The first time I made pecan pie as an adult, I thought that I must have missed a step. As I stirred the filling together, I ran over my grandmother’s recipe notes and thought that she must have forgotten to write down some of her technique. This is typical of her recipes, half of which end with “cook until done in a warm oven.” They’re really wonderful recipes once you know how to crack the code, but are confusing as all get out to a 22-year-old trying to teach herself how to cook based on the Internet, memories, and recipes written in barely legible cursive on index cards.
Going on faith and faith alone, I stuck the pie in the oven, pretty sure it was going to be a dud because the preparation had been just too simple. Half an hour later, my apartment smelling delightfully of toasted pecans, I pulled it out. Perfection. My grandma’s pecan pie, exactly as I’d had it a million times. That’s when I realized my grandma was damn near brilliant. This pie is so easy and so good that serving it makes you the instant rock star of Thanksgiving (and every other event in which a pecan pie is warranted, which is many). Nobody needs to know that all you had to do was throw together a pie crust and mix a handful of ingredients lazily in a bowl. It’ll be our secret. Please don’t tell my family because I’d like them to continue to think that I’m magical.
If, perchance, you recoiled at my mention of “throwing together a pie crust” because we all think that making pie crusts is very hard, I’m here to help. First of all, I think this is another one of those Grandma-Oz-behind-the-curtain moments, because pie crusts are actually stupid simple, but we all think that they’re incredibly temperamental and complicated. I’ve made hundreds, and they can easily be your friend, too. Listen, grandmas are awesome — mine are the best, don’t even bother arguing with me — but they’ve fooled us into thinking that only they can make that thing that is so perfect at that family event you love so much. No doubt they make it very, very well. But you can, too, starting with this pecan pie with a homemade butter pie crust.
In closing, and as an endorsement for this recipe, I’d like to share the reaction I got when I fed it to some friends, one of whom is 4 years old. After eating her piece of pie, saving the crust for last (because she’s grandma-level smart), she looked at her mother’s plate, then at the remaining pie. With eyes gleaming, she said, “Mama, can I have your crust? Can I borrow it? I would like to eat it. All of it. It’s really important to me.” I think I can use that on the jacket of my next cookbook, right?
Yield: 6 servings.
For the crust:
2½ cups all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 stick cold unsalted butter, cubed
½ cup very cold water
For the filling:
1 stick butter
½ cup brown sugar
¾ cup corn syrup (feel free to substitute sorghum, maple syrup, or sugar cane syrup)
2 cups chopped pecans
For the crust: In a food processor combine flour, salt, sugar, and cubed butter. Pulse until texture resembles cornmeal. Add water, a little at a time, pulsing until a ball of dough forms. Place food processor bowl in the fridge for 1 hour.
Heat oven to 350º.
For the filling: Melt butter. Add sugar, syrup, and salt and stir. Stir in eggs, one at a time. Add pecans and mix well.
On a floured surface, roll out your pie dough and transfer it to your pie dish. (I like to roll the dough onto my rolling pin and then lift it, sliding the pie dish underneath and setting the dough down into it.) Push it into your dish and pinch off any extra dough. Pour filling into the dish, spreading it out with the back of your spoon to make sure that the pecans are evenly distributed.
Bake for 35 minutes, or until the center is firm but not necessarily hard. (A little jiggle is good, but it shouldn’t be sloshing around in there.)
Let cool to room temperature before serving.