Tuesday, March 23, 2010

In search of the perfect...

When I was a student (in the mid ‘90’s) pecan pie was a relatively new and sophisticated delicacy – well in Aberdeen at any rate. (Now I’ve said that I’m trying to recall the days before the current cupcake vogue began, and the days before my cookbook obsession began). I remember being very excited to find a pecan pie recipe in my newly acquired copy of Claire Macdonald’s ‘Seasonal Cooking’, and equally disappointed when it didn’t turn out as I hoped, and certainly nothing like the pie’s I’d tried. Not just a Pecan Pie, an M&S Pecan Pie – probably.

I think it was back then, and back in the kitchen of my student flat, that my recipe quest really began. It started as the hunt or the perfect cookbook; I imagined once that one book might have all the answers, but am fast reaching a point where I have one book for each recipe. I’ve started collecting them altogether to make the perfect book for me – a plan which would have worked better if I’d started writing in biro not ink, and hadn’t spilled things on it so it’s now illegible... I live and learn.

This weekend though I finally found the perfect (for me) pecan pie recipe. My mother left a whole pile of pecans with me that she no longer had a use for (seemingly it happens) and after all those years I thought as I had friends coming round that the time had come to have another go: pecan pie surely being retro enough to be cool again, so after a good old dig I lighted on ‘The Hummingbird Bakery cookbook’. For all I know it might not be the most authentic version in the world (well it wasn’t by the time I’d finished with it because I don’t keep corn syrup around the place for a start) but it looked great and tasted great and I’m sharing it the way I made it:


1 lot of shortcrust pastry, enough to satisfy a standard flan dish, chilled and ready to go.

200g of golden castor sugar

250ml of golden syrup (I made a guess based on how much was in the tin to avoid extra stickiness and that worked out fine for me...)

½ a teaspoon of salt

3 eggs

60g unsalted butter

¼ teaspoon vanilla extract

100 -150g of roughly chopped and some whole pecans, recipe said 100 but I had lots so went over -and liked it.

• Roll out the pastry and blind bake it for a mere 10 mins or so at 180°c

• Meanwhile put the sugar, salt, and syrup into a pan and bring to a gentle boil then put to one side and allow to cool.

• Turn the oven down to 170°c

• Using a balloon whisk whip the eggs together until combined, when the syrup has cooled a little pour it slowly into the eggs whisking all the time to stop the eggs from scrambling. Add the vanilla extract and the butter. Keep stirring until the butter has melted. (A note: if you add the syrup to hot the eggs will scramble, if you add it to cool or to slow the syrup will set quite hard... whisk like mad and trust to luck)

• Fill the pie case with pecans and syrup and bake at 170°c/gas3 for 50 – 60 mins or until the pie is dark caramel colour and slightly crusty on top.

As ‘The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook’ is a bestseller it probably doesn’t need much more introduction, but just in case it’s passed anyone by I’ll sing its praises anyway. I like the kitschy style of American baking but find the quantities used in say ‘The Magnolia Bakery Cookbook’ somewhat daunting – (I find the quantities used for icing in any if these books twitch inducing and terrifying) they also measure in cups so it was only half way through my first batch of cupcakes that I realised American 24 is something like British 48.

Hummingbird uses UK friendly measurements, and when they say 12 cupcakes they mean 12 scant cupcakes. On balance that’s a good thing. It’s a good book with some lovely ideas and worth getting for the pecan pie alone...


  1. Yum! I really want to have a look at the Hummingbird cookery book - have it on reserve at the library, but don't want to buy it just yet as reviews on Amazon so variable. What do you think about it?

  2. Books like that make me want to be able to cook. So I buy them, launch myself at the kitchen, and then remember that I cannot cook. At all. And it will take more than the efforts of a human cookery writer to teach me. But by then it's too late. The smoke alarm is singing, the kitchen a smouldering ruin...

    Every time.

  3. Verity, when your feeling better then yes, I like the hummingbird book - I think it's going around pretty cheap with the book people (who leave books in offices and stuff for people to buy)and others like that. It's been a bit hit and miss, but mostly hit.

    Overdue, your description reminds me of my ability to drive a car, no licence, several fails, and a few accidents. I just can't do it.

    A Bookish Space - it was generally found to be yummy for which all credit to the recipe.

  4. I've seen that book at Anthropologie...I may have to look closer the next time I'm there!

    I'm intrigued by the idea of pecan pie using golden syrup. Here in the south, pecan pie is something of an institution, and we use corn syrup for the filling. Definitely want to try it this way!