Pecan pies are traditional holiday fare. At holiday time, only pumpkin and apple pies are more popular. Maybe it’s tradition. Maybe it’s the smooth custard contrasting with the crunch of pecans. Whatever the reason, pecan pies are scrumptious.
Pecan pies are made with pecan halves in a clear, sweet custard made of eggs and sweeteners. The sweeteners can be a choice of granulated sugar, brown sugar, and corn syrup. Brown sugar makes for a little darker, more caramel-flavored pie filling. Most recipes call for at least some corn syrup since the corn syrups helps prevent crystallization of the sugars in the pie filling.
The custard relies on the coagulation of the proteins in the eggs to set up and make the filling firm. Even though the proteins in egg whites begin to coagulate at a little lower temperature, egg yolks require at least 150 degrees so the internal pie must reach that temperature.
Use fresh, high-quality pecans. Most recipes call for halves though pieces will work. You will need 1 1/4 cups to 2 cups for a 9-inch regular dish pecan pie. A deep-dish pecan pie will require more. The pecans float in the unbaked filling and therefore rise to the top for an attractive pie.
Pecan pies are usually baked in pastry crusts which will contain the liquid filling before it sets. Make certain that there are no seams or voids through which the filling may leak.
As with other custard pies, the greatest difficulty in making pecan pies is in cooking the filling completely without over-baking the crust. As with fruit pies, avoid light colored pans and use dark pie pans which will absorb heat. You may also want to use a pie crust shield during the last period of baking to protect the edges from over-baking.
Test for doneness in one of two ways. Jiggle the pie gently to see if the filling is still liquid. The center will still be slightly soft but the heat of the pecan pie will continue to cook the filling after the pie is removed from the oven. If you are not confident in this method, insert a thin-bladed knife one inch from the center. If it comes out clean, your pecan pie is done.
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