Pecan Pie — It’s Really A Custard

by Elizabeth Skipper | May 21st, 2014 | Ask the Chef
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pies2Is there a specific ratio for eggs, corn syrup, and melted butter in pecan pie?  I have used the same recipe the last two times I made it, but the filling stayed runny.  I didn’t want to bake it any longer, as it would burn. I was thinking that I might need to use less of one of the liquid ingredients; my current recipe uses 3 eggs, 1 cup corn syrup, and 1/3 cup butter.  Do you have any advice?

There are specific ratios for the amount of liquid ingredients a certain number of eggs will set. When we learned to make baked custard in culinary school, the ratio was two eggs per two cups of milk for a custard that wasn’t to be unmolded, or three eggs per two cups of milk for one that could be turned out of a mold and stand by itself. So your pecan pie recipe is well within those parameters and should set up.

Without seeing the rest of the recipe, I can only guess at what went wrong. Other ingredients might skew the results. Sometimes recipes contain errors or even – yes! — omissions. My best guess is that you didn’t bake it long enough or baked it at the wrong temperature. Custards need to cook longer than other foods, at lower than average temperatures, or they’ll curdle. And curdling would occur before a custard would burn.

There used to be an ad for a skin cream which referred to “the heartbreak of psoriasis.” In class, we referred to a broken egg gel (the technical term) as “the heartbreak of syneresis.” Whether it’s a broken hollandaise sauce, a cracked custard, or a weeping quiche, the same principle is at work. When eggs are cooked too long or at too high a temperature, their proteins will tighten up and begin to exude liquid.

Because pecan pies are a type of custard, you want to avoid having this happen. Many pecan pie recipes call for a temperature of 350°F, but Cooks Illustrated and others recommend a much lower 275°F. Baking your pie at this lower temperature means it’s less likely you’ll over-do it. Remove it from the oven before it’s completely set; residual heat will complete the cooking. I can’t tell you how long to bake it, because I don’t know if your recipe calls for warming the filling before baking – some do, some don’t – but it could take up to an hour.

Try that and let me know if the third time’s the charm.

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