Along with pumpkin pie, pecan pie is one of the staples on the Thanksgiving table (and year-round as a matter of speaking.) The history of the pie can be traced back to Napoleon Bonaparte. Yes, that Napoleon.
According to Rossi Anastopoulo, author of “Sweet Land of Liberty: A History of America in 11 Pies,” In 1795, Napoleon held a competition to find the best way to preserve food so he could feed his army. The winner would receive 12,000 francs.
Enter Nicolas Appert, a French confectioner and inventor, who came up with a way of preserving food in airtight containers. Appert, known as the “father of food science”, described his invention as a way “of conserving all kinds of food substances in containers.” He figured that if it worked for making wine why wouldn’t it work for other food items.
According to Brian A. Nummer for The National Center for Home Food Preservation, in the 1790s, Appert “discovered that the application of heat to food in sealed glass bottles preserved the food from deterioration. In about 1806 Appert’s principles were successfully trialed by the French Navy on a wide range of foods including meat, vegetables, fruit, and even milk.”
So, how does this relate to the invention of the pecan pie? Well, because his method of canning “laid the foundation for what would eventually become an industrialized American food system.” That will eventually bring us to Karo Corn Syrup.
Anastopoulo says that, despite the long history of pecans in the United States, the pecan pie didn’t start showing up in America until the 19th century. The pecan is native to North America and its name more than likely came from the Algonquin word “paacan.”
It wasn’t until around 1847 when an enslaved man known only as Antoine came up with a way of grafting pecan trees that commercial production of the nut was possible.
“References to pecan pie started showing up in Texas cookbooks in the 1870s and 1880s,” states Anastopoulo. In the late 19th century, women’s magazines started publishing recipes including an 1897 recipe published in “Ladies’ Home Journal” by Mrs. M.B.
The humble pecan pie was a regional dessert and not well-known in many parts of the United States. That would all change in the 1940s when cookbooks like the “Joy of Cooking”published recipes for the Texas pie.
As the industrialization of processed foods began to take off, the Corn Products Refining Company of New York and Chicago introduced a product in 1902 that would eventually make its way into the pecan pie – Karo Corn Syrup.
To market this new product, the company decided to write a cookbook full of Karo Corn Syrup recipes and give it away for free. A former associate editor of “Ladies’ Home Journal,” Emma Churchman Hewitt, wrote a 50-page cookbook with “120 Practical Recipes for the Use of Karo Syrup.” Although a recipe for pecan pie was not included in the book, it got American women used to the idea of using Karo Corn Syrup.
In the 1930s, so the story goes, “… the wife of a corporate sales executive dreamed up a nifty little recipe that would put Karo Corn Syrup to use,” writes Anastopoulo. Although this was not the first time Karo was used in a recipe, Karo Corn Syrup ran the recipe where people were looking for it. Eventually, the company started printing the recipe right on the label of every Karo bottle where it’s still printed to this day.
That brings us to a pecan pie recipe from Chef Scott Green who was part of the 2015 Bronze Medal-winning pastry team at the Coupe du Monde de la Pâtisserie in Lyon, France.
Pecan Pie Recipe
Pie Dough Recipe
|Pastry flour||250 g|
|Granulated sugar||5 g|
|Butter, unsalted||225 g|
|Water, ice cold||60 g (approximately)|
Pie Dough Instructions
- Cut the butter into 1/2″ cubes and reserve in the freezer.
- Combine the pastry flour, salt and sugar and mix until homogenized in a stand mixer with a paddle attachment.
- Add the cold butter to the dry ingredients and mix until the butter is mostly incorporated into the dry ingredients, with large pads of butter still intact.
- Add the cold water and mix until the dough is just combined. Finish by hand if needed.
- For best results, let the dough rest for 1hr minimum and up to 24hrs.
- Roll the chilled pie dough out to 1/8″/ 3mm thickness and line the pie tin.
- Once the pie tin is lined, strike any excess pie dough off of the rim with a paring knife, slicing away from the tin.
- Let the dough rest, uncovered, in the fridge for at least an hour, up to overnight.
- Cover the lined pie shell with cheesecloth and fill with baking beans or rice. Par bake the pie dough at 350 degrees Fahrenheit /176 degrees Celsius for 10min.
To see the pie dough process in step-by-step photos click here.
Pecan Pie Filling
|Light corn syrup||300 g|
|Dark corn syrup||300 g|
|Granulated Sugar||280 g|
|Butter, unsalted||114 g|
|Lemon juice||24 g|
|Whole eggs||300 g|
|Vanilla Extract (We use Nielsen Massey)||10 g|
|Pecans, chopped||240 g|
Pecan Pie Instructions
Melt your butter until it’s fluid but not hot, and hold on to it to add later.
Combine the sugar, salt, vanilla, lemon juice, dark corn syrup and light corn syrup and whisk well until it’s all combined.
Next add the whole egg and whisk that until well combined.
Last, add you melted butter and….yes…whisk that until well combined.
At this point I like to hand blend the mixture to really emulsify it. If you don’t have a hand blender you can skip this step. If you don’t have a hand blender but feel like not emulsifying the mix is going to keep you up at night you and try emulsifying in a food processor or blender.
Add your pecans to your par baked pie shell and pour your filling over it.
Because pecan pie can take awhile to bake and because our pie dough is par baked, I cover the pie with tin foil to insulate some heat and keep the edge of the pie crust from burning. Punch a small hole in the foil to allow steam to escape.
Bake the pie at 330 degrees Fahrenheit/165 degrees Celsius until the pie is well set, about 45min-1hr.
Recipe Notes from Chef Green
The filling for your pecan pie couldn’t be simpler, it’s basically combine and mix, but there are a few nuances to get just what you might be looking for in the pie you make at home.
As with basically all of my pies, I par bake my pie crust. Pecan pie filling is quite an insulator of heat and if you don’t par bake the crust you’ll likely end up with a soggy bottom. No one likes a soggy bottom.
The biggest difference maker in preference is the quantity and treatment of the pecans. Personally, I prefer a heavier amount of filling in relation to pecans, so if you like more pecans you’ll want to increase the quantity. I also usually buy chopped pecan pieces because they’re cheaper. If you like that whole pecan look on the top of your pie, I’d still encourage you to use chopped pieces for the filling of the pie and then buy full pecan halves to lay on top of the filled pie before baking. Another option is to lightly toast or even candy the pecans before adding them to the filling. I almost always do this to give a little more crunch and texture variation.
Other variations on this filling include adding some spice, swapping out some or all of the dark corn syrup for molasses or maple syrup (or just light corn syrup) and of course, adding some booze. Bourbon is a pretty popular choice for a pecan pie. I like drinking it when making, eating or thinking about pie, but if you want to add it to your filling you’ll have to put a decent amount in to maintain some bourbon flavor after baking. Because of that, I’d add an extra egg or two to help offset the liquid being added that will have to be stabilized.