Way Better than Birthday Cake

My closest friends (and their children)—you know who you are—know that when it's their "special" day, I like to bake something for them. (And, for the record, I even make my own birthday cake.) Usually it's cupcakes, a triple-layered cake or even gluten-free dark chocolate brownies, but this time excitement arose when I offered to make a pecan pie. I know it's his favorite, favorite, favorite thing in the whole wide world to eat.

And since it's fall in Texas and the pecans are being harvested now, I thought it a perfect birthday cake, or in this case, a birthday pie.

As a child, I can remember the pecan pies my great-grandmother, Oma, made. They were amazing. The crust was uber-flaky and the filling absolutely succulent with a taste of something that just made it over the top fabulous and memorable. Because I was the only great-grandchild and grandchild (on my mother's side of the family), I am the lucky keeper of both my great-grandmother's and grandmother's recipes. And what a treasure chest of memories they hold.

Contained in a wooden (Annie's) and metal box (Oma's) are mostly hand-written as well as perfectly typed (with plastic sleeves on them) recipes from way back when. Oma's box even contains a recipe for lye soap. How old do you think that recipe is???

I am honored to share with you what I think to be the world's best pecan pie. Honestly, I can't remember the last time I made a pecan pie...perhaps it's the corn syrup, butter, sugar combo that makes me think it's not that good for me? Nah.

But, really, sometimes you've just got to live life and make something totally decadent and enjoy all that life has to offer. And sometimes that includes pecan pie. Considering that Thanksgiving is right around the corner, I can think of no better time to share this fourth-generation recipe with you than now.

While it is true that the filling is unbelievable, I will also tell you that the crust can either make or break it. Considering how very simple a homemade crust is to make, especially if you have a food processor, I strongly recommend you take a few extra minutes to whip up a homemade crust. To make it even easier, prepare the crust the day before you plan to bake the pie, because the crust will need to be ready to go before you even start making the filling...

Just promise me that when you make it, you'll add as much love as Oma did, because she always told me that that was the secret ingredient!

Buen provecho!

(Note: The birthday boy, my husband and I swooned upon taking the first bite of this birthday pie. It was spectacular—the crust was perfect, the filling with the gorgeous Ocker Texas Pecans, wow! The next day I kept wishing I had another piece...it's always great when you impress yourself. And this time I really did.)

Oma's Pecan Pie

Print Recipe

Serves 6-8

Partially baked pie shell (see below for homemade pie crust recipe)
½ cup butter (1 stick)
1 ¼ cups sugar
½ cup light corn syrup
3 eggs, slightly beaten
1-teaspoon vanilla
Juice of one orange and grate the peel/rind
1 ½ cups pecans

Either make your own pastry dough (please!!) or prepare partially baked pie shell.

Cook butter, sugar and corn syrup over low heat until butter melts. Do not let mixture boil. Cool slightly.

Stir in eggs and mix well. Grate the orange rind with a zester, squeeze the juice and add both to the egg and sugar mixture. Add vanilla and pecans and stir until combined. Pour the filling into prepared pie crust.

Bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes, or a little longer. Pie should be slightly soft in the center when removed from the oven.

Oma's Flaky Pie Crust

This is Oma's recipe with more detailed instructions courtesy of America's Test Kitchen (Thanks, Chris Kimball!)

Print Recipe

You can prepare the crust a week in advance and then freeze it. Thaw in refrigerator one day before you want to use.

1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. sugar
10 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 ¼ sticks), chilled and cut into ¼ inch pieces (you can also choose to use half butter and half vegetable shortening, but I use all butter)
3-½ tablespoons ice water (I usually need another tablespoon or more to make everything come together just so)

Mix flour, salt and sugar in a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Scatter butter over dry ingredients; process until mixture resembles cornmeal, 7 to 12 seconds.

Drizzle 3 tablespoons of water over flour mixture and keep adding 1/2 teaspoons until the entire dough forms into a ball. Remove ball of dough and any remaining pieces from the processor, flatten into a disk, approximately 4 inches and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. (Can be refrigerated for 2 days or, if sealed airtight in a plastic bag, frozen for up to 6 months.)

Generously sprinkle a 2-foot square work area with flour. Remove dough from wrapping and place disk in center; dust the top with flour. (If it has been chilled for more than 1 hour, let dough stand until it gives slightly when pressed, 5 to 10 minutes.)

Roll dough in all directions, from center to edges, rotating a quarter turn and throwing a bit more flour underneath as necessary after each stroke. Flip disk over when it is 9 inches in diameter and continue to roll (but don’t rotate) in all directions, until it is 13 to 14 inches in diameter and about 1/8 inch thick.

Lightly sprinkle dough with a little more flour, fold dough in quarters and place the corner in the center of a Pyrex pie plate measuring 9- to 9 1/2-inches across the top. Carefully unfold dough to cover pan completely, with excess dough draped over pan lip. With one hand, pick up edges of dough; use index finger of other hand to press dough around pan bottom. Use your fingertips to press dough against pan walls. Trim dough overhanging the pan to an even 1/2 inch all around or simply fold the dough under.

Tuck overhanging dough back under itself so folded edge is flush with edge of pan lip. Press double layer of dough with your fingers to seal, then bend up at a 90-degree angle and flute by pressing thumb and index finger about 1/2-inch apart against outside edge of dough, then using index finger (or knuckle) of other hand to poke a dent through the space. Repeat procedure all the way around. This creates a "fluted" pie crust. 

Refrigerate for 20 minutes (or freeze for 5 minutes) to firm dough shell. Using table fork, prick bottom and sides—including where they meet—at 1/2-inch intervals. Flatten a 12-inch square of aluminum foil inside shell, pressing it flush against corners, sides, and over rim. Prick foil bottom in about a dozen places with a fork. Chill shell for at least 30 minutes (preferably an hour or more), to allow dough to relax.

Adjust oven rack to lowest positionand heat oven to 400 degrees. Line foiled crust with pie weights or beans to make sure the crust doesn't puff up (Rather than buy expensive pie weights, I keep a 1 lb. bag of black beans in a ziploc to use as pie weights.) 

Start preparing filling when you put shell into oven. Bake 15 minutes. Remove foil and pie weights and bake shell for 8 to 10 minutes longer, or until interior just begins to color. You may need to press out any puffs in the crust when it comes out of the oven.

Let the crust rest a few minutes, then add the filling and bake as directed.
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