If You're Not Making Your Pecan Pie With Maple Syrup, You Are Doing It Wrong

Slate's Culture Blog
Nov. 27 2013 11:43 AM

You’re Doing It Wrong: Pecan Pie

Pecan Pie
Maple Pecan Pie

Photo by Lisa Larson-Walker

Pecan pie is pretty much candy with a crust. It’s cloyingly sweet, offers both crunch and a gooey filling, and contains approximately as many calories per slice as a plate piled high with turkey, stuffing, and sweet potatoes. It’s also super expensive this year. Do these sound like arguments against making pecan pie? They are not. Pecan pie is an unquestionable Thanksgiving tradition—a fittingly over-the-top end to an over-the-top meal.

L.V. Anderson L.V. Anderson

L.V. Anderson is a Slate assistant editor. She edits Slate's food and drink sections and writes Brow Beat's recipe column, You're Doing It Wrong. 

This isn’t to say that you must make pecan pie exactly the way your grandma made it. I feel comfortable speculating that the most frequently made pecan pie recipe is the one on the back of the Karo Syrup bottle. Karo has brilliantly convinced Americans that they must buy light corn syrup if they want a pecan pie that’s appropriately sweet and moist. And if other Americans are anything like my family, they buy a bottle of Karo in late November, leave the sticky bottle at the back of their cabinet for the next 12 months, and then decide it’s too gross and dusty to use and so buy a new bottle.

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Fun as this tradition is, it’s unnecessary and even counterproductive. There’s a better syrup for pecan pie, and it tastes great in and on top of other foods, too. I’m talking about maple syrup, of course, which contributes complex flavors to pecan pie instead of mere sweetness. It’s also less processed than corn syrup. This is not to say it’s healthier—in both cases, we’re talking about liquids that offer no macronutrients other than sugar—but maple syrup’s production methods are bucolic, like a Woody Guthrie ballad, while corn syrup’s production methods are industrial.

Apart from pecans and maple syrup, you’ll need the usual battalion of ingredients: primarily, eggs, flour, sugar, butter. I like a glug of amaretto in the filling, which adds an extra hint of nuttiness; bourbon and rum are more traditional and also fine. (Also important for nuttiness’ sake: toasting the pecans before you make the filling.) As for the crust, there’s simply no reason not to make it from scratch—you can make the dough hours in advance and refrigerate it until you need it.

Maple Pecan Pie
Yield: 8 to 12 servings
Time: 1½ to 2 hours, largely unattended

1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling out the dough
½ cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups pecan halves or pieces
1 cup maple syrup
3 large eggs
½ cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon amaretto (almond liqueur) (optional)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Heat the oven to 375°F. Put the flour, 6 tablespoons of the butter, the granulated sugar, and ½ teaspoon of the salt in a medium bowl; blend with a pastry cutter or your fingers until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add ¼ cup cold water and stir until the mixture forms a ball. (If the mixture is too crumbly, add additional cold water as needed.) Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes.

2. Unwrap the dough and place it on a lightly floured surface. With a rolling pin, roll out the dough until it’s approximately 11 inches in diameter. Transfer the dough to a 9-inch pie plate; trim any dough that hangs over the edges of the plate and discard the scraps. Bake the crust for 5 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, put the pecans in a large skillet over medium-low heat and cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant and lightly toasted, about 5 minutes; set aside. Put the maple syrup and the remaining 2 tablespoons butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Cook until the butter melts. Beat the eggs in a large bowl, and then whisk in the brown sugar, the Amaretto (if desired), the vanilla, and the remaining ½ teaspoon salt. Gradually whisk the hot maple syrup mixture into the egg mixture. Stir in the pecans.

4. Pour the pecan mixture into the pie crust, transfer the pie plate to a baking sheet, and bake until the top and edges of the pie are golden brown and the center of the pie is jiggly but no longer liquid, 30 to 40 minutes.  Cool thoroughly, then serve. (Store leftover pie wrapped in foil or plastic wrap in the refrigerator for up to a few days.)