“The teeming autumn, big with rich increase,
Bearing the wanton burden of the prime,
Like widow’d wombs after their lords’ decease.”
Sonnet 97, 6-8
I have always loved pecan pie—the rich, buttery taste of toasted pecans and the sweetness of the gooey center seems to just melt perfectly on the tongue. Generally, I bake pecan pies in the fall (as was the case with this one, though I am only just now posting about it) because the flavors seem to go well with the chilly temperatures, crisp autumn air, and the colorful leaves falling from the trees. I also have a habit of making this pie for Thanksgiving, mostly because I am not fond of pumpkin pie (it’s a texture thing—I love pumpkin in other baked goods, but pumpkin pie is not my thing at all) and my family doesn’t really love apple pie. So, for me at least, pecan pie and Thanksgiving just go together.
This particular pie was made for a Thanksgiving potluck that my graduate school peers put together. We were all stressed with grading and needed to do something else for a while. What better way to distress than to talk about the things we loved, see people we hadn’t in a while, and eat delicious food. As I always do when a potluck comes around, I volunteered to make the desserts. Pecan pie was the first thing that came to mind, of course; I craved the warm taste of toasted pecans and buttery feel of them in my hands when cracking them.
This recipe is lovely. The pie set beautifully and tasted perfect. The filling is sweet, rich, and the taste of the pecans shines. The original recipe called for chopped pecans, but I did a mix of both. I like to have some smaller pieces so that you get pecans in every bite, but I also love the look of whole pecan halves in the finished pie. Whatever you do is up to you, but you should definitely toast the pecans first. The recipe did not call for it, but toasting the pecans beforehand gives them even more flavor and you won’t be sorry that you took the extra couple of minutes to do it—I promise!
You have a choice with the piecrust in this recipe. I would suggest making your own because the ones you’ll find in your refrigerated section of your grocery store will not be as light or as flakey as one you make yourself, but if you are short on time, patience, or just don’t feel confident in you crust making abilities (which I will touch on in a minute), then a store-bought crust will work. I am personally a little stubborn, so I wanted to make my own piecrust. It’s a good way to add an extra something special to any pie you make and it also tends to impress people (bonus!). The piecrust recipe I have below, which is actually called pâte briseé, is the only piecrust recipe I ever use since I discovered it a few years ago. It’s flakey and buttery and perfect. I also think it’s pretty easy (maybe even foolproof). It is even easier if you have a large food processor, but if you don’t, you can use a fork, pasty cutter, or your fingers to cut the butter into the flour to make the dough. A couple of tips: make sure your butter is very cold and cut up into tiny pieces. I cut up my butter and then stick it back into the fridge for a couple of minutes to get it cold again. Also make sure you have ice water (I put ice cubes into my water and let it sit for a couple of minutes so it’s really cold). These two things will help make your piecrust making adventure easier and go more smoothly. I unfortunately did not take pictures of the piecrust process this time, but I will include that on a later post.
Pie Recipe Adapted from Lilacs & Longhorns
Pie Crust recipe adapted from Martha Stewart
For the crust:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter chilled and cut into small pieces
1/4 to 1/2 cup ice water
For the filling:
4 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup dark corn syrup
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup toasted pecan halves (you can chop them, just crack them with your hands like I do, or leave them as they are)
To make the crust:
1) In the bowl of a food processor, combine flour, salt, and sugar. Add butter, and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal, 8 to 10 seconds. Or, if you don’t have a food processor or don’t have one big enough, you can use a fork or pastry cutter or your hands (try to rinse them in cold water first so they are not too warm) to cut the butter into the dough. Just try to work quickly so your dough does not warm up too much.
2) With machine running, add ice water in a slow, steady stream through feed tube. Pulse until dough holds together without being wet or sticky; be careful not to process more than 30 seconds. Again, if you are not using the food processor, just work quickly the water into the dough with a fork, cutter, or your hands. . To test, squeeze a small amount together: If it is crumbly, add more ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time.
3) Divide dough into two equal balls. Flatten each ball into a disc and wrap in plastic. Transfer to the refrigerator and chill at least 1 hour. Dough may be stored, frozen, up to 1 month.
To make the pie:
1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place pecan halves or chopped pecans onto a baking sheet lined with tinfoil. Toast pecans for 4-6 minutes and then set them aside to cool.
2) Roll out piecrust and fit into a 9-inch pie plate. Fold edges and crimp.
3) Whisk together eggs, sugar, dark corn syrup, butter, dark brown sugar, vanilla extract, and salt in a saucepan over low heat until well blended. Pour into unbaked piecrust; sprinkle with toasted pecans.
4) Bake at 350 degrees on lower rack for 30 minutes or until pie is set.
**The key to the rich taste of this pie is the use of dark syrup and dark brown sugar. You can substitute these for light, but you won’t get the same rich taste.