Sunday, November 18, 2007

pecan pie

For my adult life, our Thanksgiving pie - pecan - has been made by my Aunt Raya. It turns out that she is not the source of our tradition, however. My mother is responsible for it.

Pecan pie
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"Actually," she told me recently, "I started that tradition during the Johnson administration." (I grew up in Washington, D.C., where people chronicle time by presidents.) My mother elaborated, "The Washington Post had an interview with Lady Bird Johnson, and she gave her recipe for pecan pie." My mother had grown up in upstate New York, far from the pecan groves of the South, and had never heard of the concoction. She was intrigued and tried the recipe. And so, I learned, our family adopted Lady Bird's ritual dessert.

This time of year, most bakeries are turning out pecan pies because everyone seems to love the toasty nuts in a caramel-y sweetness. Pecan pie consists of five basic ingredients besides the crust: pecans, corn syrup, sugar, eggs, and butter or margarine. (Karo corn syrup is credited with creating the first pecan pie, in the 1930s.) But then the debate ensues: Light or dark corn syrup? White or brown sugar? Pecan halves or chopped nuts?

Judy Rosenberg, owner of Rosie's Bakery, has been making the pie for years. "I had a friend in Cambridge who loved pecan pie, so we used to make pecan pie together in my pre-bakery days," she says.

She favors dark corn syrup, as does Brad Brown of Blue Frog Bakery. "I think it makes it a little less sweet," says Brown. But Sue Watts of Sweet Sue's and Judy Fersh of Concord Teacakes disagree. Both prefer light corn syrup for the same reason. "It doesn't seem as sweet as dark," says Fersh. "It makes a lighter pie, not as caramelized," says Watts, "I think you taste the pecans and not all that sugar."

The four bakers also vary on their choice of sugar. They all agree that you have to be generous with the pecans. As Fersh says, what makes a great pecan pie is "lots and lots of pecans." Fersh prefers chopped pecans. "We used to use whole pecans, but it made such a mess when you cut it," she says.

Watts of Sweet Sue's says, "I like a big nutty taste." So she uses pecan halves.

Rosenberg advises that a long cooking time brings out the flavor of the nuts. "I think it's very important that the pie is cooked long enough that pecans be crunchy," she says. "They need to be crunchy, you should not bite into pecan pie and have pecans be soft. They need that caramelized texture."

The quality of the pecans matters. For all her pecan pie-making life, my aunt has used pecan halves from Sunnyland Farms in Georgia, which she says are larger and fresher tasting.

My aunt's recipe started with considerable research, but then necessity became the mother of invention. "I looked through all my cookbooks," she says, "And then I looked in my cupboards. I didn't have all the ingredients that the recipes suggested, so I kind of made it up with what I had." Her pie calls for both light and dark corn syrup and white and brown sugar, and she flavors it with rum. She says, "It was, I thought, better than any of the ones I had before. The amazing thing is that I wrote it down."

Her recipe makes two pies. She says that's enough to serve "16 polite people, and 12 people who really love pecan pie." Great pie starts with a great crust
A great pie starts with a good foundation
By Donna Pierce | Test kitchen director
November 18, 2007
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Digg Facebook Fark Google Newsvine Reddit Yahoo Print Single page view Reprints Reader feedback Text size: Is pumpkin or pecan pie an essential element for your holiday feast? A good pie becomes a great pie when the crust is flaky and tender, and a recent request reminded us that sometimes a key ingredient might be an unusual one.

Dozens of readers responded when Dorothy Tanczyn of Chicago asked in an earlier column for pie-crust tips and a recipe using vinegar.

Vinegar might seem odd in a pastry crust but, in her book, "Cookwise," Shirley Corriher explains that vinegar tenderizes flour by breaking down its long gluten molecules into smaller pieces.

"Gluten is protein ... so acidic ingredients are ideal for tender crusts," Corriher writes. Lemon juice, orange juice concentrate, buttermilk and sour cream are some of the other acidic ingredients that can be added to pastry recipes for that purpose.

As for other pie-crust tips, we agree with the suggestions that Annette Kunes of Crystal Lake offered as pastry "secrets" learned from her mother:

1. It's important that the water added to the dry ingredients is very cold. Adding some ice cubes to the water will ensure that it is sufficiently cold before adding to the flour mixture.

2. Sprinkle the water over the flour mixture and keep adding it until the dough comes together. Kunes usually uses a little more water than the recipe calls for.

3. Chill your pie dough at least an hour before rolling out.

4. Do not overknead the dough. The less you touch it the better.

Vinegar pie crust

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Chilling time: 1 hour

Yield: 4 single crusts for 9-inch pies

Karen Piscopo of Hillside sent us this recipe for pie crust; Jo Anne Lightfoot of Schaumburg and Grace Wojtowicz of Chicago submitted similar recipes. "I came by this recipe through a friend of the family who says it's impossible to mess up," Piscopo wrote. Tasters described it as "very flaky" and delicious. Because the unbaked pie shells or dough balls can be refrigerated (up to three days) or frozen (up to 2 months), we recommend making the full recipe to keep from dividing the egg.

