Pecan Pie

History - Pecan pie is the very first pie I made on my own, back before I knew how to cook. Going even further back into the mists of time, it was my favorite dessert at the college dining hall. But I've never been able to come up with what I consider the "perfect" pecan pie. And, oddly enough, I don't make it very often. That's something I need to change. Here are the variations I've tried:


Mark IV Pecan Pie

This is the very first pie I made on my own. The recipe is adapted from the Church of Ascension cookbook my grandmother gave me many years ago. It is the Mark IV because it's the fourth variation I tried. It is a very tasty pie with lots of goo, but it has an unfortunate tendency to ooze everywhere. All of the variations were attempts to fix this (attempts made, I must add, before I knew anything about what actually causes pies to be firm). Still, it tasted great, and I had no problems with scooping up any goo that oozed over the plate or the pie tin.

For ingredients, see the table below.

Instructions - Mark IV version - Combine syrup, salt, butter, and vanilla. Mix well. Add slightly beaten eggs. Pour into the pie shell. Sprinkle pecans over the top. Bake in pre-heated 350F oven for approximately 50 minutes. Cool completely.


Williams-Sonoma Essentials of Baking version

History - This is a solid pecan pie but the flavor seemed strangely muted. Perhaps some salt in the mix to help bring out the sugar and caramel flavors would help?

For ingredients, see table below.

Instructions - Essentials of Baking version - Prebake a 9 inch pie crust made with butter and vegetable shortening. Position rack in middle of oven and preheat to 350F. In a large bowl, combine the eggs, sugar, corn syrup, and vanilla. Whisk until blended. Whisk in the melted butter. Using a spoon, stir in the pecans. Pour the filling into the prebaked crust. Bake the pie until the filling is set, 45-50 minutes. The center of the pie should jiggle slightly if the pan is given a gentle shake. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool.


Pie and Pastry Bible version

History - The filling for this version is excellent - the consistency is good (solid, not runny) and the taste is even better, which is what I was hoping after I saw it used Lyle's Golden Syrup and unrefined brown sugar. The pie is actually made in a tart pan, and this is where I think things could be improved. The shallow tart pan means there's not a whole lot of filling (henceforth refered to as "goo) for the amount of pecans present. That, however, can be easily fixed by using a regular pie plate, using a smaller amount of pecans and/or increasing the amount of filling. I look forward to trying these improvement!

Rating - good

Instructions - Pie and Pastry Bible version - Use your favorite pie crust recipe. Some good examples would be the cream cheese crust in the apple crumb mini-pie recipe or an all-butter crust from the pumpkin mini-pie recipe (you'll have to scale them up for a double crust pie). Roll out the crust between two sheets of floured plastic and then put into a 9.5 inch tart pan, folding under the overhang. Use 2.4 oz of pie crust per 4 3/4 inch tartlet pan. Let the crust rest in the fridge covered with plastic wrap for at least an hour after rolling out into the pie pan to help prevent shrinking while baking. Prebake the crust shells by putting parchment paper in the shell and filling with pie weights or dried beans. Have the oven preheated to 425F at least 20 minutes before prebaking. Bake for 15 minutes. Carefully remove the parchment. Continue baking without the parchment for an additional 3-5 minutes or until golden brown [ed note - I omitted this last 3-5 minute bit and the crust came out just the way I liked it.] Cool completely on a wire rack.

Preheat oven to 350F at least 15 minutes before baking. Set an oven rack on the lowest level before preheating. Arrange the pecans, top sides up, in the bottom of the baked crust. Have a strainer suspended over a small bowl [ed note - I omitted the straining part. All it really does is remove any overcooked egg bits - I don't mind a little texture in the filling, especially since you have all the nuts there anyway.] In a medium nonreactive saucepan, combine the egg yolks, syrup, brown sugar, cream, and salt. Cook over moderately low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon and without letting the mixture boil, until it is uniform in color and just begins the thicken slightly (160F on a candy thermometer), 7 to 10 minutes [ed note - for a pielet, this step can be tricky. I had the saucepan on the heat for maybe a minute before the mix hit 160F and then removed from the heat entirely and stirred for a couple of minutes more, letting the residual heat in the pan complete the thickening. In short, it is *really* easy to overcook the small amount of filling when making a pielet if you're not careful.] Strain at once into the small bowl and stir in the vanilla. Slowly pour the filling over the nuts, coating their upper surface. Place a foil ring on top of the crust to prevent overbrowning and bake for about 20 minutes or until the filling is puffed and golden and just beginning to bubble around the edges. The filling will shimmy slightly when moved. Allow the pie to cool completely on a rack, about 45 minutes, before unmolding from the pan.

