come to think of it, what have I ever used it in apart from a pecan pie? Thank-you so much for your funny post, it has really made my day xx

    1. I'm glad you liked it! A few people have since told me that you really do have to get walnuts fresh. But those are as rare here as corn syrup apparently is where you are! Is the syrup really that hard to get? I almost thought it'd be in what we in America call the "ethnic foods" aisle at the supermarket.