4 cups flour

2 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon salt

1 3/4 cups shortening or lard

1 egg

1 tablespoon vinegar

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons ice cold water

1. Combine the flour, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Cut in the shortening with a fork or pastry blender until the dough resembles cornmeal; set aside.

2. Whisk together the egg and vinegar in a small bowl; whisk in the cold water. Add 1/2 cup of this mixture to the dough, blending together with a fork. Add remaining mixture, 1 tablespoon at a time, blending with a fork until it comes together into a ball.

3. Divide dough into 4 balls; flatten into discs. Transfer each disk to a food storage bag; refrigerate at least 1 hour before rolling and placing into pie shell. Refrigerate or freeze remaining balls for later use; you also can roll out the crusts, and freeze in the pie pans.

Nutrition information per serving (8 servings per crust):

164 calories, 63% of calories from fat, 11 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 7 mg cholesterol, 13 g carbohydrates, 2 g protein, 221 mg sodium, 0 g fiber

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Share your dish!

Send us your favorite recipe with a paragraph describing what's special about it online at or via e-mailPreheat oven to 350 degrees. Roll pastry into a 12-inch circle on lightly floured surface. Fit into 9-inch pie plate. Fold edge under and flute edge.

Combine corn syrup, eggs, pecans, butter and vanilla in a medium bowl. Toss 2/3 cup of toffee pieces with flour and stir into pecan mixture. Pour entire mixture into pie pastry.

Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove pie from the oven and place on a cooling rack. Immediately sprinkle remaining 1/3 cup of toffee pieces over the top. Cool completely before serving. Makes 8 servings.

Pecan pie
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
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A slice of pecan pie
Pecan pie is a sweet custard pie made primarily of corn syrup and pecan nuts. It is popularly served at holiday meals and is also considered a specialty of Southern U.S. cuisine. Most pecan pie recipes include salt and vanilla as flavorings. Other ingredients such as chocolate and bourbon whiskey are popular additions to the recipe. Pecan pie is often served with whipped cream.

[edit] New Orleans Pecan Pie
The tradition holds that the French created pecan pie soon after settling in New Orleans, after being introduced to the nut by Native Americans. It is sometimes referred to as "New Orleans pecan pie," adding an aura of French cuisine to a home-cooked comfort food. Attempts to trace the origin have, however, not found any recipes earlier than 1925, and well-known cookbooks such as Fannie Farmer and The Joy of Cooking did not include it before 1940.

The process for refining corn sugar was not developed until the 1880s. Thus, the corn syrup which is considered an essential part of the modern recipe was not available to the settlers of New Orleans.

There is no doubt that the makers of Karo syrup popularized the dish, and many recipes―even one ascribed to a well-known New Orleans restaurant―specify Karo syrup by name as an ingredient. This suggests a prosaic 20th-century origin in Karo promotion, and in fact the maker's website currently credits the dish as a 1930s "discovery" of a "new use for corn syrup" by a corporate sales executive's wife. The company asserts that "Down South, today, that same recipe continues to be called Karo Pie" but in fact this name for the dish seems to be rare.

Although the standard recipes call for corn syrup, cookbook author Mark Bittman comments "There are two kinds of pecan pie, one of which contains not only sugar but corn syrup. I don't like this version―not only is it too sweet, if you taste corn syrup by itself you'll never cook with it again." The version he favors uses white and brown sugar, no corn syrup, and "thickens the sugar with eggs―in other words, it's a custard pie, loaded with pecans."

Jim Turner of Glencoe, Alabama developed the recipe for making pecan pies with sorghum syrup. These pies are considered by some individuals to be of a higher quality than the ones made with corn syrup.

[edit] Quotations
Pecan pie is often mentioned in American literature (and television) as associated with Thanksgiving, Christmas and other special occasions; for example:

Tonight was the monthly meeting and potluck dinner of the Lost River Community Association... Frances had brought two covered dishes, one a green-bean casserole, the other a macaroni and cheese, and several desserts. Mildred, who had prepared fried chicken and a pork roast, heard the phone ringing, but ignored it... After another trip to the car for two cakes and three pecan pies, the phone was still ringing.
―Fannie Flagg, 2004
The only kitchen item I usually bring to Italy is plastic wrap... This time, however, I have brought one bag of Georgia pecans and a can of cane syrup, pecan pie being a necessary ingredient of Christmas.
―Frances Mayes, 1997
Dooley handed them a basket stuffed with fruit, nuts, candy, a tinned ham, and a pecan pie. "Merry Christmas!" he said.
―Jan Karon, 1996
Harry Burns: Repeat after me. Pepper.
Sally Albright: Pepper.
Harry Burns: Pepper.
Sally Albright: Pepper.
Harry Burns: Waiter, there is too much pepper on my paprikash.
Sally Albright: Waiter, there is too much pepper on my paprikash.
Harry Burns: But I would be proud to partake of your pecan pie.
―Billy Crystal & Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally
Trip Tucker: It may not be good for the body... But it sure is good for the soul.. Star Trek: Enterprise

[edit] References
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Please include your full name, address and a daytime phone number. Also include exact measurements of ingredients, in order of their use, plus directions and serving sizes. Recipes become the property of The Chicago Tribune.


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