Ahead of Thanksgiving, and in the spirit of the season now getting underway, I am sharing my treasured recipe for pecan pie with you, Mr. and Mrs. Home Baker. If you ask me, it makes The Best Pecan Pie Ever. But it comes with a caveat: I tailor-made this recipe to suit myself. It may not suit you.

“Our clafoutis is ours because, like a comfortable shirt, it has managed to shape itself to our particular fit,” former Mainer John Thorne wrote about his and Matt Lewis Thorne’s recipe for clafoutis in their 1992 book “Outlaw Cook.” That’s how I feel about my pecan pie.

I tinkered repeatedly over several years because while I had never liked pecan pie, I’d always felt I ought to. I could understand rejecting offal, say, or roasted crickets. But pecans, butter, sugar, crunch and pie – how could that combination possibly go wrong? And yet it could and always did.

I’m hardly the first to notice that the classic version is obnoxiously, appallingly, tooth-achingly sweet. Like soda, pecan pie is the sort of taste that appeals when you are 10, but less and less as your palate matures.

Pecan pie’s close association with Thanksgiving, in line right behind pumpkin pie and shoulder to shoulder with apple, did nothing to help its case with me. On the annual holiday where I’m most likely to overeat, this end-of-the-feast pie bludgeoned post-turkey, lethargic, pants-unbuttoned, prostrate me.

When I began to develop my own recipe, the first thing I did was banish the corn syrup, with its insipid wallop of full-on sugar. A drawn-out period of experimentation followed – because, really, how many consecutive pecan pies can one eat, even in the name of recipe development? I made pecan pies of all stripes – among them, pies with Kahlua and with bourbon, with maple syrup and with golden syrup, with pecan halves and pecan pieces, with chocolate chips and with cocoa nibs. There was that deep-dish version that rested on a sweet potato base, and did I try one with hatch chilies, too? Or was that a tryptophan-induced fever dream?

It took several years of fiddling, but I finally had my recipe – borrowing liberally from my friend Mitchell – and also a set of pecan pie-making rules. If your idea of good pecan pie leans toward voluptuous, edgy and adult, you may find them useful, too.

Avoid corn syrup at all costs. I’ve replaced it successfully with maple syrup, sorghum syrup and cane sugar.

 Include salt. If ever a sweet needed salt, pecan pie does.

 Toast the pecans before using them in the pie. You’ll be amazed at how that easy step amps up the flavor.

 Include a sour and/or bitter-ish item. My favorite additions (so far) are fresh cranberries or sliced kumquats. I’ve also successfully added an entire Meyer lemon.

Add some cream. It’s a holiday. Live it up.

 Let the pie crust brown. Trust me, you do not want a pale pie. The flavor is in the browning.

n Speaking of crust, I am sorry to add to your cooking chores on a labor-intensive holiday, but ditch the packaged crust. I understand that making the dough yourself, rolling it out and pre-baking it, not to mention wiping down the countertop, will add considerably to your Thanksgiving to-do list. (Worse, you may need to start by cleaning your oven, or risk it repeatedly setting off your fire alarm. Don’t ask.) But there are times when a cheat is OK – canned beans on a busy weekday night – and there are times when it’s not – a major holiday when your loved ones have driven through four hours of appalling traffic and deserve a handmade crust and a homemade feast.

Thanksgiving is not merely about feasting, of course. It is also about gratitude. I am grateful to my friend Mitchell Davis, whose recipe in “Kitchen Sense: More than 600 Recipes to Make You a Great Home Cook,” forms the foundation of my pie. (Why didn’t I save myself years of trouble and look there at the start?) Actually, his recipe for Light and Flaky Pie Crust, from a previous book (“Cook Something!”) literally forms the foundation for my pie. I won’t bother giving that recipe here, as pie crust is about technique and (tender) touch; the recipes are more or less the same. And it was Mitchell’s patient encouragement and instruction some 15 years ago that gave me the nerve to attempt homemade pie crust in the first place.

Thanksgiving is about tradition, too. As it happens, pecan pie was not part of my family tradition. We usually had pumpkin and called it a day. I don’t recall us ever attempting homemade crust; we were a cake-and-cookie family. But I grew up and moved to Texas, where pecans rule. Then, I moved to Maine, where pie rules. About the same time, the pie trend – cupcakes out; homey, humble pie in – overtook me. Add these up, and pecan pie has established a toehold on my Thanksgiving table.

Most of us have certain recipes in our back pocket. These are the ones we pull out again and again because they are reliable and made to measure. What they are depends on who you are. For me, the list is baking-heavy, so I wouldn’t exactly call it a repertoire, and it borrows from friends and strangers, so I can’t claim the dishes as my own creations. Still, the recipes that over years have shaped themselves to my particular fit include an ordinary vinaigrette, my Aunt Elsa’s baba ganoush, a crowd-pleasing cashew-cumin brittle, a very special fig flan – and pecan pie. If it suits you, please make it your pecan pie, too.

Cranberry-Pecan Pie

Do not use dried cranberries here; they lack the requisite tartness. I love Steen’s cane syrup; it’s an old Louisiana syrup I was introduced to when I lived in Texas – dark and sweet, yet a little bitter, too. It comes in a charming old-fashioned yellow can.

Yields 1 pie

1 homemade pie crust, baked blind and cooled

4 eggs, slightly beaten

1/2 cup heavy cream

1 cup sugar

2 tablespoons flour

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup Steen’s 100% Pure Cane Syrup

1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled

1 1/4 cups toasted pecan halves

1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Beat the eggs with the heavy cream in a medium-size bowl. Add the sugar, flour, vanilla and salt. Add the syrup and butter. Stir in the cranberries and pecans.

Bake the pie for about 45 minutes. When it is done, the filling will have puffed and browned, and the pie will jiggle only so slightly in the center. It will sink and solidify as it cools.

Let the pie cool for at least two hours before you attempt to cut it. Ask me, it needs no ice cream or whipped cream – between the crust and the filling, it’s got an awful lot of butter and cream already. But this is your pie now, and your Thanksgiving, so you get to make the call.

LEMON-PECAN PIE VARIATION: If pecan pie and lemon meringue pie had a love child, it would taste like this.

Eliminate the cranberries. Cut one Meyer lemon into quarters or eighths, peel included. Cut off and discard the ends. De-seed the lemon. Add the lemon sections to a food processor. Process until the lemon is pulped. Add the remaining ingredients, as written above, to the food processor, except for the pecans, and process until combined. Stir in the pecans. Pour the mix into the prepared pie crust and bake as directed above.

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.