Preheat the oven to 325°F.
For the pie crust:
Lightly oil 18 non-stick petit four pans.
Make sure the butter is chilled.
In a mixing bowl, combine 1 cup flour, ⅛ teaspoon salt, 6 tablespoons butter, shortening and 1 tablespoon sugar. Mix using the back of fork (or a stainless-steel pastry blender) until it forms sandy crumbs. Add 1 egg yolk and slowly add 3 tablespoons cold milk, blending until the dough is barely formed. Do NOT over-mix. Cover with a towel and chill in the refrigerator for at least 15 minutes.
Once chilled, transfer the dough onto a pastry board lined with a sheet of parchment paper (plastic wrap works fine too). Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons flour. Place another sheet of parchment paper on top of the dough like a sandwich. Using a rolling pin, even out to about ¼"-thick, then divide into to 18 disks.
Top the molds with the disks of dough. Press the dough against the wall and into the bottom of the molds. Let chill in the freezer until ready to use.
Prepping the orange: Using a vegetable peeler, create thin strips of orange zest.
Blanch the orange zest (dip for 1 minute in boiling water, then transfer to an ice bath). Repeat twice. This helps remove some of the bitterness of the fruit. Drain and pat dry the orange zest with a paper towel and very finely chop. Set aside.
How to make concentrated orange juice: Squeeze as much as juice from the orange as possible. Using a strainer, remove the pulp from the orange juice. Place half the amount of orange juice in a small saucepan (I drank the rest!). Bring to a boil, then immediately lower the heat to a gentle simmer for about 5-6 minutes. The liquid should reduce to about 1 tablespoon of concentrated orange juice. Remove from the heat.
How to roast pecans: Roast the pecans. To release all the flavor and oil of the pecans, I like to roast them in the oven for about 10 minutes at 325°F before chopping them. Let them cool. Cut 8 pecans in half crosswise and reserve for garnish. Place the rest in a food processor and pulse 3-4 times.
For the pecan filling: Using an electric mixer, whisk the eggs with the remaining granulated sugar until you get a pale yellow foam. Add the Grand Marnier and remaining salt. In another bowl, cream 6 tablespoons butter with the brown sugar. Add the concentrated orange juice, ⅓ cup of date syrup and corn syrup. Combine the egg mixture with the creamed butter. Pour the pecan filling in a saucepan. Cook over the lowest setting (simmer) for about 8 minutes, stirring constantly, until the mixture is thickened. Turn off the heat. Allow to cool for 5 minutes and add the chopped pecans and orange peels.
Assembly time: Place the pie shells onto a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes at 325°F. Fill the pie shells with the warm pecan filling. Decorate with the reserved chopped pecans. Loosely cover the molds with a sheet of aluminum foil to prevent the pie shells from burning and extend the baking time an additional 10 minutes at 350°F.
Serve the bite-sized pecan pies at room temperature to ensure the filling sets.
If you want to be extra cautious, you can cook the pecan filling in a double boiler to ensure the eggs don't curdle.
I bought the non-stick petit four pans at Williams-Sonoma at the Stanford Shopping Center in Palo Alto, California. These pans are very hard to find. It's a set of thirty with 5 different shapes, all made in France. It cost $26.
Grand Marnier is an orange-flavored liqueur and it pairs wonderfully with the flavor of these mini pies. For a kid-friendly version, you can substitute ½ teaspoon of orange extract plus ½ teaspoon of imitation Brandy extract or a dash of orange blossom water for the Grand Marnier.
Rolling the dough between 2 sheets of parchment paper (or on 2 silicon mats) eleminates the need for too much flour on the rolling surface, which can change the texture of the dough.
You can find date syrup in any Middle-Eastern market.