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What Are the Origins of Pecan Pie?
It may feel as though pecan pie’s always been found between the pumpkin pie and apple pie—the holy trinity of the American holiday dessert table—but as with any iconic dish, there are a few urban legends and tangled histories around how it got there.
The makers of Karo syrup claim to have invented the pie in the 1930s as a revolutionary new way to use their corn syrup, but evidence of pecan pie actually predates the invention of corn syrup: classical versions used molasses or cane syrups.
Pecans are native to the southern United States—the nuts were prominent in the diets of Native Americans living in the area more than 8,000 years ago—and some theories have posited that French settlers in Louisiana, after being introduced to pecans by these local tribes, conceived of the dessert.
The earliest instance of a pecan pie recipe as it’s known today was in 1886, in an issue of Harper’s Bazaar.
4 Delicious Variations on Pecan Pie
Here are four variations of the classic that go down just as well.
- Maple. Swap in maple syrup for the corn syrup in any recipe for a toffee-infused sweetness and soft, crystallized texture.
- Bourbon or whiskey. For a pecan pie with all the smooth fire of an adult beverage, add a few tablespoons of either bourbon or whiskey to the butter and sugar mixture. The alcohol will burn off, and leave behind a warm, tangy, bite.
- Chocolate. Chocolate chips or cocoa butter give the innate sweetness of pecan pie a grounded earthy note with just enough bitterness, depending on the kind of chocolate you use. Incorporate cocoa butter into the filling and adjust the sugar levels accordingly.
- Handheld. Swap out a regular pie crust for a shortbread crust and bake pecan pie bars in a square pan.
Simple Homemade Pecan Pie Recipe
Makes1 9-inch pie
Prep Time5 min
Total Time1 hr 25 min
Cook Time1 hr 20 min
- 1 disc pre-made or homemade pie crust
- 1 cup whole pecan halves
- 1 cup chopped pecan pieces
- ½ cup light corn syrup or dark corn syrup
- 1 cup light brown sugar or dark brown sugar
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 4 large eggs
- 1 ½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- Preheat oven to 400 F. Roll out refrigerated pie dough and fit to a 9-inch pie pan. Line the dough with parchment paper or aluminum foil, and fill with pie weights. Bake for 10–15 minutes, until crust begins to take on a little golden brown color. Remove from oven, remove weights, and set aside. Lower the oven temperature to 350 F. Find the perfect homemade pie crust recipe here.
- In a large saucepan over medium heat, combine the sugar, syrup, and butter. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly with a spatula. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.
- Meanwhile, whisk the eggs in a large bowl.
- When the sugar-syrup mixture is cool, slowly drizzle into the eggs, whisking to combine. Stir in vanilla extract and salt.
- Depending on your preference, you can either mix the chopped pecan pieces directly into the syrup filling, or spread them into the base of the blind-baked crust, and then arrange the pecan halves on top into the pattern of your choosing. Very slowly, pour the syrup mixture evenly over the nuts, filling until just shy of the crust’s edges.
- Bake until just set and slightly wobbly, 50 minutes. Let cool completely before slicing, as the filling will continue to set after you remove it from the oven.
- Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.
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