This Southern pecan pie from James Villas is not as sweet as most. Which is a good thing. And, of course, it does contain the requisite pecans, rich filling, and flaky crust. Yankee or Rebel, you’ll love this pie. Try it for Thanksgiving.
“At the risk of alienating a few hundred Southern friends, family members, and culinary historians, I’m not about to proclaim what does and does not constitute genuine Southern pecan pie,” explains cookbook author and the creator of this pie, James Villas. “Should the pecans be throughout the filling or just on top of the pie? Can both sugar and corn syrup be used as sweeteners? And what about substituting molasses or sorghum for the corn syrup? Must the batter be mixed only with a wooden spoon for the right texture, or does an electric mixer suffice? Like most Southerners, I firmly believe that pecan pie should be made only with fresh in-season pecans (not those half-rancid nuts sold in cans and cellophane packages), and I’m pretty adamant about my pecan pie not being cloyingly sweet, the way so many are. Furthermore, I always give guests the option of plopping dollops of whipped cream on their wedges, but I’m personally convinced that’s only gilding one very beautiful lily that needs no adornment.” We’ve nothing to add to what he just said about this being a proper pecan pie. Other than that we enthusiastically endorse what he said.–Renee Schettler
Southern Pecan Pie
For the pie crust
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour plus more for the work surface
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup vegetable shortening, lard, butter, margarine, or a combination plus more for the pie plate
- 4 to 7 tablespoons ice water as needed
For the pecan pie
- 4 large eggs
- 1 1/2 cups light corn syrup
- 1 1/2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 4 tablespoons (2 ounces) unsaltd butter melted
- 2 cups pecan halves
- Whipped cream for garnish (optional)
Make the pie crust
- In a large bowl, combine the flour and salt, and then cut in the shortening with a pastry cutter or 2 knives until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Mixing with a wooden spoon, gradually dribble in enough of the water as you mix so that a ball of dough forms. You’ll probably need at least 4 tablespoons ice water. Start with that. And then if more water is necessary for a dough to form, gradually add more. Shape the dough into a disk, wrap the dough in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 1 day.
- Butter a 9- or 10-inch pie plate. Place the chilled dough on a lightly floured surface and, with a lightly floured rolling pin, roll the dough out from the center to a 1/8-inch thickness. Carefully fold the pastry in half, lay the fold across the center of the prepared pie plate, unfold it, and press it loosely into the bottom and sides of the plate. Prick the bottom and sides with a fork, trim and crimp the edges, and place on a heavy rimmed baking sheet.
Make the pecan pie
- Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C).
- In a large bowl, beat the eggs with an electric mixer until well combined. Add the corn syrup, flour, vanilla, and salt, and beat until well blended. Stir in the butter and pecans and mix well.
- Pour the mixture into the pie shell and bake till the filling is cooked but still soft in the center when the pie is gently shaken, 50 to 65 minutes. Cool the pie completely on a rack and then chill slightly. Slice and serve the pie with a dollop of whipped cream, if desired.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
This is my idea of a near-perfect pecan pie. My ideal pecan pie has a texture less like a sticky gooey pie and more of a sweet custard structure. This one hits the mark so closely, I’m willing to give up looking for new recipes. No whipped cream needed. No sharing needed, either.
I would prefer a touch more sugar, but everything else is spot-on. I didn’t have in-season pecans, but I think the pie turned out well in spite of it. I used shortening for the crust and, while it was flaky, it lacked some flavor I get with butter, so perhaps a mixture would work best.
I love pecan pie, but I hate overly sweet things, a category in which most pecan pies fall. This pecan pie, I am happy to report, is not like most pecan pies. The description by other testers of a “custardy” filling is accurate, and it’s the light, soft, fragrant custard that makes this pie really special.
I needed far more than 4 tablespoons ice water. I used 7 and the pie dough still barely held together—the pastry came out fine. Next, it didn’t seem logical to prick the bottom of the crust when the recipe doesn’t call for it to be baked prior to filling. The center was set and the crust was nicely browned but nowhere near burnt when I pulled it out.
Originally published November 11, 2011