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Pecan Pie Woes


Anyone who knows me knows my love-hate relationship with pecan pie. It's been my father's favorite for ages; a Thanksgiving favorite for years upon years; a Southern classic since before I understood whether the South was up or down. It is, when baked correctly, the most delicious combination of smoky and sweet, gooey and flakey -- the epitome of a delicious pie. Pie at its finest, indeed, may very well be a perfect pecan pie.

And for some reason, it took me 7 months to master it.

Soupy filling, soggy bottom crust, the dreaded shrinking crust -- each attempt brought a new failure. And each failure brought a newer, stronger determination to get the damn thing right.

I tried recipes without corn syrup, recipes with corn syrup, recipes with light corn syrup and not dark, recipes with dark corn syrup and not light -- recipes with a combination of the two -- recipes with chocolate and bourbon, recipes with toasted pecans and without. Recipes with cornstarch, recipes without. Recipes with a blind-baked crust. Recipes with dark brown sugar instead of light. What other combination could there possibly be? Was it the altitude? This was the first culprit in my mind: blame the baking disaster on the inevitable circumstances of living in the mountains. I even contemplated punting a failed pecan pie off of my apartment porch after my fifth failure. It couldn't possibly be my fault after 6 tries... And perhaps it wasn't; however, I concluded the perfect pecan pie recipe was out there. And maybe it would take me 40 years to conquer it, but I accepted the challenge. Pecan pie victory will be mine.

And on the 7th try, I succeeded. I will tell you that the perfect pecan pie varies from person to person. Some people like more nuts, some people prefer fewer nuts. Some people prefer a more soupy center, and others prefer a denser, more gooey center. For me, my dream pecan pie is a perfectly set, perfectly gooey pie with lots of pecans, the least bit of soup and a sturdy bottom crust. And before I share the SLIGHTLY tweaked recipe from Sally's Baking Addiction with you, I will first share a few pecan pie tips and tricks I picked up along the woeful way.

1. Do not, under any circumstances, cut into your pecan pie until it has completely cooled. This is 4 hours at the very least. The pie will continue to set up after it has been removed from the oven, giving it that delicious gooey center and intact bottom crust. Cutting into it too soon will result in soup. Cover it loosely with foil after it has fully cooled and let sit overnight for best results.

2. Always toast your pecans. There is a very noticeable difference between untoasted pecans and toasted pecans. Untoasted will result in a pie that tastes like caramel, with a hint of pecan (delicious nonethless). Toasted will result in a very nutty, caramel-y, almost smoky flavor of the pie, which to me is simply glorious.

3. Brush an egg-white wash on your bottom crust before adding filling. This may seem like a small part of the process, but it works magic for the bottom crust. No pie should go bottom crustless. It's like a pie without pants. Keep your crust intact and flakey by lightly beating an egg white and brushing it on your bottom crust once it is in the pie pan. Then, right before you add your filling, sprinkle 1 1/2 tablespoons of graham cracker crumbs along the bottom crust. This creates a layer between the crust and the filling, keeping the two separate as they bake.

Glorious Pecan Pie

1 All-Butter Pie Crust (this makes 2 crusts -- you can use the other to cut out decorations and shapes, or freeze it for up to a month)

1 egg white

2 cups roughly chopped pecans

1/2 cup pecan chips

4 large eggs

1 cup dark corn syrup

1/2 cup dark brown sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1 1/2 tablespoons graham cracker crumbs

Turbinado sugar (for dusting)

Make the Pie!

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Give your pecans a rough chop, spread them on a baking sheet and pop them in the oven while it preheats. Let them toast just until you can smell the amazing pecan aroma wafting all over the place (around 8 minutes). Set aside to cool.

Prepare the crust and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. When the discs are chilled, roll one disc into a 12-inch circle, roll onto your rolling pin, and unroll gently into pie plate. Trim edges, fold under, and crimp as desired. If you are using the other disc for decorations, do so now. Lightly beat the egg white in a small bowl, and use a pastry brush to lightly coat the bottom crust. Refrigerate while you make the filling.

Yay Filling!

In a large bowl, combine eggs, corn syrup, brown sugar, vanilla extract, butter and cinnamon. Whisk until thoroughly combined. Sift cornstarch into mixture and stir until lumps are gone. Retrieve your lovely pie crust from the fridge, sprinkle graham cracker crumbs into bottom crust, and pour your toasted pecans into the pie dish (yes, you're doing this right. The pecans will float to the top while baking). Pour that delicious filling over the pecan mountain. Lightly beat the leftover egg, brush it over the crust, and sprinkle with turbinado sugar. Now stick that delicious pie into the oven.

Bake for 40 - 50 minutes, or until the pie is puffed and jiggles only slightly in the middle. If it is browning too quickly, tent the pie with foil for the last 15 - 20 minutes of baking.

And remember, once you remove the beauty from the oven, let it rest for at least 4 hours.


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