Thanksgiving would not be complete without pie for dessert. And I think that everyone would agree that the classic pies of pecan, pumpkin, sweet potato, or apple are just as important as the main meal itself. Even when we are stuffed to the brim with turkey and all the sides, there is always room for dessert. Pumpkin pie is my favorite, but right behind it is pecan pie. I love all nuts, but pecans are on top of my list with their sweet, nutty, and buttery flavor. Pecans are especially loved in Southern cuisine, both sweet and savory recipes.
Pecans have Southern roots, literally because they are native to the South. Pecan trees are plentiful throughout the Southern states, from Iowa to Texas, with Georgia being the biggest commercial producer. Native Americans introduced pecans to the French settlers in New Orleans and since then the nut and the pie have been considered Southern specialties. It is more than likely that the French came up with the pie recipe, but Karo, the makers of corn syrup, claim that they invented the pecan pie in 1930 to popularize the syrup. Still, the pie is a classic no matter who claimed to have invented it.
Instead of corn syrup, my recipe uses Lyle's golden syrup, which is inverted sugar syrup made during the process of refining cane juice into sugar. It has the color of honey and a slight molasses flavor. Golden syrup was invented by a Scotsman in 1883 and is very popular in Britain. It's also commonly used in Cajun cuisine in Louisiana. I'd like to think that the original French recipe for pecan pie might have used it. For a New England twist, I add maple syrup, which lends even more depth of flavor. To create an extra crispy crust, I use whole-wheat flour. But the most important ingredient is pecans, and lots of them. This pie has a lot of sweet going on, but that is perfectly authentic for the holiday.
Pecan and Maple Pie with Whole-Wheat Crust
Note: Find Lyle's Golden Syrup in the international aisle of the supermarket, specialty British shops, or online.
whole-wheat crust, recipe follows
4 large eggs
1 cup light-brown sugar
1 cup Lyle's golden syrup
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup coarsely chopped pecans
1 cup whole pecan halves
On a lightly floured work surface, roll out pie dough to 1/4-inch thickness. Carefully lay dough into a 9-inch pie pan. Press dough into the sides. Remove excess dough with a knife. Crimp the edge using your thumb and forefingers. Chill for 15 to 20 minutes.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
In a large bowl, using a whisk, beat together eggs and sugar. Add golden syrup, maple syrup, and vanilla extract; beat to combine. Stir in chopped pecans.
Pour filling into pie shell. Arrange pecan halves decoratively on top of filling. Bake for 15 minutes at 400 degrees F. to crisp the crust. Lower heat to 350 degrees F. and bake until filling is set and puffed, about 1 hour, 15 minutes. A skewer inserted into the center should come out clean. Let cool completely. Serve at room temperature or chilled. Yield: 8 to 10 slices.
Note: This recipe uses white whole-wheat, which is made from the bran and germ of white wheat rather than red wheat. It's nutrient content is practically the same as regular whole wheat (made from red wheat), but the flavor is less bitter. It also has a lower gluten and protein content. If you can't find it, substitute whole-wheat or all-purpose flour.
1-1/4 cup white whole-wheat flour
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, chilled, cut into small pieces
3 to 5 tablespoons ice water
Combine flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Mix together with a whisk to aerate. Add butter and work with a pastry blender until mixture resembles course meal.
While mixing, drizzle water into dry ingredients 1 tablespoon at a time. Mix until dough comes together. If too dry, 1 to 2 tablespoons ice water can be added.
Form the dough into a flat disc and wrap in plastic. Chill for at least 1 hour before rolling.