The Best Pecan Pie and Painted Dough Cut-Outs

decorative painted pie crust
“Of Pie I Sing” – A remembrance, a recipe and an idea 

Funny how we tend to keep the traditional childhood foods in our adult repertoire – especially if one is the host or hostess preparing the fare – unless we make a conscious effort to break the proverbial cranberry mold.
My childhood Thanksgiving dinner consisted of the good, the bad and the mysterious. My mom would toil over the turkey rising at dawn to put the bird in the oven after the previous night’s ritual of making the stuffing. My job was to stuff celery sticks with two kinds of cream cheese. One was tinted pink with pimentos. It was my first introduction to cream cheese. I didn’t like it then and I still don’t but playing with it was fun. Mom taught me to make a squiggly pattern by running a serrated knife over the surface. When I think back, this was probably my introduction to making foods look pretty or “plating” as it’s now called.
My aunt brought mixer whipped mashed potatoes that could have hung wall paper and gravy with little dark hard bits that tasted funny. I later learned these bits were cooked organs disguised by the cute sounding name of “giblets.” No wonder. I love my aunt with all my giblets but this was “the bad.”
My grandmother was a true mid-west farm woman born in the late 1880’s which meant she could cook and bake circles around most. She made the pies. They were the good and the mysterious. In the 1960’s in Southern California there were two kinds of holiday pies – pumpkin and mince meat. I made my way through the bland pumpkin thanks to a generous dollop of something new on the table called Cool Whip. I instinctively knew this wonderful white puff would be wasted on that dark, gelatinous mystery pie that the adults were eating. ‘Mince meat pie’ are words you just don’t hear anymore. I decided to Wiki-ed it to find out what’s really in it. You can explore it on your own. I think it’s better that way.
Having my own family and needing a second pie besides the pumpkin variety I found something equally dark and mysterious but utterly decadent and delicious – pecan pie. That wonderful sweet, crunchy – slightly chewy goo that won the hearts and epicurean palettes of my men thus becoming the holiday pie of choice at our table since the mid 90’s. And as you might know, if you read my last post, it also doubles as the Breakfast of Christmas Decorating Champions the morning after Thanksgiving.
Perhaps it will become a tradition in your home for dessert …. or breakfast. 🙂
decorative painted pie crust
For the crust:
Martha Stewart‘s recipe for Pate Brisee is my absolute favorite and is fool proof.
This adapted recipe makes crusts for one deep dish pie, one regular pie and cut-outs for both.
Deep Dish Pate Brisee
3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons table salt
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
3/4 pound unsalted butter (3 sticks), cut into small pieces
3/4 cup ice water
In a food processor, place flour, salt and sugar. Process to combine. Add butter and process until mixture resembles course meal, about 20 seconds worth of pulsing. Add 1/4 cup water at a time in a steady stream through the feed tube with the machine running just until the dough holds together. Test the dough after adding 1/2 cup total. The dough has enough water when it holds together when squeezed in your hand. If it is still crumbly, add more water.
Turn dough out onto a sheet of plastic wrap. Press into a flattened circle and wrap. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour before using.
On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into a round 1/8 inch thick and fit it into a deep dish 8″ or 9″ pie plate. Decorate the edges* or crimp. Chill 1 more hour or wrap and freeze until needed. If frozen, thaw in refrigerator until ready to use.
To prepare the crust for the pecan pie:
Preheat oven to 400 F. Prick bottom and sides of shell, fit it with a round of parchment paper or foil and weigh it down with rice or beans. Bake shell for 15 minutes. Remove paper or foil liner and weight and bake for an additional 10 minutes. In a small bowl whisk together the egg yolk with 1/4 tsp. of water and brush sides and bottom of shell with egg mixture. This will keep your crust from becoming soggy. Return shell to oven and bake for 2 minutes more. Remove and fill with the pecan filling that follows:

The Best Pecan Pie

6 Tbls. unsalted butter
1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
3 large eggs
3/4 cup light corn syrup
1 Tbl. vanilla + 1/2 teaspoon
1 cup finely ground pecans*
1 cup chopped pecans*
Preheat oven to 275 F. In a bowl set over simmering water melt butter. Remove bowl from heat and whisk in sugar, salt, eggs – one at a time, corn syrup and vanilla. Return bowl to heat over water and stir until mixture is shiny and warm to the touch. Add finely ground pecans and chopped pecans. Pour into the crust. Bake for 50-60 minutes or until center feels set, but still slightly soft (it can still jiggle). Cool at least 4 hours.
Recipe adapted from David Rosengarten
* Toasting the nuts adds even more nutty flavor. Trader Joe sells pecans already chopped and roasted. Just chop a little finer for the ‘finely ground nuts.’
* I use Nielsen-Massey vanilla and vanilla bean paste interchangeably.
* Who can resist decorating the edges of the crust with these pie crust cutters from Williams-Sonoma?

