There is much to love about sweet, nutty pecan pie, but it’s easy for this simple dessert to turn out tooth achingly sugary and void of pecan flavour, with a curdled filling sogging a leathery crust.
We wanted to create the ideal recipe for a not-too-sweet pie with a smooth-textured filling and a properly baked bottom crust. We decided to start from the bottom up.
By partially baking the crust, we ensured that the filling wouldn’t compromise its texture during baking and serving; we also found that adding the filling while the crust was still warm helped a great deal.
Next, we melted the butter and stirred together the filling in a bowl set over almost-simmering water. This makeshift double-boiler setup helped us maintain gentle heat, which protected against curdling.
We reversed the filling’s sugar overload by using a moderate amount of brown sugar. Its subtle, nuanced sweetness and molasses taste kept the spotlight trained on the pecans’ toasty flavour. Poured into the warm shell and baked to nutty perfection, this pecan pie moved right to the top of our nice list.
Chill the dough-lined pie plate for at least 30 minutes before beginning the recipe. The crust must still be warm when the filling is added. To serve the pie warm, cool it thoroughly so that it sets, then warm it in a 250 F oven for about 15 minutes and slice.
CLASSIC PECAN PIE
Start to finish: 1 hour (plus 2 hours for cooling)
1 recipe Basic Single-Crust Pie Dough (recipe follows), fitted into a 9-inch pie plate and chilled
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 cup packed (7 ounces) dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
3/4 cup light corn syrup
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups (8 ounces) pecans, toasted and chopped fine
Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 F. Line chilled pie shell with double layer of foil and fill with pie weights. Bake until pie dough looks dry and is light in colour, 25 to 30 minutes. Transfer pie plate to wire rack and remove weights and foil. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and reduce oven temperature to 275 F. (Crust must still be warm when filling is added.)
Melt butter in heatproof bowl set in skillet of water maintained at just below simmer. Remove bowl from skillet and stir in sugar and salt until butter is absorbed. Whisk in eggs, then corn syrup and vanilla until smooth. Return bowl to hot water and stir until mixture is shiny, hot to touch, and registers 130 F. Off heat, stir in pecans.
Pour pecan mixture into warm pie crust. Bake pie until filling looks set but yields when gently pressed with back of spoon, 50 minutes to 1 hour. Let pie cool on wire rack until filling has firmed up, about 2 hours; serve slightly warm (see note) or at room temperature.
Basic Single-Crust Pie Dough:We wanted pie dough that we could count on for reliably flaky, flavourful, crust and achieving it came down to determining the right fat, the right proportion of fat to flour, and the right method for combining them. A proportion of 3 parts butter to 2 parts shortening proved optimal for both flavour and texture, and a high-fat ratio of 2 parts flour to 1 part fat produced a workable, tender dough.
Makes enough for one 9-inch pie
Total time: 30 minutes (plus 1 hour for chilling)
1 1/4 cups (6 1/4 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons vegetable shortening, cut into 1/2-inch pieces and chilled
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces and chilled
4-6 tablespoons ice water
Process flour, sugar, and salt in food processor until combined. Scatter shortening over top and process until mixture resembles coarse cornmeal, about 10 seconds. Scatter butter pieces over top and pulse until mixture resembles coarse crumbs, about 10 pulses. Transfer mixture to medium bowl.
Sprinkle 4 tablespoons ice water over mixture. Stir and press dough together, using stiff rubber spatula, until dough sticks together. If dough does not come together, stir in remaining water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until it does.
Turn dough onto sheet of plastic wrap and flatten into 4-inch disk. Wrap dough tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour. Before rolling dough out, let sit on counter to soften slightly, about 10 minutes.