I always loved pecan pie growing up, and being next-door to Georgia is all the more reason for making this classic southern dessert.
But there’s something peculiar about pecan pie–what on earth is it made of? The toasted, crunchy pecan topping is obvious, but what is that filling? Its soft, custardy, delicious, but its just a weird thing to identify compared to say, an apple pie where the filling isn’t exactly a big secret. Believe it or not, as far as pies go, this one is probably one of the quickest and easiest to make and the filling is actually very simple: eggs, brown sugar, and corn syrup. And it is also my entry in September’s In the Bag, hosted this month by Real Epicurean. The theme this month is to make a dish using seasonal fruit, and the pecan (for the skeptical, nuts are a fruit!) harvest is just about to begin down here.
Prior to pecan pie, I would never have even considered cooking with corn syrup. Ever. I was surpsied to even see it carried in grocery stores–what would a home cook need that stuff for? After all, isn’t that one of the prime junk ingredients in just about every overly sweetened, pre-packaged snack out there (I guess there’s one small difference: the “high fructose” part)? Why not just use sugar? Or brown sugar? Molasses? My first instinct was to seek out other recipes with “better” ingredients, and strangely enough, it seems that corn syrup is almost a universally accepted component of pecan pie. There are recipes out there without corn syrup, but they are definitely in the minority, so I figured I’d trust the wisdom of the crowds on my first attempt before making any major substitutions. Furthermore, there’s also a lot of history to using corn syrup in pecan pies, so hey, why not, right? Well, I’ve never looked back. Corn syrup tastes strange straight out of the bottle (a sweetener that’s not sweet? That makes sense…), but once cooked in pie form, I’m a believer. So if you’ve never made a pecan pie before, suspend your disbelief and give this a shot.
- Pie crust
- 4 eggs, slightly beaten
- 1 cup light corn syrup (light as in not dark, not as in “diet”)
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 2 Tbsp melted butter
- 2 Tbsp flour
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1.25 cups pecan halves
First, the most laborious part of the pie: make your crust. Once the crust is laid out in the pie dish, I use a fork to texturize the edges. For some reason, a pecan pie just isn’t a pecan pie without a somewhat appropriate looking crust.
Preheat your oven to 375°F.
Break your pecans halves in half (so you’re down to quarters now) with your hands. You don’t want pecans pieces that are too large because you want them to be able to get close to each other so they can form a united front atop your pie. You also don’t want to chop them up really finely (e.g. in a food processor) because when’s the last time you saw a pecan pie without large pecans on top? You don’t need to be super precise with this part.
Spread your pecan pieces somewhat evenly along the bottom of the pie shell. This might seem strange since the pecans belong on top of your pie. Well when you add your filling (and during baking), you’ll notice your pecans are actually pretty buoyant and they will all rise to the top, nicely glazing themselves with pie filling on the way up. Martha Stewart would call this a “good thing.”
Speaking of filling, we should probably make that, too. Simply mix all of the remaining ingredients together in a bowl and pour this over your pecans.
Time for the oven. About 20 minutes into the cooking you may want to protect the crust by loosely wrapping the edges in aluminum foil to prevent the pie crust edges from burning. Bake for roughly 50 minutes total until the filling has set and isn’t liquidy any more (just give the pie a light jiggle if you’re not sure–it should not jiggle back).
Enjoy with a plop of whipped cream or a scoop of rich chocolate ice cream!