Thanksgiving recipe: Southern pecan pie

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Pecan pie is one of those must-have Thanksgiving dessert items for anyone who grew up in the South, but you’ll find it on menus nationwide thanks to kind Southern cooks who have brought their culinary gifts to all corners of the country.

The heart of the pie is the filling, a mix of sugars that, in theory, forms a delicious platform up which rests a layer of perfectly toasted pecan halves (or pieces, if you go that way, opinions differ). The problem is getting the filling to hold together. Many recipes cheat and use a touch of corn starch or flour to get things to knit together, but this recipe goes for the science and makes soft candy out of the sugars to give the filling the proper body. While a candy thermometer is a good thing to have and no kitchen should be without one, you’re safe here just using a timer.

I’m going to be honest up front and admit that I don’t make my own pie crust. This pie is, of course, better with a homemade crust, but I’m just not yet great at making them, so refrigerated it is!

Southern Pecan Pie

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/4 cups light corn syrup
  • 1/4 cup molasses (blackstrap if you can find it)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 4 large eggs, beaten, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 1/2 cups pecan halves (or mixed halves and pieces), lightly toasted

A note on toasting pecans: The best way to do this is in your biggest skillet. Put the nuts in the cold skillet, then turn the heat to medium. Stir very frequently. When you can smell the nuts toasting, remove them to a sheet pan and spread them out to make them stop cooking. This will do amazing things for the taste of your pie.

Place sugar, molasses and corn syrup in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil, watching carefully and stirring frequently. Boil for 4 minutes, then remove from heat and let cool for 10 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. and prepare your pie crust in a deep-dish 10-inch pie plate.

Add 1/2 cup of the syrup mixture to the beaten eggs, whisking constantly. When it’s fully incorporated, add another 1/2 cup the same way. Then add the rest at a slow drizzle, stirring constantly. (It helps to have another set of hands around if possible.)

Stir in butter, vanilla, salt and pecans. Be sure all the pecans are well-coated. Pour into pie crust.

Bake for 45-55 minutes, until set. Cool completely before serving. I actually prefer to make mine a day or two ahead of time and chill it, then warm it gently before slicing.

Best served with a generous scoop of Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla ice cream. Trust me on this.

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