We had 17 people over for Thanksgiving this year. Every year, I promise myself that I’m going to photograph the spread. Every year, I fail miserably at it, mainly because I’m running around like a madwoman for days both before and after Thanksgiving, and there’s hardly time to stop. This year, though, the hubby and I promised ourselves that we’d take the day off before Thanksgiving to give ourselves extra time to prepare for all the food and guests. And you know what? In a total “duh” moment, we both realized that extra prep time is the key to having less stress before guests arrive. I had time to bake three pies, people. Three. Pies.
Of the pies I made (pumpkin and sweet potato being the other two), the pecan pie disappeared the fastest. It deserved to be the winner. I made my recipe based off of this one from Smitten Kitchen, one of my all-time favorite baking blogs. Deb Perelman, the author of Smitten Kitchen, talks resolutely about not using Karo corn syrup (or any corn syrup, for that matter) as the sweet, syrupy base for pecan pie. In this day and age, corn syrup is no longer in fashion, for good reason. The unfortunate part of Deb’s recipe is that it calls for golden syrup, which I don’t readily keep in my pantry and didn’t really want to make an extra special trip to the grocery store in search of it.
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I’m sure the question you’re asking yourself right now is whether I keep bags of pecan pieces just regularly in my pantry. The answer is yes, always yes. Why? I don’t know. I just love ’em. I love them in salads and I love them for snacking. They’re a must on sweet potato souffle, and this year I stocked up on enough that pecan pie seemed like a foregone conclusion. In my head, I was already tasting a boozy bourbon version of pecan pie that would leave me all twitterpated. I couldn’t wait. The only problem? We were out of bourbon, too. We’re not huge bourbon drinkers, but lately I’ve been using quite a bit, for everything from an added kick in marinades and pimento cheese to straight up drankin’ in hot toddies. It’s been a fun fall.
Not to be deterred, I rolled the dice on using some Balvenie single-malt whisky we happened to have on in our bar cabinet. In searching for a substitute for golden syrup, I tasted everything from raw honey to molasses to extra dark brown sugar before deciding that maple syrup was the way to go. I wasn’t sure whether the pie would set correctly, since maple syrup is a lot thinner than golden syrup, but I figured that if the pecan pie failed, I’d still have two other pies to fall back on. One can never host a Thanksgiving without back up pies, after all.
The pie that was — oh, was it ever. After slicing into the pie (which did set into a sugary custard), I relished in the pecans, which I had toasted ever-so-slightly in a cast-iron skillet before folding them into my syrup mixture. They stayed fragrant and crisp while the pie baked, and I loved the added spiciness from the whisky, and the pie crust turned out flaky and firm because I’d par-baked it (pre-baked it halfway to keep it from getting soggy). I didn’t shape my crust the way I usually do, and afterwards I regretted it. Such a beautiful tasting pie needed adornment, and I’d been neglectful in that department.
Still, whether you’re in the South or not, this pecan pie is one of celebration. It’s one that does especially well with a dollop of freshly whipped cream and served just slightly warm, although I’d eat it off the dusty hood of a purring Pontiac. I would, I tell you. It’s that good.
- 1 pie crust (I love this Martha Stewart recipe here), or you can use Trader Joe's premade crusts
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 cup packed dark brown sugar
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 cups pecan pieces
- 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon whisky
- ¾ cup natural maple syrup
- 2 teaspoons Nielsen-Massey vanilla extract (my favorite brand of vanilla)
- 3 large eggs
- other materials needed: pie weights (or cleaned coins), foil
- Unroll the crust and drape over the pie plate. Trim the crust and crimp the edges, then put in the freezer for at least 20 minutes and up to overnight (note: this is an important step; the first time I parbaked my crust, I omitted this step and the crust shrunk like crazy).
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Remove the crust from the freezer and lightly cover the entire crust with foil. Add the pie weights or cleaned coins on top of the foil to keep the pie crust from rising during baking. Put the pie crust on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the pie crust from the oven, reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees, and let the pie crust cool before filling it with pie filing.
- Heat a heavy-bottomed or cast-iron skillet over medium-low heat. Add pecans (do not add butter or oil -- just toast them in a dry skillet). Toast the pecans, stirring constantly, watching the pecans carefully to ensure they don't burn, about 5-6 minutes.
- Melt the butter, brown sugar, maple syrup and salt in a saucepan over medium heat until everything is well combined. Add the pecans, whiskey and maple syrup and stir to coat the pecans with the filling. Let cool for 5-10 minutes, then whisk the eggs in one at a time.
- Pour the filling into the crust and bake for 40 to 45 minutes until the center is set. Remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes before serving. Serve with ice cream or whipped cream.