Pecan Pie, traditional American dessert
You will not believe it, but I have never in my life made the famous Pecan Pie. It’s one of those things you always want to do, but for some strange reason, you keep putting it off. Up to a point that the years begin to pass and there comes a moment when you say; – But, what am I doing with my life without trying this marvel! -. So I decided that this year was going to be the year that Pecan Pie would be part of the family. And so it has been.
The truth is that I already imagined that I would like it… But it’s complicated that it wouldn’t have been like that. Pecans, butter, muscovado sugar, cinnamon… Impossible. The ingredients separately are wonderful, because imagine all of them together. An absolute and complete delight.
Pecan Pie origin.
The origin of this pie, born in America, dates back to the end of the 19th century. Both the recipe and the presentation have remained unchanged since its creation. The nuts are a native fruit of North America, thanks to the Native Americans they reached the north of Illinois and the south of Iowa, according to Edgar Rose, a former engineer and expert in the elaboration of pecan pies.
They grew along the areas irrigated by the Mississippi River, extending eastward to Alabama. After the Civil War, commercial developers brought in some varieties of pecans to grow in Georgia (now the leading commercial pecan producer in the United States). Grafted pecan trees also became common in Louisiana in the mid to late 19th century.
The name of the pecan itself is derived from the French word pacane, which is taken from the Algonquin word meaning “nut” or “hard to break nut”. That may help explain why some believe the French invented the pecan pie after settling in New Orleans, being the natives who introduced this nut to the French, and given their great ability to bake, invented this pie. Although apparently there is little evidence to support it.
“Once people had nuts, they started using them for baking” says Rose.
The first printed recipes for pecan pies began appearing in Texas cookbooks in the 1870s and 1880s. The first recipe that most closely resembles what we know today as pecan pie was published in 1898 in a cookbook of a St. Louis charity church, written by a Texas woman.
In the early 20th century, pecan pie recipes began to appear outside of Texas, but the pie did not gain much popularity until the mid-1920s. That’s when the manufacturer of Karo syrup decided to print a pecan pie recipe on the product label packaging. As James McWilliams pointed out in The Pecan: A History of America’s Native Nut. The wide distribution of Karo syrup made the pecan pie known to a significant number of people and it was also quite simple to make.
“For that reason to this day, most pecan pie recipes still use Karo syrup,” explains Rose.
What are the traditional ingredients of the famous Pecan Pie?
Technically, it is classified as “sugar pie“, which is not surprising due to its components. The classic recipe shared by the Karo manufacturers uses a cup of the product in the filling mixture, in addition to eggs, sugar, butter, vanilla extract and pecans. The union of these elements makes the filling of the cake “gooey and melting”, while giving a crunchy finish on the surface.
There are alternatives to replace Karo syrup such as maple syrup, brown sugar, molasses and can even be flavored with liquors such as bourbon, rum or whiskey. There are many versions of this traditional pie among which we can find ingredients such as chocolate, dulce de leche… Even some variations in which it is given another format; cookie, brownie or even cheesecake.
According to Rose, in terms of ingredients we will not find great variations, but we will in terms of sweetness. Apparently, the people south of the Mason-Dixon line prefer much sweeter cakes, conveying the credo of an old Southern baker who said that a cake should be “sweet enough to make tooth fillings hurt“. I must say that I totally differ from this opinion, since the excess of sugar hides the rest of the flavors. Something that makes it seem like a commercial product, made to cover the need to palliate the desire for something sweet no matter how much our taste buds enjoy it.
A traditional Thanksgiving elaboration.
The nut harvest begins at the end of September and lasts until November, which makes it a seasonal production, arriving at the right time to be part of this festivity. In addition, the arrival of corn syrup together with a surplus of nuts, made this cake very popular throughout the country.
Pecan Pie recipe
Ingredients for a 26,5 cm diameter mold (8 serves)
FOR SHORTBREAD PASTRY:
- 300 g plain/AP flour
- 165 g unsalted butter, cold
- 27 g lard
- 45 g sugar
- 54 g very cold water, from the fridge
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 4 large eggs
- 300 g corn syrup
- 60 g muscovado sugar
- 100 g sugar
- 115 g unsalted butter
- 125 g pecans, lightly chopped
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 100 g pecans, more or less
FOR BRUSHING (optional):
- 3 Tbsp apricot jam
- 5-6 Tbsp syrup (recipe below)
- 50 g water
- 60 g sugar
Make shortbread pastry.
- Cut the butter into cubes, set aside.
- In a large bowl (I have used my KitchenAid) add the flour together with the butter, lard, sugar and salt, mix with the help of the flat beater until a sandy mixture is obtained. It will be a few seconds, it is important not to work the dough too much so as not to develop the gluten.
- Pour the water and mix again during some seconds. We will obtain a non-homogeneous paste.
- Transfer the dough to a work surface and we will finish working it making the technique of fraisage. It will serve us to obtain a homogenous dough, but without developing the gluten.
- Putt the "heel" of the hand on the dough and slide ahead little by little the dough so that it is amalgamated but without obtaining an elastic result. We will do it few times, just enough to amalgamate the mixture.
