Pecan pie is an American classic. It's been a cherished dessert for at least a century from north to south. Rich with brown sugar and a sweet syrup cooked into a thick jam-like treat, it's topped with rings of pecans, all encased in a flaky, crisp crust.
The very best pies showcase the contrast of texture and flavor through a crisp crust, toasted nuts, and the soft, sweet filling. Here's how to make that kind of pecan pie.
Making a Flaky Crust
Pecan pie's gooey filling can easily make a pie crust so soggy that it almost melts into the filling. The way to ensure a flaky crust that is distinct and crisp is to blind bake it. Some folks have grown up eating pecan pie using frozen commercial pie crust and simply adding the filling and then baking, and those folks really like that squishy crust, so I have included directions for skipping the blind bake. Whether or not you blind bake, be sure to use a foil collar on the crimped edge of the dough so it does not over-brown or burn.
Read more: How To Blind Bake a Pie Crust
Choosing a Syrup
The Karo company claims that the recipe on the back of the bottle, invented by a Karo employee's wife in the mid-20th century, is the original pecan pie. Historically, it's entirely possible that Karo's is the original recipe for using corn syrup. Without any doubt, it bakes up into the taste we grew up with. It is reliably sweet, simple, and clean-tasting. Dark corn syrup also makes a similar-tasting, if darker-hued, pie. On the other hand, cane syrup, golden syrup, sorghum syrup, and other syrups taste quite different from corn syrup and from each other and yet also work in this recipe spoon for spoon and cup for cup.
You will need unroasted, unsalted pecans that are plump and uniform. Some nut producers have freshness dates on the jar or bag, which is very helpful. If you buy shelled nuts in bulk, be sure that they are not neither limp or rubbery. Smell them, too — you want to avoid nuts that smell musty or rancid. Nuts can be refrigerated for up to two months and frozen for up to four months in airtight containers (not the bags you buy it in), but be careful when storing because they easily pick up wonky smells.
Create the Look You Want
When it comes to pecan pie, beauty counts, but not at the expense of texture, so I add the filling after I add some crushed pecans to the pie crust. Then, on top, I carefully layer on the prettiest pecan halves in lovely concentric circles. That way the crust doesn't have much time to absorb the liquid filling and I have time to make my nuts all in pretty little rows.
Top the Pie
Simple sweetened whipped cream or vanilla ice cream are the usual accompaniments, but you can add a splash of bourbon- or brandy-infused whipped cream, dried fruit-studded ice cream, or a fresh ginger-spiked crème anglaise. It's also equally good with unsweetened bitter espresso.
How To Make Classic Pecan Pie
What You Need
For the crust:
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces and well-chilled
2 to 4 tablespoons chilled bourbon, vodka, or ice water, divided
Nonstick baking spray containing flour, or cooking spray and all-purpose flour
For the filling:
1 cup packed light brown sugar, dark brown sugar, or dark muscovado sugar
3/4 cup light corn syrup, dark corn syrup, Lyle's Golden Syrup, cane syrup, or maple syrup
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into cubes and at room temperature
1 tablespoon bourbon
2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons fine salt
4 large eggs
2 cups pecan halves (about 8 ounces), divided
Measuring cups and spoons
1 (9-inch) pie pan (1 1/2 inches deep)
Pie weights or dried beans
Rimmed baking sheet
- Start the crust: Combine the flour and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade and pulse to combine, 2 to 3 (1-second) pulses.
- Add the butter: Scatter the cubes of butter over the flour and pulse until the mixture resembles cornmeal mixed with pieces of butter no larger than a pea, 12 to 15 (1-second) pulses.
- Add the liquid: Drizzle in 1 tablespoon of the bourbon, vodka, or water. Pulse twice. Check to see if the dough is holding together by squeezing a bit in your hand — if it holds together, it's ready. If it breaks apart very easily, add the remaining 1 tablespoon liquid, pulse just to combine, and test the dough again. Pulse in more liquid as needed.
- Divide and chill the dough: Turn the dough out onto a clean work surface. Divide it into 2 equal portions, then use the palm of your hand to quickly gather and press each mound into a thick disk. Wrap each tightly in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to 4 days. (You will only need 1 disk for this recipe; save the second for another use.)
