What is Pecan Pie?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Pecan pie is a custard pie made, as you might imagine, with pecans as a the focal ingredient. Traditional versions are very rich, thick, and somewhat sticky, and it can be extremely sweet. There are a number of different ways to make this pie, and some people enjoy experimenting to find the perfect recipe. This dish is intimately associated with the American South, where it is very popular, especially during the winter holidays.

New Orleans is known for its pecan pie, and the treat might have originated there.
New Orleans is known for its pecan pie, and the treat might have originated there.

The origins of pecan pie are murky. Some people claim that this pie originated in New Orleans, where it continues to be very popular, while others have suggested that it may be more generally from the South. Furthermore, this dish may even be a totally invented product, used to promote Karo brand corn syrup, as the Karo company itself claims. Wherever it came from, pecan pie didn't start appearing in recipe books until around the 1920s.

Pecan pie can be served with whipped cream.
Pecan pie can be served with whipped cream.

The inclusion of corn syrup in pecan pie is a topic of debate. Some people argue that this dessert must include corn syrup, and many recipes specify the Karo brand in particular. Others argue that the inclusion of corn syrup makes the pie cloyingly sweet and rather unpleasant, and they use alternatives like maple syrup or brown sugar mixed with water and a hint of molasses. Ultimately, the choice is yours, but if you have found pecan pie too sweet for your taste, you might want to try skipping the corn syrup.

Pecans are the main ingredient in pecan pie.
Pecans are the main ingredient in pecan pie.

The crust used for pecan pie is traditionally a light, flaky crust which can be almost like shortbread. Typically the crust is lightly sweetened, because the pie itself is naturally sweet, and the slightly savory flavor provides some counterpoint to the sweet pie. This type of crust is also known as pate brisee or pate brisee fine, and it is extremely versatile and easy to make.

Maple syrup can be used in place of corn syrup in pecan pie recipes.
Maple syrup can be used in place of corn syrup in pecan pie recipes.

To make a classic pecan pie, one cup of brown sugar is mixed with 2/3 cup of corn syrup, maple syrup, or Lyle's Golden Syrup, a British specialty, along with four tablespoons of butter, and an optional tablespoon of rum. These ingredients must be brought to the boil and allowed to cool before three beaten eggs, a quarter cup of cream, and a quarter teaspoon of salt are added. Two cups of roasted and lightly chopped pecans can be folded into this mixture, or they can be layered in the bottom of a pre-baked pie crust with the filling poured over them.

The pecan pie is baked at 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius) for around 45 minutes, to allow the filling to set. It can be served with whipped cream or shaved chocolate; flavored whipped creams made with maple syrup, whiskey, or rum can be quite delightful with it as well.

For an alternative without syrup, the filling can be made from three eggs, one half cup melted unsalted butter, one teaspoon rum or vanilla, and one pound (roughly ½ kilogram) brown sugar, whisked together with one cup of roasted chopped pecans and poured into a pie crust and baked as above.

Some aficionados  mix whiskey into the whipped cream that tops a slice of pecan pie.
Some aficionados mix whiskey into the whipped cream that tops a slice of pecan pie.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

jmax

What is the secret to a pecan pie with nuts throughout the filling rather than floating on the top - where they end up with recipes I've tried?

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