Q. Betty Crocker says to bake pecan pie at 375 degrees for 40-50 minutes; Karo says 60-70 minutes at 350; a friend’s time-tested recipe says 45 minutes at 350.
What do the food gods say? I have made about a dozen pecan pies in the past two years, and some were very good. But I have a very hard time telling when they are done just right. One was downright runny; another was overbaked (good but chewy).
— Laura S.
A. We love our pecan pie in the South, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen two recipes for it that were exactly the same.
To find an answer to your question of what to look for, I consulted three cookbooks and each had a similar description of what to look for, regardless of the temperature at which you bake it.
“The Joy of Cooking” offered the best explanation: “The filling of pecan pie is actually a sort of custard composed of sugar, butter and eggs, and like all custards, it will curdle and break if subjected to excessive heat. The trick is to pull the pie from the oven as soon as the filling has thickened to a gelatin-like consistency in the center. Although soft coming out of the oven, the filling will firm up nicely by the time the pie has cooled to room temperature.”
So, don’t use the method of inserting a knife in the center and hoping it will come out clean. If it does, you’ve baked the pie too long. And don’t serve it hot out of the oven, either. It needs time beyond the baking period to rest.
“The Joy of Cooking” uses a mixture of equal parts sugar and light corn syrup, and the pie is baked for 35 to 45 minutes at 375 degrees.
In “The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook,” the oven is set for 375 degrees and the pie bakes for 35 to 40 minutes. Instead of corn syrup, which Matt and Ted Lee find too cloying for their tastes, they suggest equal parts sugar and sorghum molasses, cane syrup or molasses. When it’s time to bake the pie, place it on a rack in the center of the oven and bake “until the center has risen and is quivery, like gelatin.”
A cookbook from 1960, “The ‘Best-of-All’ Cook Book,” calls for dark corn syrup and sugar and has you start baking at 450 degrees for the first 10 minutes before dropping the temperature down to 350 degrees for an additional 50 minutes. And once again, the following advice appears: “Remove from heat when filling still quivers a little; do not bake until the filling is completely firm. Let cool.”
I also asked a friend who has been baking pecan pies for decades. Judy Baum did not like the idea of starting the oven hot and reducing the heat. Too often, the pecans burn and it mars the flavor of the pie, she says. But she does remember when that was the preferred method in the 1960s.
She also offered a couple of suggestions for making your pecan pie better. If you are making the crust yourself, add up to 2 tablespoons of finely ground pecans to the crust recipe (you don’t have to remove any flour or other ingredient). Whether it’s a handmade or store-bought crust, heat it for a couple of minutes before pouring in the filling, another tip that “The Joy of Cooking” recommends (this is not the same as prebaking the crust, which takes much longer and won’t work in the long run). To enhance the flavor of the filling, add a tablespoon of bourbon on top of the vanilla.
That said, here’s the pecan pie recipe from “The Joy of Cooking”:
1 (9-inch) pie crust
2 cups pecans, coarsely chopped
3 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla or 1 tablespoon dark rum
1/2 teaspoon salt
Position a rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Spread pecans on a baking sheet.
Toast the nuts in the oven, stirring occasionally, until golden and fragrant, 6 to 10 minutes.
Whisk eggs, sugar, corn syrup, butter, vanilla and salt until blended. Stir in the toasted nuts.
Warm the pie crust in the oven until it is hot to the touch, then pour in the filling. Bake until the edges are firm and the center seems set but quivery, like gelatin, when the pan is nudged, 35 to 45 minutes. Let cool on a rack for at least 1 1/2 hours. Serve warm or at room temperature with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.
This pie can be made up to 2 days ahead. Store in the refrigerator, but let warm to room temperature or warm in a 275 degree oven for 15 minutes before serving.
Makes 1 pie.
From “The Joy of Cooking”