Falltime can't roll around without us making a pecan pie! Our family has been making this dessert without corn syrup for 10 years, and it's definitely a sweet-and-sticky family favorite. With just a few minutes of prep time, you can enjoy the rich caramel, nutty flavor of this traditional fall dessert, too!
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What is pecan pie?
It's an American dessert that consists of a gooey custard baked in a pastry shell and topped with pecans. It's a sweet treat typically cut in small slices, as it is very rich, and is very popular at Thanksgiving.
Where is it from?
This dessert hails from the southeastern United States. It most likely originated in the 1800s in New Orleans when French immigrants used pecan nuts in a variation of chess pie. The recipe was printed on Karo corn syrup labels in the 1930s and 1940s, spreading this dessert throughout the United States. It has been a favorite Thanksgiving dessert ever since.
What state is known for pecan pie?
It's is the official dessert of the state of Texas. It's popularity is not limited just to this state, however; this dessert is especially popular in other states that grow pecans, such as Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi.
What does pecan pie without corn syrup taste like?
This treat is known for its rich, caramel-like sweetness and nutty crunch. The filling has a sticky, slightly gooey texture, and the pastry is buttery and flaky. You won't notice the absence of corn syrup in this delicious recipe.
What is the filling made of?
The filling typically contains eggs, white and brown sugar, melted butter, salt, corn syrup, and vanilla extract. I don't add the corn syrup; it makes this treat just a teeny bit healthier. I also like to add a little bit of milk and all-purpose flour.
Pecan Pie vs. Butter Tarts
American pecan pie and Canadian butter tarts are actually very similar desserts. Butter tarts usually have a runnier filling, because no thickening agent (flour or cornstarch) is added to the filling. Butter tarts also do not usually contain nuts, and are baked as individual tarts instead of a large pie.
Is it better warm or cold?
It tastes the best and has the nicest texture when it's served at room temperature or cold. Do not serve when it's still warm from the oven; it will be too runny and gooey when you cut into it. Always let it stand for at least 2 hours at room temperature before slicing.
Do pecans rise to the top?
Supposedly, pecans do rise to the top. I always bake my filling for a few minutes before putting the layer of pecans on the top. This ensures that they don't sink into the filling and creates an extra-crunchy topping.
What Crust to Use
I recommend using a homemade pastry crust, such as this easy and amazing flaky shortcrust. Making your own pastry is not as hard as it sounds, so don't be afraid to give it a try! Homemade pastry always tastes 10 times better than store-bought.
Should I pre-bake the crust?
Yes, I recommend pre-baking the crust (called blind baking). This ensures a crisp, flaky pastry that isn't soggy. Check out my step-by-step photo tutorials for how to line a tart pan.
What does it look like when it's done?
Sometimes, it's hard to tell when it's done baking! Here's some things to look for when checking for doneness.
- The nuts on top will be a slightly darker shade of brown.
- The filling should be puffed up and have a crunchy, browned top. When shaken, the filling should jiggle just a little in the center and be set around the edges.
- The pastry should be lightly browned around the edges.
How jiggly should it be?
A well-baked pie should jiggle slightly in the middle when it is gently shaken from side to side. The edges should not jiggle at all. The filling should definitely not slosh around!
How do you test it for doneness?
- Shake it. The filling should jiggle a little in the center, but the edges should be set.
- Test it. The filling should have an internal temperature of at least 185 F in the center, and a knife or toothpick inserted into the middle should come out clean (no sticky goo on it).
- Look at it. The edges should have puffed slightly, the top should be crisp, and the nuts and pastry should be browned.
- In doubt? Simply bake for an extra 5-10 minutes as a precaution.
Does pecan pie set as it cools?
Yes, it definitely does set as it cools. That's why it's best to wait a couple of hours before slicing; otherwise, it will just be a sticky, gooey mess.
Why My Pie Didn't Set
Did yours turn out runny? Here's a few reasons why that may have happened, and some ways you can fix it next time.
- Underbaked. Check for doneness with the tips above to make sure that it's baked properly. If in doubt, give it an extra 5-10 minutes just in case.
- Wrong oven temperature. Some ovens run hot or cold; make sure to calibrate your oven with an oven thermometer to make sure that it's at the right temp.
- Wrong pie plate. Never use a deep dish for this recipe; the extra depth takes too long to cook. The filling should only be about 1 inch deep.
- Add an extra egg or tablespoon of flour to the filling. Use this is a last resort, as it can change the taste and texture.
How far in advance can I make it?
This all depends on how you store it and if it is already baked or not. You can make the pie as far ahead as 2 months if it's already baked and frozen.
- If you want to refrigerate a fully baked pie, you can make it up to 3 days in advance. Simply cover it tightly and refrigerate.
- If you want to freeze a fully baked pie, you can make it up to 2 months in advance. Wrap it tightly in plastic wrap, then foil, and freeze.