- Roll out the dough: Coat a 9-inch pie plate with nonstick baking spray containing flour, or coat with cooking spray and then dust with flour. Dust a work surface and rolling pin liberally with flour. Unwrap 1 piece of dough and place it on the flour. Working from the middle of the dough outward, roll the dough into a 12- to 13-inch-wide circle. Use firm strokes and work the dough as little as possible.
- Form the crust and chill again: Sprinkle the dough and your rolling pin with a little flour. Lay your rolling pin on one edge of the dough round and gently roll it up around the rolling pin. Set the rolling pin gently on the edge of the pie pan and unroll the dough gently into the pan, easing it into the corners and up the side of the pan and tucking it in well to form the crust. Trim all but 1 or 2 inches of the pie dough from around the edge. Crimp the edges. Refrigerate uncovered for 45 minutes.
- Prepare to bake: While the crust is chilling, arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 425°F. Cut out a sheet of aluminum foil that will cover the pie. Cut out the center of the foil to form a ring that covers the crimped edge of the pie; set aside. Make a second foil ring and set aside. Prepare a sheet of parchment paper large enough to line the crust in its pan. Spray it with cooking spray. When the crust is chilled, press the parchment into it, greased-side down, so that it lines the crust. Fill with pie weights or dried beans.
- Blind bake the crust: Bake for 12 minutes. Remove the parchment paper and beans or weights. Cover the crimped edge of the crust loosely with the prepared aluminum foil ring. Bake until the crust is dry to the touch and lightly browned, 7 to 8 minutes more. Remove from the oven, discard the foil, and let cool completely, about 45 minutes.
- Reduce the oven temperature: Reduce the oven temperature to 350°F.
- Start the pie filling: Combine the sugar, syrup, butter, and bourbon in a large saucepan over medium heat and cook, stirring constantly and scraping down the sides of the pan with a heatproof spatula, until it comes to a boil. The sugar will not be completely dissolved. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally, 9 to 10 minutes.
- Whisk the eggs: Whisk the eggs together in a large bowl. If they get very foamy, allow to sit for 1 minute, until the foam subsides.
- Drizzle the filling mixture into the eggs: While gently whisking the eggs, drizzle in the syrup mixture until fully combined.
- Add the vanilla and salt: Add the vanilla and salt and gently whisk to combine. If the filling gets very foamy, allow it to sit for 1 minute until the foam subsides; set aside.
- Prepare for the final baking: Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and place the cooled pie crust on it. Place and arrange the second foil ring on it so that it simply sits on top of the crimped crust.
- Add a layer of chopped pecans to the crust: Coarsely chop 1/2 cup of the nuts into 1/4-inch pieces. Scatter the chopped nuts evenly over the bottom of crust.
- Arrange the pecan halves over the chopped nuts: Place the remaining 1 1/2 cups pecan halves one at a time on top of the chopped nuts, creating increasingly small concentric circles. If you have excess pecans, you can layer one of top of the other, but for the loveliest-looking pie, neatness and alignment counts, so take your time and save the extra nuts.
- Pour the filling over the pecans: Stir the filling mixture gently to make sure it is still well-combined. Then, gently and slowly, pour it over the pecans until the pie is filled right up to the edge of the pan where the crimping starts, being careful not to overfill it. Make sure that the foil ring is not touching the filling, lifting it and adjusting it as necessary to cover the crimped edge as much as possible.
- Bake the pie: Bake until the filling is just set, but still slightly wobbly in the middle, 50 to 55 minutes. The filling will be very hot and will continue to cook once removed from the oven.
Cool and serve: Place the baking sheet on the stovetop or a heat-resistant surface. Using oven mitts, transfer the pie to a wire rack, remove the foil ring, and cool completely. Serve at room temperature.
- Make ahead: The pie dough can be made and refrigerated up to 4 days ahead. It can also be frozen for up to 3 months; defrost overnight in the refrigerator before using.
- Storage: Pecan pie will keep wonderfully at room temperature, loosely covered, for up to 3 days. Although most pies freeze wonderfully, I do not recommend freezing pecan pie, and I also limit any reheating because it often cooks the filling, which alters the texture and burns the crust.
- Tart option: If you want to make this into a pecan tart, use a 9 1/2-inch-wide, 1-inch-deep round tart pan with removable bottom. Do not crimp the edge. Instead, roll the rolling pin over the top of the pan, remove the excess dough, and follow the recipe as written. Baking may be closer to 45 to 50 minutes, so watch for the jiggle.