pecan chess pie

Pecan pie, no corn syrup

19 November 2012

I love pies and pecans, but I was always wary of pecan pies. Why the gelatinous goo? Why the impenetrable layer of nuts that squishes the goo when you try to break through? Why pile such deliciously buttery nuts atop corn syrup jelly?

But then I tasted my friend Jenny’s pecan pie.

Jenny’s pie – fork-friendly pieces of pecan nestled in a delicately crackly crust over a soft caramel custard base of brown sugar, eggs, butter and vanilla – is what pecan pie was before Karo came along.

Jenny’s family recipe is based on Southern chess pie, without the bit of cornmeal commonly found in the sugar-butter-egg-vanilla custard. The early historical record of pecan pies is sparse – the dessert was popularized by Karo beginning in the 1930s – but the custardy base of chess pie would have been a natural fit with the native Southern nut in pre-corn syrup America.

The last three years in Ohio, Jenny and I had a happy deal: I bought pecans from Costco, and she made us pecan pies along with her extensive Thanksgiving baking for her own family. This year I’m on my own in California, but it turns out the recipe couldn’t be easier.

One bowl, and this simple pantry pie filling – brown sugar, granulated sugar, flour, eggs, butter, vanilla – mixes up in minutes. Pour it in a store-bought pie shell (I’ve decided that homemade pie-crusts will have to wait until retirement, when I will have more time and hopefully more patience) with some pecan pieces, and it’s ready to bake.

First mix a bit of flour in with the sugars.

Then add eggs, milk, melted butter and vanilla.

Jenny says if you don’t mix the filling well, you can get a layer of sugar at the bottom of the filling. So I actually dug out a crowded cabinet get to my abandoned electric mixer. You can certainly mix by hand – check the filling by rubbing a bit between your fingers to make sure the sugars have dissolved.

Jenny sprinkles her pecans on top. But it’s just as easy to distribute them in the pie crust before pouring in the filling, or mix them into the filling before pouring. They rise to the top during baking anyway.

I was worried that this pie came out unevenly puffy. But the filling settles down nicely as it cools.

The pie takes at least four hours to cool completely.

But it’s well worth the wait.

Make the pie a day or two ahead of time – it keeps well at room temperature. Or wrap it up and put it in the refrigerator if you need to keep it away from eager tasters.

The countdown begins! Happy Thanksgiving – I am very thankful for you all.

Other Thanksgiving dessert options

Pecan Pie (No Corn Syrup)
In this corn syrup-free pie, pecans nestle in a crackly crust and soft brown-sugar base. A Southern recipe from my friend Jenny, a master baker like her mom and grandma before her.

Ingredients

  • 1 unbaked 9″ pie shell
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoon milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt (1/2 teaspoon if using unsalted butter)
  • 1 cup chopped pecans

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, mix sugars and flour. Add remaining ingredients, beating very well. (A pie not mixed well enough may end up with a layer of sugar at the bottom of the filling – check the filling by rubbing a bit between your fingers to make sure the sugars have dissolved.)
  3. Mix nuts into filling and pour into prepared 9″ pie shell. Bake until crust is golden and pie filling puffy, about 40-45 minutes. The filling should not be jiggly when you move the pie – if it is, leave it in the oven a few more minutes (cover with foil if your crust is getting too brown). Cool completely, at least four hours. The pie will deflate as it cools.

Notes

  • Jenny uses less (around 2/3 cup) pecans in her excellent pies. Use more or less, depending on your taste.
  • Add a tablespoon of brandy, rum or bourbon for a more spirited pie.
  • Pecan pie keeps well at room temperature for several days.

Here’s the link to a printable version.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

{ 47 comments… read them below or add one }

Lisa Yuen 19 November 2012 at 10:22 am

Hooray! Double goodness = Jenny and pecan pie!!!!

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meg 20 November 2012 at 9:09 am

I will totally have to try this! Looks and sounds extra delicious. Happy Thanksgiving!

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cg 25 November 2012 at 2:10 am

happy thanksgiving to you too, meg!

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CJ @ Morsels of Life 21 November 2012 at 3:51 am

I love some good pecan pie! It looks like some tasty eats. 🙂

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cg 25 November 2012 at 2:12 am

thanks, cj! it is yummmy. =)

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Michelle 21 November 2012 at 5:49 pm

Lilian,
I am so happy to see a pecan pie without the goo…..well, with homemade goo. I already made derby pies for Thanksgiving dinner, but how would you go about altering the derby pie recipe to eliminate the corn syrup goo. I know I could add chocolate to this recipe and I will do that in a few weeks after we have recovered from Thanksgiving!

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cg 25 November 2012 at 2:10 am

hi michelle – it’s on my to-do list to try the derby pie with maple syrup instead of corn syrup. the chocolate and bourbon are so strong in that recipe, i don’t think the maple would be distracting. but let me know if you try it first! simple syrup is another possible alternative, but that would involve the extra step of making simple syrup. so i’m hoping maple syrup is the answer.

