Practice Makes Pies: Part I, Paula Deen

Through a series of telephone calls and other events, it has finally transpired that I�m going to Rob's for Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is a pretty big deal over there, with him and his brothers going back home, and in quite the opposite of my family where my father is the only male, his mother is the only female . . . except for me this year. I don't mind admitting I'm slightly nervous (and by nervous, I mean mildly terrified) at the prospect of making a good impression on The Boyfriend's Mother. Rob and I are on our second go-round of being a couple, nearing a year and doing infinitely better than we did several years ago, but I believe there are negative marks against me for that first time.
Because I'm basically intruding on what is otherwise a family affair, I wanted to bring something - a peace offering, if you will - some hostess gift, some little token of affection, something that shows you're thoughtful and you care and you appreciate being there. So in another series of telephone calls and other events, it was settled on pecan pie.
This is very good, because you cannot hold a grudge on people bearing pie. It's not right.
And then I started thinking. I have not ever made a pecan pie. I think actually it's been at least if not more than a year since I've made any kind of pie - I'm hoping it is rather like riding a bicycle, where you don't really forget. Pecan pie is The Boyfriend's Mother's favorite. Add to that the need to get out of the red and back into black, and I'm feeling some pressure: This has got to be one damn good pecan pie.
So Rob was, as it turns out, entirely kidding when he said I could practice making pies, but I was serious. Greatly inspired by Laura's recent success with apples - and noting that even a good baker comes across a recipe that in theory sounds great and just doesn't produce, I thought it made incredible amounts of sense to start baking pecan pies like no other in time to find one worthy.
I want to make a good, straight-forward, traditional pecan pie. I think pecans, I think South; I think South, I think Paula Deen. Paula, unfortunately, does not specify a crust recipe, leaving me to scramble on my own . . . but I figured buttermilk also sort of evokes Southern images (plus it sounds good) and therefore the two make an appropriate start. Paula specifically says unbaked pie crust, but being that at least two cookbooks I tend to respect (the new Joy and W-S’s Essentials of Baking) called for it to pre-bake and that made sense to me given that it’s more similar to a custard pie . . . I pre-baked it.
Oh, Paula. How wrong I was to doubt your guidance. I dutifully cut my tinfoil to cover the sides of the crust, put in my pie weights, and baked along with Joy’s directions. It’s way too long a time for something that goes back into the oven. I blame that, and not the crust - although the crust did shrink a little, I think this is due more to the pre-baking than the dough, which rolled out and transferred beautifully. I haven’t decided yet whether I’ll simply not pre-bake the next crust, or freeze and bake it for less time (Joy calls for refrigerating; Essentials for freezing for 30 min; both state for 400 F for at least 15 min and then additional time, though Essentials reduces the oven temp and Joy does not), or whether I want to give the buttermilk recipe another shot with one of those methods before moving to another crust. I think the crust has a lot of potential.
The pecan pie filling itself is ridiculous easy. I honestly had no real notion before this (with my mother’s nut allergy, we never had pecan pies, and so my exposure with them is limited to a fantastic Derby Pie down in Kentucky) of what exactly went into pecan pie, and the basic answer is less than five minutes’ effort to make a filling. Perhaps to make up for ignoring her on the crust, I followed the filling recipe exactly – this is something I don’t often do with recipes – even with the 2 Tbsp bourbon. I was a little hesitant after the first tablespoon, it has a very powerful odor, but I figured, to hell with it and dumped it in anyways.

I cannot explain to you how good this pie smells. Maybe all pecan pie smells this good; I'll let you know. It took an awful lot of restraint not to cut into it right away - and as you can see, it has a bald spot where I couldn't stop myself picking off a pecan. But I was good, in part because that wouldn't be very nice, and in part because due to travel issues the pie will need to be made at least a day and possibly two before, and I need to know how it will hold up.
First obliging taster was the lovely and gracious Mindy K., who oh-so-appropriately threw a redneck party this weekend, and happens to love pecan pie. We dug into slices round about one a.m. Saturday after several rounds of "All My Exes Live in Texas". The crust definitely was overbaked. Min's roommate Mallory kindly said that that was exactly what you needed, a bit of bitter in contrast to the sweet, but overall I think it can do better. The filling is quite good - not overpowering bourbony, as I thought it might be, and sweet but not cloying sweet. Fresh-baked out of the oven, or even the day of, I think I'd have no qualms in bringing it anywhere; that crunchy pecan off the top was just excellent! Paula's version will be in the running, but we've got a ways - and some more baking - before Thanksgiving.

from Paula Deen via the Food Network

1 c sugar
3 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
1/2 c dark corn syrup (I used Karo with brown sugar instead of the real dark stuff)
3 large eggs, beaten
2 c pecan halves
2 Tbsp good-quality bourbon
1/2 recipe (1 crust) Buttermilk Pie Crust Dough

Preheat the oven to 375 F.
In a medium bowl, stir together the sugar and melted butter. Add the corn syrup, eggs, pecans, and bourbon, and stir until all ingredients are combined. Pour mixture into the pie shell (Paula uses an unbaked shell and places the pie dish on a baking sheet). Bake for 10 minutes at 375. Lower the oven temperature to 350 and bake for an additional 25-30 minutes or until pie is set. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Awesome pie! My mother is a big pecan pie fan, but she complains that every one she's tried has been far too sweet (she's only tried them at bakeries and cafes as I've never made one). How sweet would you say this is? Do you think it'd affect anything other than the sweetness of the pie to reduce either the sugar or the corn syrup amounts?

12:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My husband really wants a pecan pie this year. Even though we are going out to eat for Thanksgiving. This looks like a good one to try.

6:23 PM  
Blogger emily said...

I haven't gotten through a lot of pecan pies, so I can only rate it for sweetness overall - and I don't think it is overpowering. It's more of a buttery richness, with some smoothness to it with the bourbon, which may also cut some of the sugar. I'll let you know how it compares with the next one I try.

Peabody - I'd highly recommend this one.

8:47 PM  
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