- Stretch the dough, with an adjustable roller and a thickness of 2 mm, between two sheets of Teflon or silpat. We will give it a bigger diameter than the mold.
- In case the dough has acquired room temperature, refrigerate it for 15-20 minutes so that we can handle it without breaking it.
- Place the dough on the mold (I have used one from Emile Henry) and fit it without pressing the dough. We adjust it perfectly, but without pressing it with our hands.
- Roll the edges with a roller pin, that way we can remove the excess dough so that it is perfectly adjusted.
- Refrigerate while preparing the filling. At this point, if we wish, we can refrigerate the mold with the dough until the next day.
Make the syrup.
- Add all the ingredients in a saucepan. Place on medium heat and allow to boil. The sugar should have dissolved completely.
- Once it comes to the boil, turn off the heat and let it cool down completely.
- Put the syrup in a bottle with the help of a funnel.
- Reserve at room temperature.
Make Pecan Pie filling.
- Preheat oven to 345ºF/175ºC.
- In a saucepan add the butter together with the muscovado sugar. Place at medium-low heat and let it melt completely. Stir from time to time to help the two ingredients integrate. Leave it aside to temper while we prepare the rest of the filling.
- With the help of a sharp knife, chop 125 g of pecans. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, add the eggs along with the white sugar, salt and vanilla. Mix until homogenized.
- Add the corn syrup and the cinnamon and mix again. We must mix very well so that all the ingredients are perfectly integrated.
- Begin to add the butter in a continuous thread while whisking.Mix until we get a perfectly homogeneous mixture.
Fill and bake.
- Place the chopped pecans at the base of the mold.
- Pour the filling over them. With the help of a silicon spatula, help to distribute the chopped nuts well.
- Decorate the top with whole pecans. Ideally, they should all be of similar size.
We will place them very carefully and create a pattern to our liking. In my case I leave you with a presentation option, but feel free to make the one you like best.
- With great care, put the mold in the lowest rack of the oven and bake for 55-60 minutes. In my case I wanted the central part to be more runny, but if we want it to be thicker, we must prolong the baking time. In the notes section I give you the details.
- Remove from the oven and let it cool completely on a rack.
Brush with the syrup.
- In a saucepan add the apricot jam along with the syrup and mix.
- Heat for a few seconds so that it acquires a very liquid consistency.
- With the help of a pastry brush, brush all the surface.
- Refrigerate until the next day or we can serve it once it has cooled down. The cold helps you to take more firmness.
- The pie crust is the same one I left for the Pumpkin Pie. I really like the texture, slightly flaky, which is obtained with the addition of lard. But you can use the dough recipe that you like best.
- The dough from the base can be mixed in the KitchenAid or by hand inside a large bowl. As you find it most convenient and clean.
- The lard provides a slightly flaky texture very pleasant to the palate. If you want to omit it, you can substitute it with butter, but I recommend you to use it. It doesn't add flavour, but it does give us an incredible texture.
- When placing the dough in the mold, do not press it, place it and adjust it gently. Otherwise it will shrink after baking.
- The dough can be kept refrigerated, once placed in the mold and covered with film, until the next day.
- In my case I did not bake the crust beforehand, that is why I placed it in the lower part of the oven. Depending on the type of mold, it may be necessary to avoid it being left underbaked. To bake in blind, put baking paper on the dough and weights on it (or beans), bake for 15 minutes at 355ºF/180ºC at medium height. Remove the weights and bake for 5 more minutes. Remove and pour the filling. Bake at medium height following the recipe.
- Pecans cannot be replaced by walnuts. The reason is not that the pie will go bad, but pecans have a different taste and texture that makes the result spectacular.
- Corn syrup can be replaced by Maple Syrup. Some people also add 1 tablespoon of flour or cornstarch to make the filling thicker and similar to that made with corn syrup.
- It is normal for the chopped nuts to float to the surface after pouring the filling.
- The nuts that we have in the top decoration, do not sink and remain on the surface thanks to the chopped nut that floats.
- If we observe that the pie, as the baking progresses, acquires a very golden color, cover it with aluminum foil to finish the baking and prevent it from burning. Very roasted nuts acquire a bitter taste.
- If you like the filling to be thicker and more consistent, increase the baking time to 70 minutes or until the central part of the filling does not jiggle if we move the mold.
- We must let it cool down completely before consuming it.
- To serve it we can accompany it with whipped cream, vanilla ice cream or even crème fraîche (I love it).
- We can keep it refrigerated for 3 days or freeze it for up to 3 months, very well wrapped in film. To consume it, we can take it out the night before and leave it in the fridge to defrost progressively. Take it out of the fridge 1-2 hours before consumption, if we like it at room temperature.
Without a doubt this Pecan Pie is a classic and traditional elaboration of these dates. But, without a doubt I see that it is a perfect option to enjoy throughout the year. Or at least in the season of this product.
At home we have loved it, to the point of repeating dessert, hahaha. How wonderful. I am pretty sure I will try many other versions I have seen and, among them, I will try to make the original without corn syrup.
I wish you a wonderful weekend!