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Lily 22 November 2012 at 8:12 am

I am making this today! Thanks for the recipe Jenny and CG! Happy Thanksgiving and lots of love!! 🙂

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cg 25 November 2012 at 2:15 am

nice, lily! next best thing to jenny in person is a jenny recipe.

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Nance 24 November 2012 at 10:09 am

Yum–raves all around. Thanks for the recipe.

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cg 25 November 2012 at 2:14 am

nance – i bow down to your leaf lard crust! you are awesome. i wimped out. =)

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Nicole 24 November 2012 at 2:17 pm

Without exaggeration, this is the best pecan pie (and perhaps ‘pie’ without further qualifications) I have ever eaten. Thank you for the recipe!

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cg 25 November 2012 at 2:05 am

yay nicole! glad it worked out for you. thanks so much for letting me know. =)

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Rachael 7 January 2013 at 11:44 am

This was by far the best pecan pie. My sister made it over Christmas. I am making it this weekend for company! Thanks for taking out the goo!

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cg 8 January 2013 at 10:30 am

hi rachael – so glad you liked it. thanks to your sister for making it and sharing the no-goo word!

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Emily 2 February 2013 at 8:38 am

Can this be eaten the same day as making it?

Thank you

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cg 2 February 2013 at 9:28 am

hi emily – yes, absolutely! the pie will hold together better once it is completely cooled, however.

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Elies 20 June 2013 at 2:57 pm

I’ve always wanted to try pecan pie, but you can’t even find corn syrup in stores here in Belgium! But after trying your recipe I think that might be a good thing. It was delicious and my whole family loved it to bits! Thanks for your great recipe 🙂

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cg 20 June 2013 at 3:19 pm

hi elies – so happy it worked out for you! how great that you are baking pecan pie in belgium – you made my day (and you make me think i really should start adding metric measurements as well!). thanks for sharing back.

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Lea 15 September 2013 at 10:56 am

You think I could use oil in place of the melted butter for a non dairy version (I try to stay away from margarine)

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cg 15 September 2013 at 1:08 pm

yes lea – i think that should work. i think an oil that has a taste you like (rather than a very neutral oil) would be nice. coconut oil would be great if you like the taste. or a nut oil, perhaps? good luck!

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Brooke 25 November 2013 at 3:14 pm

This is on my menu for Thanksgiving. Thankful for a recipe I can make a day or two in advance and Thankful for you sharing the recipe!

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cg 27 November 2013 at 3:16 pm

hi brooke – yes, it’s easy to make this one ahead…it lasts really well. happy thanksgiving to you!

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Melissa Brown 27 November 2013 at 11:20 am

So this is great, and i want to make in a couple hours… but how much chocolate would you add to make a chocolate version of this?? and what kind would you use, do you reduce any of the sugar??

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cg 27 November 2013 at 11:52 am

hi melissa – i think 1/2 cup of chocolate chips would be good, but you may want to reduce the pecans…have you seen the derby pie recipe? that would also be a good option (without the bourbon!).

http://chinesegrandma.com/recipes/derby-pie/

good luck, and happy thanksgiving!

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Melissa Brown 27 November 2013 at 12:45 pm

Thanks,

i’m allergic to corn which is why i was looking at this recipe… and my mom loves chocolate bourbon pecan pie… so i will probably do this one with the variation and the chocolate! i’ll let everyone know how it goes!

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cg 27 November 2013 at 2:13 pm

great – hope it works out! hard to go wrong with pecan, chocolate and bourbon. love to hear how it goes!

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Lyndy 27 November 2013 at 4:17 pm

I just made this for the first time. I followed the recipe to a T. The one thing that I noticed was that the pecans did not float to the top – or even the topping settle into the pecans. It looks like a puffy sugar crust on top. However, I poked my for into the middle and tasted it (since it is for Thanksgiving tomorrow) and it has a buttery caramel flavor. I can’t wait to try it, regardless of the looks.
I wonder if I mixed it too much with the mixer? Next time I might put the pecans on top as your friend did.
Thanks for the recipe!

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Lyndy 28 November 2013 at 4:36 pm

I made this pie yesterday. It didn’t exactly look like the photo as there was a puffy layer that did not settle into the pecans. I followed the recipe exactly as it was posted. Maybe I mixed it too much? I used the mixer and mixed it quite a bit.
However, this was a very tasty pecan pie. It has a rich caramel taste and was not too heavy setting after you ate it.
My husband loves pecan pie and he said this was better than the standard recipe. I also got a comment from a famiky friend that said it was really good and that pecan pie is her favorite.
I will definitely make this recipe again.
Thanks for sharing!

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cg 29 November 2013 at 3:33 am

hi lyndy – i had the same problem this year! my pecans also didn’t float up like usual. i’m going to have to investigate that…maybe it is safer to sprinkle them on at the end after all. but i’m glad the taste of it was good. my husband also loves pecan pie, and this was his favorite as always. thanks so much for sharing back! feedback is always so helpful.

