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Before every urban gardener and fan of a rustic rooftop lifestyle decided to try their hand at beekeeping, it was an antiquated practice in my rural Appalachian hometown. It was generally reserved exclusively for eccentric old men, folk medicine practitioners, and the family of my high school crush, who had a well-known apiary between the thickets in the woods behind their house. After mustering up the courage to let him know how I felt, our first—and last—date consisted of us both donning protective bee headgear and traipsing out into the woods to collect a honey harvest: the sticky nectar was delicious in my tea for months to come, but my bee sting covered arms really soured any chance at a relationship.
While I might not have a future as an apiculturist, I'm sweet on any recipe that requires a healthy dose of this delight, especially when it's paired with deep, rich spices like anise to balance out what can be an overpowering, gummy taste. The type of honey used in this dessert will have a profound impact on the resulting flavor: while any locally sourced honey will do, I recommend clover honey, which has floral notes, or acacia honey, which is widely regarded as a flavorful favorite. In any case, don't shortchange your pie by using the standard supermarket honey bear fare: it's worth the extra effort to locate and use the highest quality honey possible.
If you're feeling ambitious and want to toast your own pine nuts, doing so with just a touch of cardamom sprinkled on top will compliment well the licorice-like bite of the crust and add an undercurrent of spice to the pie. The buttery-smooth pine nut often gets a bad rap for allegedly causing the unappetizing, mysterious phenomenon "pine nut mouth": a metallic, bitter taste for days or weeks after eating a dish containing pine nuts. The origins have tentatively been traced to specific shelling processes used on Chinese pine nuts, so to save yourself from this fate, stick with the Italian kind when selecting your nuts.
When first making the filling, I tempered the honey mixture, still hot, into the egg mixture, which left me with a runnier custard consistency than my target texture. By allowing the honey mixture to fully cool to room temperature, the egg mixture can be folded into the honey mixture, ensuring a thicker filling and that the eggs won't curdle due to the heat.
Looking to add a bit of extra flare to the pie? Whip up some fresh anise cream to dollop on top of this nutty, earthy treat.
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About the author: Sarah Baird is a writer, editor, and petit four aficionado living in New Orleans, Louisiana. She likes planning elaborate dinner parties surrounded by her collection of dwarf citrus trees. You can read her latest musings and about her various misadventures on her website: hellosarahbaird.com or follow her on Twitter: @scbaird.