What’s better than pecan pie? Spiked pecan pie. It may sound somewhat counterintuitive, but a touch of bourbon balances what some consider the cloying sweetness of this holiday staple’s sticky-sugary filling. The spirit’s complex flavors, with hints of caramel, vanilla and smoke, intensify the nuttiness of the pie. It does this without the addition of much sugar, resulting in a nuanced pie that is sure to win over even those pesky guests who may claim to lack a sweet tooth.
The elements that make bourbon “bourbon” are what make it such a good addition to desserts. The full-bodied whiskey must be made from at least 51% corn and aged in brand-new oak barrels that have been charred inside. While there is no minimum time for aging, most whiskies sit in casks for at least a year or two, mellowing the bite of the alcohol and becoming more flavorful over the months. This combination of corn, aromatic oak and time give bourbon its signature sweetness and complex flavors.
Like cooking with wine, incorporating bourbon into food starts with choosing the right bottle—it should always be one that you would want to drink. The best are mid-range bourbons that strike a balance between quality and affordability. Other than that, it all comes down to the recipe and the personal preferences of the person cooking. For a more robust flavor, select a bourbon with a higher proof. A bottle with a lower abv will have a milder flavor, and a more subtle effect on the pie.
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If, for some reason, you want to substitute the bourbon for something alcohol-free, cooled coffee can be used a direct substitute because it mirrors the toasted flavor of bourbon and plays nicely with the dish’s caramelized pecans. Otherwise, forgo the bourbon and caffeine entirely and replace it with one tablespoon of pure vanilla or butter pecan extract.
How to Make Bourbon Pecan Pie
Recipe by Dana Beninati
Looking for a crowd-pleasing pecan pie? This recipe delivers a double punch of pecan flavor by packing nuts into both the filling and crust. When shopping, look for light- colored pecans to ensure freshness.
For the Crust
- 1/3 cup pecan halves or 1/3 cup pecan flour or meal
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 ¼ cup all-purpose flour
- 7 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed and frozen
For the Filling
- 1 ¼ cups dark brown sugar, packed
- ¾ cup light corn syrup
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 3 large eggs
- ¼ cup bourbon
- 1 tablespoon bourbon vanilla extract
- 2 cups pecan halves, toasted
Published: November 21, 2023