'Not Too Sweet' Pecan Pie

Time 1 hour 45 minutes, plus cooling
Yields Serves 8
Browned butter, vanilla bean and fresh lemon juice balance the sweetness of pecan pie in this update.
(Katrina Frederick / For The Times)
Print RecipePrint Recipe

Pecan pie is a cherished Thanksgiving dessert but can often be way too sweet. Here, browned butter, vanilla bean and a shot of lemon juice — along with less sugar and corn syrup than in a traditional recipe — work to balance the sweetness and make the toasted, crunchy pecans the unequivocal star of the dessert. A sprinkling of flaky sea salt also adds a savory crunch to the top of the pie, so don’t skip it.

This recipe is part of our Guide to Classic Thanksgiving, a collection of simple recipes for timeless holiday dishes to make this year and for years to come.


Blind-bake the crust: On a floured work surface, roll the chilled dough disk until ⅛-inch thick. Transfer to a regular (not deep-dish) 9-inch foil or light metal pie pan, leaving a 1-inch overhang all around and trimming any excess. Fold the overhang underneath itself so it forms a thick rim that’s flush with the edge of the pan. Crimp the rim with your fingers or a fork. Place the pie pan in the refrigerator and chill until firm, at least 20 minutes.


Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Tear off a sheet of parchment paper, wad it into a ball, then unfurl and flatten it. Place the sheet over the pie crust, then fill it to the top (about 4 cups) with pie weights (you can use raw rice or dried beans too). Place the pan in the oven and bake, rotating halfway through cooking, until the edges turn light golden brown, about 25 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and remove the parchment paper sheet and weights. Let the crust cool until ready to use.


Meanwhile, make the filling: In a medium skillet, melt the butter over medium-low heat, then continue cooking the butter, swirling the skillet often, until the solids start to smell nutty and turn brown and the butter is foamy on top. Remove the skillet from the heat and immediately whisk in the vanilla bean seeds, followed by the corn syrup and sugar, stirring until smooth. Scrape the mixture into a large bowl and whisk in the lemon juice and salt. Add the eggs and whisk again to incorporate. Stir in the chopped pecans.


Pour the filling into the crust. Return the pie to the oven and bake for 10 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees and continue baking until the center of the pie jiggles slightly when the pan is tapped on the edge, about 30 minutes.


Transfer the pie to a rack and immediately sprinkle the top with a pinch of flaky sea salt. (Putting the salt on while the pie is hot allows the salt to stick better to the top.) Let the pie cool completely before serving.

Basic Pie Pastry Dough


In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar and salt. Add the butter and use your fingers to pinch and rub it into the flour repeatedly until pea-size crumbles form. Pour in the water and use a fork to toss (not stir) the butter-flour mixture until it’s evenly moistened.


Scrape the crumbly mass onto a clean work surface and pat and smush gently until it starts to form a solid piece of dough. Cut the dough in half, then flatten each piece into a disk, patting the edges to smooth them. Wrap each disk in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 2 days.


After 2 days, freeze the pastry to store long-term, letting it thaw for 1 day in the refrigerator before using.

Making an Abundant Chicken Potpie in the LA Times Test Kitchen
Mounded high with filling, there’s a reason it’s called Abundant Chicken Potpie.
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)