24 November 2007
In my opinion, the only dessert you need for the holidays is pecan pie. Oh sure, I make other desserts, pies and crumbles and cookies and cakes, but really, I’m just holding out for the pecan pie. It’s in my genes. The problem is that good pecan pies are hard to come by, most of the time they are too sweet or too rich and after my fourth bite I’m ready to keel over in diabetic shock. Some pies are runny, others gewey, too few pecans or too many, and for the love of goodness please don’t put chocolate in it. And so for years, rather than tackle yet another pecan pie recipe, I simply gave up and ordered one. You see, my uncle introduced us to Goode Company Pecan Pie, a Texas pie so famous they set up drive through pick ups over the holidays. And people, that pie is damn good, and with all the other things to do over the holidays, it was one less thing to worry about.
But it slowly started to irk me, the fact that I wasn’t making my own pie for Thanksgiving. So I started culling through recipes again, reading and searching and testing recipes. As a base I started with a recipe from the venerable Craig Claiborne which was inherited from his mother. I've made several small tweaks, the most important being: I add a teaspoon of vinegar and a splash of lemon juice. Don’t worry, you won’t taste the vinegar at all, but the acidity just cuts the sweetness and brightens the flavor perfectly. You could use bourbon in place of the lemon if you prefer, but since we usually have another bourbon-flavored dessert at the holidays, I’ve always avoided it in pecan pie and now I really prefer it without. For the crust, I took a hint from that Goode Company pie, and made a more shortbread-like crust that stands up to the pecan filling. Finally, I made sure to bake the pie as long as possible without burning it, this makes sure that the eggs set which prevents a runny pie, and I tented the top with foil to prevent burning.
I felt confident about my pecan pie, but by the time Thanksgiving rolled around, I was just plain nervous. Would my family, spoiled by years of Goode Company pies, reject this homemade specimen? Would one of the other two desserts steal the show? It’s always fun when you make a bunch of dishes to see which one is people’s favorite, will the caramel ice cream hog the spotlight, will the pumpkin cheesecake be the run away hit?
Well, I am pleased to report that there is no question which dessert stole the show. The pecan pie. The crumbly shortbread crust, the pecans just shy of being burnt so that they were instead toasted to caramelly crunch, and that one-wedge shy of empty pie pan at the end of dinner. Which leaves me with only two small problems: a scarcity of leftovers and the realization that I’ll be making a lot more pecan pies in the future. I can’t wait.
for the crust:
1 1/2 cups flour
10 tablespoons cold butter
1 tbl sugar
1/4 cup ice water
for the filling:
1 cup dark corn syrup (like Karo)
1 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
4 tbl unsalted butter, melted
1 tbl lemon juice or bourbon
1 teaspoon mild vinegar
1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup whole pecans
equipment: a 9 inch pie pan, preferably deep dish ceramic
1. Prepare the crust: Place the flour and sugar in a bowl. Add the butter and rub with your finger tips until the mixture forms coarse crumbs. Sprinkle in the cold water until the mixture comes together, form the dough into a ball. Flatten the ball slightly, cover with plastic wrap, and place in the fridge to chill for at least half an hour.
2. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out into a 12 inch circle. Transfer to your pie pan and trim the edges. Place in the freezer to chill until ready to use.
3. Make pie: Set an oven rack in the lower third of your oven. Preheat oven to 375 F. In a bowl, beat the eggs with brown sugar until combined and thick. Add the dark corn syrup, melted butter, lemon juice and vinegar. Add the chopped pecans to combine. Get the pie crust out and scrape in the filling. Put the whole pecans in the bowl that had held the filling, and toss them around to coat with the remains of the corn syrup (they won’t be completely covered, but it’s a nice gesture). Arrange the pecan halves over the filling. Bake the pie for about 50 minutes, until the filling is set and only jiggles slightly in the middle. You will probably have to cover the pie with foil in the last 15 minutes of cooking to prevent the top from burning, keep an eye on it. Uncover and cool to room temperature.
1. In my opinion, there's no real substitute for dark Karo, however, if you live somewhere where it is unavailable, golden syrup(like Lyle's) or treacle are good alternatives. I'd also like to point out that while it is corn syrup, it is made by a different process than high fructose cornsyrup.
2. I skip blind baking the crust and simply bake the pie in the lower third of the oven, and I find no harm is done. If you are using a metal pie pan you should keep an eye that the bottom doesn't burn.
3. If buying the pecans by weight, you'll need about 8 oz pecans total.
4. If you are the kind of person who really likes the custardy layer underneath the pecans (I know who you are), then you can omit the chopped pecans or reduce them to a half cup. If you are the kind of person who likes your pie to be full of pecans, leave it as written, and if you think pecan pie should really be more like a pecan tart or a pecan bar you can even increase the chopped pecans to 1 1/2 cups. Personally, I think it’s just right as written.