- If you want to bake it fresh, assemble the pie completely and flash freeze it for 2 hours, then wrap tightly in plastic wrap and foil and freeze for up to 1 month. Unwrap and bake directly from frozen, increasing the baking time by 30 minutes.
What to Serve with Pecan Pie
Most people prefer vanilla ice cream or whipped cream with it. I'm definitely in the vanilla ice cream camp! It's up to you, but if you can't decide, go with both.
Can this dessert be left out?
Nope. It needs to be refrigerated because it contains eggs. Cover it tightly with plastic wrap or aluminum foil to lock in freshness and keep out odors, and refrigerate for up to 3 days.
Can you freeze it?
Yes, you can freeze it before or after it's baked. Here's how to freeze and defrost/bake the pie both ways.
- Freezing a Baked Pie: Make sure it is fully cooled (at least 2 hours on a cooling rack), then wrap in two layers of plastic wrap and one layer of aluminum foil. Freeze for up to 2 months. Defrost in the fridge overnight, at room temperature for a few hours, or in a warm oven until thawed.
- Freezing an Unbaked Pie: Pour the filling into a pre-baked crust and freeze for at least 2 hours, or until frozen solid. Wrap tightly in two layers of plastic wrap and one layer of aluminum foil, then freeze for up to 1 month. When ready to bake, unwrap and bake directly from frozen, adding 30 minutes to the baking time.
How to Make
Gather the ingredients for the filling. You'll need pecan halves for the top and chopped pecans for the filling. Grab two eggs, granulated white sugar, brown sugar, all-purpose flour, milk, salt, vanilla extract, and melted butter.
Crack the eggs into a mixing bowl and beat them with a handheld mixer until they're smooth. Add the melted butter and beat until combined.
Add all the other filling ingredients except the chopped pecans and beat until smooth.
Fold in the chopped pecans with a spatula until evenly combined.
Pour the filling into a pre-baked crust.
Bake at 350 F for 15 minutes, then place the pecan halves in concentric circles on top of the pie.
Lower the oven temperature to 300 F and bake for another 35 minutes, until the center jiggles slightly when shaken. Let it cool completely on a wire rack before slicing, about 2 hours. (If you're using a loose-bottomed tart pan like I did, feel free to take it out of the pan after 10 minutes of cooling.)
- Use good-quality ingredients; especially for the pecans.
- Use homemade pastry for the best taste and texture. Use my favorite recipe for perfectly flaky pastry.
- Use a mixture of chopped and whole pecans for an appealing crunch and beautiful presentation.
- Pre-bake the crust before pouring the filling into the pastry. This ensures a crisp base.
- Bake the pie on a dark metal cookie sheet to make the pastry even crispier. It also makes it easier to take it out of the oven.
- Let it cool completely before slicing it. Otherwise, it will be runny and gooey.
- Hamilton Beach Electric Mixer: this handy little mixer is a kitchen workhorse!
- 9-Inch Tart Pan: this beautiful fluted tart pan is the perfect depth for this recipe.
- Cake Lifter: this giant spatula makes it easy to move the baked pie around.
- Cooling Racks: keep the pastry crisp as the it cools on one of these racks.
Other Fall Desserts to Enjoy
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Pecan Pie without Corn Syrup
Pre-Baking the Pastry (35 min)
- Preheat the oven to 400 F and put in a dark, heavy cookie sheet to preheat.
- Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface to about ⅛ inch thick and use it to line a 9-inch pie plate or loose-bottomed tart pan. Prick the bottom of the pastry with a fork, then chill in the fridge for 10 minutes.
- Line the pastry with a piece of parchment paper, then fill with dried beans. Bake at 400 F for 10 minutes, then remove the paper and beans and bake for another 5-8 minutes, until the pastry is a light golden brown and shrinking away from the sides of the pan.
Making the Filling (10 min)
- Preheat the oven to 350 F.
- Beat the eggs with a handheld electric mixer until smooth, then beat in the melted butter. Add the brown sugar, white sugar, salt, flour, milk, and vanilla extract and beat thoroughly.
- Fold in the chopped pecans.
- Spread the filling evenly in the pre-baked pastry shell.
Baking the Pie (50 min + 2 hrs cooling)
- Bake at 350 F for 15 minutes, then remove from the oven and use the pecan halves to form a decorative pattern of concentric circles on top. Start with the outer edge and work your way in.
- Lower the oven temperature to 300 F, and bake for 35 minutes, until the middle has only a slight wobble when shaken. The filling should be puffed up, the edges should be set, and the nuts should be a darker brown.
- Let the pie cool on a wire rack for at least 2 hours to allow the filling to fully set. If you're using a loose-bottomed tart pan, remove the pie from the pan after it has cooled for 10 minutes.
- Make your own pastry for the best taste. It's easy and worth the time.
- Use both chopped and whole pecans for a good combination.
- Pre-bake the crust before assembling to prevent a soggy bottom.
- Bake the pie on top of a cookie sheet to make the pastry even crispier. It also makes it easier to remove it from the oven.
- Let it cool completely before slicing, or it will be too gooey.