Decorative Pie Crust:
Easy as pie!
Make cut-outs from left over dough scraps.
decorative painted pie crust
Take one egg yolk. Choose your colors. I used cake decorating colors but regular food colors from the store are fine. Green. Yellow. Purple. Red. Orange.
decorative painted pie crust
Break the yolk and mix a little of the colors into the yolk like an artist’s palette.
decorative painted pie crust
Brush one or more colors onto the raw dough leaves. Chill to firm them up a little. This will make it easier to press them onto the rim of the pie crust without losing the detail.
decorative painted pie crust
Flatten the rim of the pie crust and moisten it with water. Press the leaves onto the shell rim. Fill shell with pie filling and bake according to recipe.
decorative painted pie crust
decorative painted pie crust
I’m not baking my pies until Wednesday so I couldn’t show the finished pies but I did bake some extra leaves to show you how the colors stay vibrant and glossy.
For a crimped edge shell without additional decoration I’ll bake individual leaves and place them on top of the baked pie or set one or two on the individual servings on the scoop of ice cream or on top of a dollop of whipped cream, the real stuff. Not cool whip. 🙂
Have a very sweet and delicious Thanksgiving!
I receive no compensation for any retail recommendations. They’re just “a few of my favorite things.”
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  1. So, so beautiful!

  2. I must say… WOW that is beautiful.

  3. Thank you, Lisa. 🙂

    Bumby – I appreciate you visiting and taking the time to comment. Thank you for the ‘wow’ in caps. 🙂

    Arielle – Thank you! 🙂

  4. This might be the pretties pecan pie I have ever! Those leaves are incredible, what a work of art, I would feel guilty cutting into it. So stunning. Thanks for sharing the recipe, pecan pie is one of my all time favorites….

  5. The Mr. has just discovered he likes pecan pie (after tasting some leftover pie – from a girls tea I hosted) .. this is fabulous … I will have to give it a try. Thanks for all the wonderful tips you share with us. xo HHL

  6. hopflower says:

    Beautiful leaves; I do them almost all year, although without the colour. I must say though, that mincemeat is very regular and certainly heard of in my house. My family is English and it is a staple at Christmas time; whether in mincemeat tarts or full pies.

  7. Being from the deep south, pecan pie is as staple to Thanksgiving as turkey. I have ALWAYS used the same recipe since 1979. I am tempted to try this new one though. I wonder if my son would notice. How do you keep the beautifully painted leaves from getting too dark in the oven? Would a pie ring be enough cover?

  8. You are a genius! Beautiful leaves!!

  9. Beautiful pie decorations…sounds yummy!!

  10. Tina, what a nice thing for you to say. Thank you! 🙂

    Celia, there is something about that first bite. 🙂

    Hopflower, we actually have a very English breakfast with my family – kippers! Oh-so-good but very hard to find all packaged and wonderful. 🙂

    Martha, it does depend on the recipe temp and length of baking time. Yes, a pie ring or a ring of foil will help. I hope it works out for you. You can always bake the individual leaves separate for a shorter time and place them on top of the pie or the servings as I suggested. If you have a winner that your son loves, it would be hard to change it up. 🙂

    Ronda, have a wonderful holiday, my friend. I miss you and hope all is well. 🙂 xoxo

    Thank you, Becky! Happy Thanksgiving. 🙂

  11. Popped in to say hi! I’ve never seen pecan pie made with dark brown sugar…what’s the difference from white?

  12. I have a question. Can you come to Florida and make them for me? You are soooo talented. Wow. Have a blessed Thanksgiving with your family!

  13. That’s beautiful. Hope you’re well.

  14. hopflower says:

    Yes, smoked kipper is wonderful on toast. You can get them in the tin with a paper overwrap fairly easily, though. It is one of the breakfasts we are famous for, and justly so.

    I don’t think I have a good recipe for a pecan pie. I am wondering if someone would like to give one up to me? 🙂

  15. Hi Blonde Duck! (cute name) – The dark corn syrup has a slight molasses flavor whereas the light syrup has none. This recipe uses dark brown sugar instead of the light. Does your recipe use light brown sugar? I would think using both dark sugar and dark syrup would give it a stronger molasses flavor. For me personally, the combo of both dark ingredients would over-power the vanilla and nut flavors. The dark brown sugar’s has more depth of molasses than the dark corn syrup so I think it provides the perfect amount of this essence but this is just MHO. 🙂 Thanks for asking the question. I love getting questions! 🙂

  16. Sheri – I love your question! hahaha. Have a wonderful holiday with your family. 🙂

  17. Hopflower – I’ve only tried the kipper snacks once but we have our kipper fest with the whole kipper fillets which I can only find in Canada now and they are reluctant to send them to me. 🙁 I need to find an alternative quickly. Our annual Kipper Fest 2011 is coming up quickly. Oh, and if you scroll the entire post you will find the pecan pie recipe.:)

  18. Marilyn you made me laugh out loud as one of the items in my grocery cart this morning was that jar of pink-ish pimento cheese that has to be stuffed into the celery every Thanksgiving!
    Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours! Enjoy having the guys home!
    xo Cathy

  19. hopflower says:

    That is the problem here in America: you cannot find them easily. That is why I buy the ones I described!

    I will try that pecan pie recipe soon.

  20. thanks for that great info