A Pair of Outstanding Pecan Pies
As Thanksgiving dinner is approaching, my thoughts are turning to my favorite of desserts to serve after the feast: Pecan Pie. Each year, I make two different pies, the first a classic pecan pie with a rich, firm custard and thick layer of chopped pecans, the second (my absolute all-time favorite) is made with a maple syrup reduction that lends the pie an unbelievably rich sophistication that is the oft-exclaimed delight of everyone to whom I have served it.
If Pecan Pie is on your dinner menu, I strongly recommend either or both of the following outstanding recipes from my kitchen to yours.
My Best Classic Pecan Pie
4 whole large eggs
2 large egg yolks
1 Tablespoons vanilla
1 cups brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons melted butter
1 1/2 cups light corn syrup
2 cups pecans, coarsely chopped
1 rolled-out round of pastry for a 9-inch pie dish
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees (F).
First begin with the pastry: Place your rolled pastry into a buttered 9-inch pie dish. Trim the excess edge of the dough leaving 3/4 inch of overhang. Fold the overhang under, pinch it together and create a high, fluted edge on the pan rim. Place the shell in the refrigerator while mixing the filling.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the eggs and egg yolks and whisk until smooth. Add the vanilla, brown sugar, salt and melted butter and whisk until well blended. Slowly blend in the corn syrup and mix well. Last, add the pecans and stir until they are well coated in the mixture.
Pour the filling into your prepared pastry shell, making sure the pecans are evenly distributed with an even depth.
Place the pie on a baking sheet and bake at 375 degrees for 15 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees and continue to bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until the filling has set and a knife or toothpick inserted into the center returns clean.
Remove from the oven and place the pie on a wire rack to cool slowly for 2 hours before serving with a dollop of sweetened whipped cream flavored with 1 Tablespoon of bourbon.
Before beginning the Maple Pecan Pie, I would like to offer a wee bit of a preface. First, you will notice the baking method is different. For this pie, the filling is much warmer when poured into the shell prior to baking and therefore requires a partially pre-baked shell. The pie also cooks a shorter amount of time, but at a higher temperature.
Secondly, not all maple syrup is created equal. I’m an admitted snob there, having long, long ago become completely addicted to the good stuff, which in my mind is Grade-B Amber and made in Vermont by the Sugarbush Farm.
The flavor (not quality) of pure maple syrup actually is defined in three main grades that, in a very general sense, are created from sap collected at different times of the year. Usually the lighter the grade, the earlier the sap was collected. And while several states produce maple syrup, only Vermont has an especially strict guideline for the making of their syrups that outlaws pesticides and requires the use of more sap in the making of its trademark thicker, richer syrups. Canada produces the VAST majority of maple syrup in the world from Quebec and Ontario, but in the US, Vermont leads the domestic pack in production and quality control. If you have the choice or are looking to buy the good stuff online, please buy Vermont (with all due respect to Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, et al).
Grade A (also found as “Grade AA” and “Fancy”) is the stuff typically found on grocery shelves. It is clear gold, has a nice, delicate flavor, and is fairly thin in consistency. Good on pancakes and waffles, etc., but it DOES NOT hold up well in cooking. Grade A syrups are further subdivided into “Light Amber,” “Medium Amber,” and “Dark Amber”, but the latter two are more difficult to find the further south from sugar shacks one goes.
Grade B maple syrup is the only maple syrup ever to be found in my kitchen. It has a much richer maple flavor than the watery Grade A and has a lovely dark gold color. There is Grade B Amber and Grade B Dark Amber, the latter being even slightly darker and richer in flavor. Both Grade B’s are outstanding on pancakes and absolutely perfect for cooking, whether in cakes, pies or even high-temperature candies, but I personally prefer the Grade B Amber over its darker sister.
Grade C maple syrup is thick, dark, tastes like sulfured molasses and is used commercially as the basis for making other syrups and flavorings. Absolutely nasty stuff, IMHO, and I do love sulfured molasses.
Last, but not least, understand that maple syrup needs to be refrigerated after unsealing. I buy a gallon just about every year and divide among pint Mason Jars that I process in a boiling water canner for 15 minutes, label and keep in my pantry for use throughout the year. I re-seal these smaller jars only because they collectively take up too much refrigerator space. So if you buy in individual quantities or have the fridge space to spare, be certain to keep opened jugs/jars in the refrigerator, where the stuff will last perfectly for a couple of years.
While there are almost as many maple syrup producers in the Northeast as there are wineries in California, my absolute favorite comes from the Sugarbush Farm in Woodstock, Vermont. And while most maple syrup producers now tap their trees with plastic tubing and use commercial evaporators, the descendants of Marion and Jack Ayers (who founded the farm and its products in 1948) still do EVERYTHING the old-fashioned way. It is a lovely, lovely working farm with something to offer year-round and I can’t relate how much I miss visiting them in person. But having successfully pioneered mail ordering in this country more than 50 years ago, ordering by mail from Sugarbush has always been a sincere breeze. And for the last several years, I’ve been able to do that online. Check them out, you’ll be very, very glad you did!
My “I Miss Vermont” Maple Pecan Pie
1 rolled-out round of pastry for a 9-inch pie dish
2 cups pure maple syrup
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
2 Tbs. unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 cups pecans, coarsely chopped
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees (F), with the rack in the middle of the oven.
First begin with the pastry: Place your rolled pastry into a buttered 9-inch pie dish. Trim the excess edge of the dough leaving 3/4 inch of overhang. Fold the overhang under, pinch it together and create a high, fluted edge on the pan rim. Place the pie shell in the refrigerator and chill until firm, about 30 minutes.
Remove from the fridge and line the pie shell with aluminum foil that extends up the sides and fill with pie weights or uncooked beans (or even uncooked white rice).
Place into your preheated oven and bake for 20 minutes, then lift an edge of the foil. If the dough looks wet, seems sticky, or is not browning, return to the oven and continue to bake — checking every 5 minutes — until the dough has browned slightly to a pale gold. (Mine are always ready in 20 to 25 minutes tops.
Remove from the oven and place on a wire rack.
Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees now.
In a heavy saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the maple syrup to a boil and boil for about 10 minutes until the syrup has reduced to 1 1/2 cups of syrup. (Pour into a heatproof measuring pitcher and, if necessary, return the syrup to the saucepan and continue to boil until sufficiently reduced.)
Place the syrup into the refrigerator for 10 minutes to cool a little.
Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk the eggs until completely smooth. Add the brown sugar, salt, melted butter and vanilla until well mixed. Next add the reduced maple syrup, pouring the syrup in a slow stream and whisking quickly until mixed well. Then and the pecans and stir well.
Pour the filling into the partially baked pie shell, making sure the pecans are evenly distributed and at an even depth.
Bake the pie for 30-35 minutes, or until a knife or other tester inserted into the center returns clean and the pie is slightly puffed and firm to the touch.
Transfer to a wire rack and allow to cool at room temperature for two hours before serving with a dollop of sweetened whipped cream flavored with 1 tablespoon of bourbon.
Traditionally in my home, a wee dram or two of a good port will accompany the pies. Might I suggest Moon Mountain’s 2003 Estate Grown Cabernet Sauvignon Port or Warre’s Otima 10-year-old Tawny Port for the occasion?