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Hayley 12 December 2013 at 7:50 pm

My husband loves pecan pie but I have never eaten it until my mom made one a month ago. I wanted to avoid the corn syrup so I was thrilled to find the recipe. It is delicious but my pecans also did not rise. Easy change for next time!

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cg 12 December 2013 at 8:50 pm

hi hayley – that’s it, i am modifying the recipe so that we sprinkle pecans at the end. thanks for the feedback!

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Kathleen S 23 January 2014 at 6:02 pm

I have been making this exact recipe for years. The last several times I made it, the pie was very runny. What am I doing wrong? Can’t seem to get it to thicken.

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cg 24 January 2014 at 12:39 am

hi kathleen s – that is very frustrating! i don’t find this recipe to be fussy. did you cool the pie completely? it really doesn’t set fully until it is cooled completely. otherwise i have to think you may need a bit more bake time – you can cover the crust edges with foil to start with if you don’t like them getting too brown. or the last thing i can think of is the eggs…i use extra-large, typically – if you have smaller eggs, you may need one more. very sorry for your runny pie – i’ve had runny chocolate pies before, and it’s so annoying to have soup in a crust instead of pie. hope this helps!

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Lyndy 24 January 2014 at 7:29 am

Update – I made this for Christmas too. The pecans didn’t settle at the top even though this time I sprinkled them on the top. However, it really doesn’t matter. It’s the tastiest pecan pie ever!
My soon to be daughter-in-law asked me to make this for her wedding pie! They are going with pies instead of cake.
Anywho, I need the best pie crust recipe because my crusts have turned out so-so.
Any suggestions?

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cg 27 January 2014 at 3:26 pm

hi lyndy – i’m a disaster with pie crust, so i am sadly no help at all with crust help. maybe try smitten kitchen? deb seems to do everything right. good luck!

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Anne 10 November 2014 at 2:36 pm

I made this pie yesterday. I used about 1 1/2 cups of pecans and a layer of chocolate chips, but followed the filling recipe exactly. It came out delicious. I don’t like too much of the ‘goo’ so using extra nuts and chips made it very substantial. (I had to cook it about an hour since it was so thick.) Everyone at work loved it – I made it as a test run for Thanksgiving and it passed. Thanks for the recipe!

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cg 14 November 2014 at 12:48 pm

hi anne – ooh, chocolate chips sound like a great add. and if you like chocolate and pecan, you should try derby pie sometime too – it’s yummy. i’m excited that my pecan pie is making it to your thanksgiving table! thanks so much for sharing back.

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Buttrfli 17 June 2015 at 8:49 am

Can not wait to try this recipe, my husband does not like the Karo syrup and this recipe has so many positive comments so i can not wait to make one this weekend. I do have a question though, have you tried to make it anymore with adding the nuts into the mix and success with them rising to the top or do you still just sprinkle them on top??

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cg 18 June 2015 at 8:50 am

hi buttrfli – i never figured out the sinking-pecan mystery. but they usually rise, and other pecan pie recipes say the same thing. so i think the sinking problem was an anomaly – i am guessing it’s related to the eggs and perhaps how well the filling is beaten. so i think you can definitely add the nuts and they should rise; just make sure to beat your filling very well so that the sugar is completely dissolved. good luck, i hope it meets your husband’s standards!

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Buttrfli 25 June 2015 at 6:35 am

Thank you so much for your reply and this amazing recipe!!! I made the pie this past weekend for fathers day along with my homemade pie crust and he LOVED IT!!! My pecans did rise but i also added a few extra to the top just in case. Thanks again so much for the recipe i will be making this pie again and again!! =)

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cg 25 June 2015 at 6:40 am

yay buttrfli – you are so sweet to report back! i love that you made it for your dad for fathers day, and that he loved it. also phew on the pecans rising! 😉

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Michelle In 24 November 2016 at 5:08 pm

I wanted so badly to love this recipe. I made one similar last year & it turned out fabulous. This year however, the middle turned to a liquid, even after letting it cool all day. What went wrong? 🙁

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cg 25 November 2016 at 7:33 pm

oh michelle – this is such a bummer. my only explanation is perhaps it wasn’t cooked long enough to set completely. i am sorry!

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cg 25 November 2016 at 8:01 pm

hi michelle – i just consulted with my friend jenny, queen of pecan pies. and she says if the filling isn’t mixed well enough (or sometimes when it’s overbeaten), it separates after baking and there’s a thin crunchy layer of sugar on the bottom crust. but if you find the filling is evenly runny, without the crystallized layer of sugar at the bottom, then it just wasn’t cooked enough. i am going to add notes to recipe to help avoid future disappointments. thanks so much for bringing up the issue.

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K 30 August 2017 at 9:11 am

I made this last night as a trial for an apple picking party I am hosting in my orchard. it was so good! It was even better the next day (i had it for breakfast).

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cg 30 August 2017 at 11:12 am

hi K – pie for breakfast is the best! thank you so much for writing – i am super happy you loved it!

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