Optional - if you want a chocolate lace topping, melt 1 oz of bittersweet chocolate in a double boiler or in the microwave. Add two tablespoons heavy cream and stir until smooth. Pour the mix into a reclosable quart-size freezer bag and close it securely. Use it at once to pipe onto the cooled pie. To pipe: Cut off a very small piece from one corner of the bag and drizzle lines of chocolate back and forth over the top of the pecans, first in one direction (front to back) and then the other (side to side) to form a lacy design of chocolate webbing.


Williams-Sonoma Pie and Tart Maple Pecan Pie

History - In theory, this should be a great pecan pie. After all, how can you go wrong with maple syrup as the main sweetener? In practice, EPIC FAIL! First, it is insanely sweet. Even I found it too sweet. Even with a glass of skim milk. And some unsweetened whipped cream to dilute the pie's intensity. It was like taking a pie crust and simply pouring maple syrup and pecans in it.

The consistency was also an EPIC FAIL. When I cut into it, it had a thin, hard upper crust, which, when cracked, let the completely thin syrupy interior gush out. It did not congeal at all. Did I not concentrate the maple syrup enough? I don't think so since the concentrated syrup solidified when it cooled. Maybe not enough egg to bind it? Probably. The original recipe uses fewer eggs than every other pecan pie recipe I've seen. Did I cook it long enough? Probably. It was bubbling at the edges. Was it too hot in the oven? Possibly. The fact that it crusted over hard points to this as a potential reason. Maybe once it crusted over, the interior didn't cook like it should. I've had this happen to some tortes I've made in the past. Maybe putting it on the bottom shelf is required? (I had the pie on the middle shelf as the one on the bottom had a baking stone on it.

Regardless, I think this recipe from the Williams-Sonoma "Pie and Tart" cookbook needs some additional work.

Rating - okay

Ingredients - filling

Instructions - Pie and Tart version - Use your favorite pie crust recipe. Some good examples would be the cream cheese crust in the apple crumb mini-pie recipe or an all-butter crust from the pumpkin mini-pie recipe (you'll have to scale them up for a double crust pie). Roll out the crust between two sheets of floured plastic and then put into a 9.5 inch tart pan, folding under the overhang. Use 2.4 oz of pie crust per 4 3/4 inch tartlet pan. Let the crust rest in the fridge covered with plastic wrap for at least an hour after rolling out into the pie pan to help prevent shrinking while baking. Prebake the crust shells by putting parchment paper in the shell and filling with pie weights or dried beans. Have the oven preheated to 425F at least 20 minutes before prebaking. Bake for 15 minutes. Carefully remove the parchment. Take the pie crust out of the oven and cool completely on a wire rack.

Preheat oven to 350F. In a saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the maple syrup to a boil and boil for 8-10 minutes to reduce [it took 4-5 minutes for the pielet amount. I stopped it when the boiling became less vigorous and the syrup obviously began to thicken.] Remove from the heat and pour into a heatproof measuring pitcher or glass. The syrup should be reduced to 1 1/2 cups (12 oz). If necessary, return the syrup to the saucepan and continue to boil until sufficiently reduced. Let cool to room temperature before proceeding. In a bowl, stir together the eggs, brown sugar, reduced maple syrup, salt, melted butter, and vanilla until well mixed. Add the pecans and stir well. Pour into the partially baked pie shell, making sure the pecans are evenly distributed. Bake the pie until the center is slightly puffed and firm to the touch, 30-35 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool until just slightly warm, about 45 minutes, before serving.


Coconut Pecan Pie

History - This pie can't decide if it wants to be a pecan pie with coconut or a coconut pie with pecans. It's not a bad pie either, but there is something missing. You can't really taste much coconut and the pecans are strangely muted. All you really get is a generic sweet taste. I can see two ways to try and perk up the flavor. First, add coconut extract if the goal is to make it more coconut-y. Second, since most pecan pies have either dark brown sugar or dark corn syrup in it, replace some of the regular sugar with dark brown sugar. I'd also consider increasing the flour amount slightly to help with the extra moisture the brown sugar would bring with it. Adding caramel flavor from the molasses in the dark brown sugar would certainly add more to this pie.

I found the recipe in Alton Brown's "Feasting on Asphalt - The River Run."

Rating - okay

Ingredients

Instructions - Preheat the oven to 350F. In a large mixing bowl, combine the sugar, eggs, butter, buttermilk, coconut, pecans, flour, vanilla, and salt. Pour into the pie crust. Bake for 45 minutes, or until the pie is golden brown and the center is barely set. Let cool for 45 minutes before serving.


Storage

Room temperature - good
Refrigerator - okay
Freezer - unknown

Pecan pie is one of the few pies I'd store on the counter rather than the fridge. Because of all of the brown sugar in the fillings, the high humidity environment of the fridge will cause the filling to weep significantly after a day or two in the fridge. I don't know how well any of these pecan pies would freeze.