This recipe was, like (I imagine) many great recipes, born of a mistake. This Thanksgiving, I got too over-tasked and overbaked my pecan pie. The crust was a bit dark and brittle, and the pecan topping was VERY crispy. So it stuck to the pie pan and was hard to serve. I didn’t make a big deal out of it, since it was only Hubs, the pussycats and me at the house. Who would know? Besides. That was one hella good tasting pie.
A couple weeks later we were reminiscing about that pie, and I wondered aloud whether you could recreate that topping sans pie. It was worth a shot. So using what pecans I had left and some walnuts to backfill, I gave it a try.
The concept was: using the basic, classic, tried-and-true recipe straight off the back of the Karo syrup bottle, I made a pecan “pie”, but I left out the eggs (since I didn’t want any custard). I mixed up the sugar, melted butter, corn syrup and vanilla and stirred in the nuts until they were coated. I spread the gooey mass onto a parchment-lined jelly-roll pan (cookie sheet with sides), sprinkled on a couple pinches of coarse kosher salt, and put it into the oven at 350.
Other than the fact that I slightly overbaked it (again) so some of the nuts were a bit “well-tanned”, it was, in a word…..AWESOME. MUST. TRY. AGAIN.
2nd batch, I backed off the temperature to 325 and took the pan out when the sugar had melted and everything was a bubbling mass. It was WAY too sticky and chewy, so I put it back in the oven to bake some more, taking it out when the pecans had JUST started to brown. I chickened out. So it was still very sticky but oh so delicious. As long as you didn’t mind scraping it off your teeth.
I’m trying my 3rd batch now. The timer is set for 30 minutes at 350 F, at which point I’ll start checking it. This batch will stay in until the pecans are toasted but not overly so. Fingers crossed.
Preheat oven to 350 F
Line a jelly roll pan or cookie sheet with sides with aluminum foil AND a sheet of parchment paper (but NOT WAXED PAPER–more on that later).
In a large mixing bowl, combine:
1 cup white granulated sugar
1 cup corn syrup (light or dark)
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
1/4 teaspoon mace (also optional)
Stir until combined. Sugar will not be dissolved.
Stir in 1 lb pecan halves (about 4 cups) until the pecans are well-coated. Plop this sticky, gooey mass onto your prepared sheet pan. Spread it out, but don’t worry about getting it very thin or well-distributed at this point. You’ll note I used waxed paper because I’d run out and we couldn’t find any at the local stores.
Sprinkle on 2-4 pinches (about a teaspoon total) of coarse kosher salt (to give it that sweet/salty Je ne c’est quoi).
Bake for 20 minutes, at which point it will all be bubbly and starting to brown and will smell like making love to a candy factory. Pull out the rack but leave the pan in the oven and stir to distribute the nuts evenly and to the edges of the pan.
Push the rack back in, close the door and bake for another 10 minutes. WARNING: cooking times and ovens vary, especially at altitude (I’m at 1400 ft) so watch it closely after the stir. Take it out when the syrup mess begins to behave like candy (cohesive like taffy when you lift a corner of the wax paper) AND when the pecans are nicely browned (like what a perfectly-baked pecan pie would appear).
Let the pan cool completely, then peel up the wax paper to crack the brittle. Store in an airtight container–that is if you can keep the lid on and your hand out of the container.
You should smell my kitchen right now. Even the pussycats are asking if that smell means a treat is coming. I’m about to take the pan out of the oven.
Seriously, y’all. We’re making Homer Simpson noises here (drool/slobber/moan).
SUCCESS!! Well, mostly. Remember that note earlier about not using waxed paper? Turns out the candy melded with the paper. If I’d pulled it off when the stuff was still warm I would have been okay. But since I let it harden I could not peel the paper off. Know what? It is so well incorporated that you don’t even notice the paper when you eat it, but won’t make that mistake again. So use parchment.