Pecan Pie: Better, sweeter, and without corn syrup

Mr. Blackbird loves pecan pie. So does the co-worker I promised to bring this to. So I’m actually a little nervous about reception, because I know this is not going to be the pie either of them grew up with. First of all, I went through four cookbooks to find the recipe I wanted. My first inclination was to cook out of Baked, which I love. I saw the words “3/4 cup corn syrup” in the ingredients, and I balked. Surely this was a mistake. When you were a kid helping your parents bake, did you ever sneak a taste of corn syrup to eat plain? No way! Maple syrup, honey, brown sugar by the handful, sure, but no one actually wants corn syrup. So I looked at Jim Peterson’s Baking, which I trust implicitly to get me through a difficult spot. Corn syrup, and lots of it. Well, surely The New Best Recipe wouldn’t disappoint, or at least the good people at Cook’s Illustrated would tell me why corn syrup was the sweetener of choice here. But alas, nothing. So I finally turned to Mark Bittman, who generally doesn’t mess around nor will he bear the use of inferior ingredients. And finally, I found what I was looking for. Well, close to it. I can’t help changing every recipe I see.

What, I’m supposed to decorate the top with those extra pecans? My, but you have high expectations!

First, the crust. Rather than break out two different cookbooks, I stuck with Bittman’s. As a perk, he let me put a little sugar in the crust. Hooray!

Flaky and Flavorful Pie Crust

This recipe makes one 9-inch crust. I made two pies, so I doubled it. Bonus: I didn’t have to measure 1/8 of a cup, because seriously, who does that? So if you’re making one pie like a normal person, I’d double the recipe anyway and just freeze the half you don’t need for next time. Frozen dough keeps forever.

1 1/8 cups flour

1/2 t salt

1 T brown sugar

8 T butter (Cut it into chunks and freeze it. Yes, I’m serious.)

3-4 T ice cold water (you might need more. I just put a bowl of water in the freezer until it got an ice film, then cracked it while pretending to be a monster destroying a frozen lake and the surrounding town. There were sound effects. Never let me catch you saying that cooking is boring; you just need to try harder.)

1 t vanilla

Give Me the Directions Already!

Plop the flour, sugar, and salt into your food processor. Pulse once or twice so your final crust won’t end up with one very salty and slightly disturbing bite in it.  Stick the butter in the food processor too, and pulse in 5-second bursts until the mix resembles damp sand.

Pour the sandy stuff into a bowl and add 3 T of flour and the vanilla. Stir with a wooden spoon until the dough can just barely hold itself together in a ball. Add more water a bit at a time if it seems too dry.

Once you get the dough into a ball, wrap it in saran wrap or foil and toss it in the freezer for 10 or 15 minutes. If you doubled the recipe, make two equal sized balls now; it’s more annoying when they’re frozen.


Now flour everything. The counter, the dough ball, the rolling pin, the cat if she gets in the way, everything. You’re going to want to roll your dough out to at least a 10 inch circle (Recipes always say “circle”. It’s misleading, because dough never rolls into a neat circle, it rolls into a horrible ragged trapezoid that has no excuse for existing in this Euclidean world. But I digress.) It will be very thin, so flip the dough and sprinkle on a bit more flour after every few passes with the beat stick rolling pin. Otherwise the dough will stick to the counter and it will tear and you will want to throw it at the fridge door (or husband, or cat. . .)

Butter your pie tin and drape the dough over it. Make sure to press it gently into the corner area of the tin; you need that room for filling! Trim the dough less close to the edge of the tin than I did (maybe 1/2 to 3/4 inches of overhang would be good) Freeze for another 10-15 minutes. Yes, I still mean it. You’re not ready for that butter to melt. You can preheat your oven to 425°F while you wait.





Done waiting? Good. Now it’s time to line the thing with tin foil and toss in your pie weights (or in my case, stone chess pieces. It works.) Bake with lining and weights for about 12 minutes, then pull the crust out of the oven and gently remove the foil and weights and set aside. Reduce the oven temperature to 350°F and bake the crust for 10-15 more minutes, until it looks a bit browned and the smell of flaky, buttery crust is making you crazy.



It should look like this:

Uh-oh! They shrank!

Mine did shrink a bit. Still tasty, but less room for filling. Speaking of filling, while all that crust baking was going on, I hope you were making yours!

Pecan Pie Filling

5 eggs

2 cups pecan halves (or chopped if you like. I don’t mind.)

1/2 cup boring old granulated sugar

1 cup rich dark brown delicious sugar

Not one drop of corn syrup (I feel better now)

Just a bit of salt

6 T butter

1 T vanilla extract

2 oz. semisweet (say, 60%) chocolate, if you want chocolate (who doesn’t?)


Remember, I doubled everything, so I used a pretty big saucepan. You might want a littler one.

Crack your eggs into a saucepan and use a hand mixer to whip them up. Take your time and make sure it’s completely uniform in color and a bit frothy. Toss in your sugar, salt, butter, and vanilla and mix again. Put the saucepan on the stove over medium heat and stand there, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is nice and hot. Don’t let it boil! Your eggs won’t like it. The best way to tell if it’s hot enough? Keep tasting it! When the graininess from the sugar is gone and you taste a hint of caramel, you can add your pecans.

While you’re waiting for the custardy-caramely-abomination-of-deliciousness to heat up, chop some chocolate. I use a bread knife and saw at it, so I get some nice sized chunks and some itty little flakes. You could use chocolate chips, I guess. I just really like sawing up chocolate.




Stir briefly, then pour those bad boys into your nice, hot, freshly baked pie crust. If you want to, add some pecan halves in a pattern on top to make your pie prettier. I didn’t. Sorry. Bake at 375°F for 30-40 minutes, until brown and delicious smelling. And now you have pie! Sweet, nutty pie. I’ll let you know how folks like it.



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