Sunday, November 2, 2008

Perfect Pecan Pie

There's nothing like pecan pie for Thanksgiving. I can give or take the pumpkin pie. As long as there is something with a pumpkin taste on the table, whether that is pumpkin cheesecake, pumpkin bars, pumpkin bread, or pumpkin muffins, I'm okay. Pecan Pie. That's another story. I've been making this pie for Thanksgiving the last four years. My husband loves pecan pie and this is his favorite recipe. Seriously good food here--and it's a kid-friendly recipe, too.

My children do not eat pecan pie, instead they eat this for dessert on Thanksgiving. Part of my son's eating therapy involves him cooking, especially foods that he does not eat. He just needs the extra exposure to foods in a positive format without the pressure of him actually having to eat it. Cooking is that exposure. If your kids are picky eaters, it is essential to get them into the kitchen if you ever want to change the way they eat!!

6 tablespoons unsalted butter , cut into 1-inch pieces
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon table salt
3 large eggs
3/4 cup light corn syrup
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups whole pecans (8 ounces), toasted and chopped into small pieces


1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Bake pie crust according to package directions. Let's be honest here. With all the great refrigerated pie crusts available, I hardly ever make them from scratch. They are delicious and flaky and a lot less work.

2. Melt butter in medium heatproof bowl set in skillet of water maintained at just below simmer.

3. Remove bowl from skillet; mix in sugar and salt with wooden spoon until butter is absorbed. Beat in eggs, then corn syrup and vanilla.

4. Return bowl to hot water; stir until mixture is shiny and warm to the touch, about 130 degrees. Remove from heat; stir in pecans.

5. Pour mixture into warm shell; bake until center feels set yet soft, like gelatin, when gently pressed, 50 to 60 minutes. Transfer pie to rack; let cool completely, at least 4 hours.

6. Serve pie at room temperature, with lightly sweetened whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. If you want warm pie, cool pie thoroughly, then cut and warm in 250-degree oven for about twenty minutes.

Original recipe from Cook's Illustrated, November, 1995. Modifications mine.

Click here for a printable version of this recipe.

Besides the obvious pouring & stirring, let's talk about some other ways your children can help you with this recipe. If your children are like mine, then they want to do as much as humanly possible by themselves. I love that my children enjoy cooking and baking. But let's be real--when they are involved, things take much longer and the kitchen is in shambles by the time we are finished. Because of this, I have an undisclosed rule that simply states, "CHILDREN MAY NOT MEASURE FLOUR". It's my rule and the kids are never going to be let in on the secret. Yours may be different. That's okay. If you want to tackle flour, be my guest, but if I can at all help it, mine will not have their cute, little hands in my flour canister.

One way to side step around my flour issue is to buy a pre-made crust. The grocery store has wonderfully flaky and incredibly tasty pre-made pie crusts in the refrigerated section. Even if my kids weren't helping, I would use these pre-made crusts. It's a win-win situation here people! The dough requires pressing into a pie pan and baking, and as simple as this is, it's all that is necessary for my kids to feel as though they are making the pie crust by themselves; the added bonus is that flour is not all over my kitchen counter and floor!

Allow your children to press the dough into the pie plate by themselves, as well as attend to the edges. I show them the basics of the pie crust first and then let them do their thing. Start by unrolling the dough and placing it in the center of your pie plate. Gently press the dough from the center, working outwards, until the dough is adhered to the bottom of the pie plate. Then start gently pressing up the sides. To crimp the edges, use a fork. Work your way around the pie plate pressing down with an upside-down fork, until all the edges are crimped. Whoa-la. Bake according to the directions on the box.

Note that our pie crust is not perfect....that's okay. We aren't going for perfection here. My aim is to have a pecan pie AND happy children who enjoyed the process.

Another thing that my kids love to do us chop the pecans. Now, sharp knifes are not allowed in my children's hands, but nuts of all kinds can be "chopped" by putting them in a freezer strength Ziploc baggie and pounding them with a rolling pin. Make sure you use a freezer strength baggie or you will have pecans flying all over your kitchen. Also be careful of your counters. I have my kids pound the baggie against a cutting board so nothing gets destroyed.

Again, whoa-la. Kids are happy. You are happy. Once your pecans look like this, it's time to toast them.

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