Pecan filling is indescribably rich and a regular slice of pie can be overwhelming. When Alex asked how I wanted our pecan pie done, I suggested that she make pecan tarts instead. A tart is not as deep as a pie and that translates to less less filling with almost the same amount of crust. Less cloying but just as satisfying.
Alex made pecan pie last year several times. She made them in different sizes — large, medium, small. The largest she ever baked we brought to a family get-together. The rest, we feasted on at home. There is no one in the family who doesn’t love pecan pie.
It’s amusing though that our introduction to this American dessert came by way of a bad experience. Years ago, KFC introduced mini pies in its menu and mini pecan pies was among them. We tried all, none was good and it was doubtful if the mini pecan pies had real pecans in them at all.
Well, we don’t have to rely on store-bought pecan pie any more. Alex’s version has turned this dessert into a regular holiday fare for us. We’re likely to ask her to bake pecan tarts again before we greet the new year.
Where does pecan pie come from anyway? The most accepted version of its history is that it was invented in the American South. Who exactly came up with the first recipe is not clear.
Pecans have been grown by Native Americans for thousands of years and it has been a part of their diet for just as long. The recipe for pecan pie is not attributed to them though. Some say the French settlers in Louisiana were the first to make it. The first published recipe came out in 1898 in a church charity cookbook. The contributor? A woman from Texas.
Others say pecan pie is a modern dessert whose popularity coincides with the rise of Karo corn syrup after a Karo salesman’s wife baked pecan pie with Karo.
The curious thing is that not everyone believes that corn syrup is essential to pecan pie. There are cooks who prefer maple syrup while there are others opt for molasses.
As you may have guessed at this point, there is more than one way to bake pecan pie. The addition of chocolate, bourbon, whiskey, pumpkin, apples and salted caramel make delicious variations. Alex has always made pecan pie the old-fashioned way with corn syrup, butter, eggs and sugar. The only addition is rum.
Why is pecan pie such a popular holiday dessert in the United States? Well, that’s a matter of history rather than any real association between pecans and the colder months of the year.
Here at home, we like pecan pie because it is something that can be baked well ahead of time and kept in the freezer until needed.
What are the characteristics of a good pecan pie? Crunchy top, crisp crust and soft inside. It’s all that lovely contrasts that make it so wonderful.
Old-fashioned Pecan Tart
Two six-inch tarts are enough to serve eight to 12 people.
Make the pie crust, wrap in cling film and chill for at least an hour.
Preheat the oven to 350F.
Prepare two six-inch tart pans with removable bottom.
Divide the pecans into two portions. Roughly chop one portion.
Make the filling. In a mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, corn syrup, light brown sugar, vanilla extract, rum, butter, salt and cinnamon.
Take the crust out of the fridge, divide into two portions and roll each portion into 1/4 inch thickness.
Take one of the rolled crusts and lay on a tart pan (see a trick). Tuck in the sides then press around the edges to remove the excess. Do the same with the second rolled crust and tart pan.
Spread the chopped pecans on the crust.
Pour the filling over the pecans. DO NOT fill to the brim.
Take the whole pecans and arrange on top of the filling.
Bake at 350F for 25 to 30 minutes.
Cool the pecan tarts before removing from the pans.
Serve the pecan tarts warm, at room temperature or chilled.
If you're not serving the pecan tarts immediately, cool completely, wrap in cling film and keep in the freezer. Thaw slowly on the counter before serving.
Excess pie crust dough may also be wrapped in cling film and kept in the fridge for use on other baking projects.
Alex's old-fashioned pecan tarts is based on a recipe from Sally's Baking Addiction.