High Country Baking: the perfect high-altitude pecan pie
November 8, 2017
High altitudes makes cookies spread in the pan, cakes fall and few baked goods turn out as they do at sea level. This twice-monthly column presents recipes and tips that make baking in the mountains successful.
A drum roll, please; it's a momentous occasion! I finally have a fabulous pecan pie recipe that works at high altitudes — just in time for the holidays! Rich, gooey, sweet and strongly flavored, we think it's better than the well-loved one made with corn syrup that erupts in the oven when baked above 7,000 feet.
It's an easy pie to make. Only one thing can go wrong: The gooey filling is notorious for sticking to the pan. So, grease the pan bottom, select a very sturdy pie crust (my choice is one made with egg(s) or an egg yolk), prebake it, and brush it with egg white to create a seal. Make sure not to overfill the crust and to run a knife around the edge of the baked dessert while it's still slightly warm to free any sticky spots.
You can prepare the pie in a standard (shallow) 9-inch pie pan, you just won't use all the filling.
Make in a 9-inch deep-dish glass pie pan
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Your favorite sturdy pie crust
1 egg white, beaten to froth
2 cups pecan halves, lightly toasted, divided
1 cup pure maple syrup, preferably Grade B or dark
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons molasses
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
2 tablespoons bourbon
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
¾ tablespoon salt
3 large eggs, beaten
1 tablespoon pure maple syrup
1 tablespoon bourbon
1. Grease the bottom of your pie pan. Prebake the pie crust, according to your recipe's directions but don't prick the bottom of the unbaked crust if directed to do so (you don't want the sticky filling to seep through the holes and stick to the pan). As soon as you take the crust out of the oven, while it's still very hot, brush it all over with the frothed egg white. (The heat from the crust will cook the egg and form a shield that will help prevent the filling from seeping through the crust and sticking to the pan.) You may not use it all. Let the baked crust cool completely.
2. Prepare the filling: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and place a foil-lined heavy baking sheet on a rack in the lowest position. Coarsely chop 1 cup of the pecan halves and set them aside. Leave the other cup in halves (they'll decorate the top of the pie).
3. Combine the 1 cup of maple syrup, brown sugar and molasses in a saucepan, place over medium-low heat, and whisk frequently until the sugar dissolves, about three minutes. To test, remove a little of the mixture and rub it between your fingers; it should feel completely smooth (all grains of sugar melted). Remove the pan from the heat, cut the butter into small pieces, add them and whisk until melted. Cool the mixture slightly. Whisk in the 2 tablespoons of bourbon, vanilla and salt. Add the beaten eggs, about 3-4 tablespoons at a time, whisking until fully incorporated after each addition.
4. Scatter the cup of chopped pecans over the bottom of the baked and cooled pie crust, distributing them evenly. Pour the filling over them, to about half-an-inch from the top of the crust (you may have some left over, particularly if your pie pan isn't a deep-dish one). In a small bowl, combine the 1 tablespoon maple syrup with the 1 tablespoon of bourbon and toss the remaining cup of pecan halves in this mixture until all are coated (this will make them shiny and flavorful). Arrange them decoratively over the top of the filling.
5. Place the pie on the foil-lined baking sheet and reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees. Bake until the filling is set but still jiggles slightly in the center when moved. Start checking at about 45 minutes, though the required time may be longer depending upon the depth of your pie pan, the amount of filling used and its temperature when placed in the oven.
6. Remove the baked pie to a rack. While still warm, carefully run a small knife around the sides of the pie pan (I gently push it down between the crust and pan side, pushing toward the pan so I don't disturb the crust) to eliminate any stuck spots. Let the pie cool for at least five hours and up to overnight before serving. Store in the refrigerator but serve at room temperature or slightly warmed, with ice cream.
This recipe is a variation of one published in Cuisine Magazine.
Vera Dawson teaches high-altitude baking classes and is the author of two high-altitude cookbooks, "Cookies in the Clouds" and "Baking Above It All" (available at The Bookworm in Edwards and Next Page Books and Nosh in Frisco). Her recipes have been tested in her Summit County kitchen and, whenever necessary, altered until they work at our altitude. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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