Wednesday, October 20, 2010

My Grandma's Pecan Pie

Necessity is the mother of invention. I believe very strongly in this old adage.

While Thanksgiving is certainly the most indulgent day of the year in my book, in our family we always try to make our recipes only moderately indulgent. Faced with a recipe or concept that makes our arteries clog just when mentioned, the idea of making it a little healthier or more wholesome certainly beats not serving it at all.

For example, using low- or reduced-fat cream cheese and sour cream in the pumpkin cheesecake, using half the olive oil called for in the roasted vegetable recipe, or concocting a minimalist but divine applesauce that consists of nothing more than at-their-peak apples and water (no lie). Of course, while the goal is often to cut down on the fat content or calorie count, taste is never sacrificed. (Using the pumpkin cheesecake example, I firmly believe that swapping lower-fat cream cheese and sour cream for the full-fat versions will go unnoticed in a cheesecake with flavors as bold as earthy pumpkin and spicy ginger. The resulting product is no less delicious and allows me to justify eating a slice of it, along with samples of all the other desserts, with a clear conscience.)

The recipe I'm going to tell you about today is one that makes a regular appearance on our table each Thanksgiving. This is a pecan pie that contains absolutely no corn syrup. This may seem insignificant but I'd venture to say that about 99% of pecan pie fillings contain some form of corn syrup (either dark or light). Of course, there's absolutely nothing wrong with corn syrup. But doesn't a combination of brown sugar and white sugar just sound more appealing than some clear goo? Brown and white sugars just seem more "wholesome" and "healthful" than corn syrup, if such words could ever even apply to sugar.
A stained recipe card is one of the best indicators of how tasty something is.

This recipe comes from my grandma, who, according to my mom, took it from a specific Betty Crocker cookbook edition. Go figure. Besides the exclusion of corn syrup there's really nothing special going on here. You still get that same crackly crust that forms at the top, reminiscent of praline pecans. The interior maintains its semi-solid, sweet integrity. And if all that isn't enticing enough, the whole thing makes your house smell like toasted nuts. And you just can't argue with that.
Thanksgiving 2008: Triumphant with my four desserts, including pecan pie (bottom left). But what's up with the awkward pot holder hand?
Pecan Pie
Adapted from Grandma

Since I've yet to conquer my pastry fears, I don't have a recipe for a crust to use. However, any pie crust will work for this recipe. Let your imagination run wild! Use shortening if you must! Use lard, but don't tell anyone (namely, me - not that I'm judging or anything)! The "adapted" part of this recipe comes from the use of butter rather than oleo. The pecans do not need to be ground to a powder, but there shouldn't be any large chunks either (imagine trying to cut your fork through a whole pecan). You could run your knife through some pecan pieces, or use an old-fashioned nut crusher (which used to be my task in this pie's preparation).

Yield: one 9-inch pie

1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons milk
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 stick butter, melted
1 1/4 cups chopped pecans, plus about 20 halves for decorating (optional)
1 (9-inch) pie shell

Adjust a rack to the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. In a large bowl, mix together the brown sugar, granulated sugar, and flour. Thoroughly beat in the eggs, milk, vanilla, and butter (this is easily accomplished using a whisk, which will break up all the lumps). Fold in the chopped pecans.

Pour the filling into the prepared pie shell. If you're feeling fancy, decorate the top of the pie with the pecan halves (I like to arrange them around the perimeter).

Bake until just set, 40 to 50 minutes. Cool and serve, preferably with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Note: This filling can sometimes overflow the pie pan, burn on the bottom of the oven, and cause you to wonder what that "burn-y" smell is. Two ways to prevent such an occurrence are to line the floor of your oven with some heavy-duty aluminum foil, which is convenient should any other overflow catastrophes occur on the big day. Alternatively, you could also set the pie pan on a cookie sheet, which is advantageous since it allows you to easily remove the pie from the oven (especially if you opt to use a ceramic pie plate that, while beautiful, has no nifty handles to boast of).

1 comment:

  1. thank you for posting the recipe. i'm looking forward to making it and will give a full report. i won't be making my crust thought-i'll let you charter that territory!