In Texas, a Thanksgiving spread without pecan pie is like Willie without Trigger. “People just expect it,” says Bud “the Pieman” Royer, whose restaurant, Royers Round Top Cafe, in Round Top, ships thousands of pies across the nation during the holidays. “It brings back memories of Grandma baking pecan pie in her kitchen.” But more important than nostalgia, serving the dessert is a matter of Texas pride—the pecan is, after all, our state tree. After you pick and shell your pecans, whip up Royer’s favorite pecan pie, courtesy of former Houston Chronicle food editor Ann Criswell, whose recipe appeared in Texas the Beautiful Cookbook. “We like her recipe because she doesn’t use dark syrup, which means it doesn’t have that heavy molasses taste,” he says.
5 cups white flour 2 cups minus 3 tablespoons Crisco 1/2 cup water 1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup butter 1 cup white sugar 1 cup light corn syrup 4 eggs 1 teaspoon salt 1 tablespoon vanilla extract 1 1/2 cups pecan halves
1. “The key to a great pie is great crust,” says Royer. Dissolve the salt in the water. Set aside. Using two forks, your hands, or, if you’re a kitchen gadget fanatic, a dough blender, cut the shortening into the flour until the mixture is crumbly. Add the salt water and mix until the dough pulls cleanly away from your hands (if needed, add a tablespoon or two of flour). This recipe makes three 10-inch crusts; leave out your working dough and put the other two in the freezer for later use.
2. Clear some counter space and lightly dust the surface, a rolling pin, the dough, and your hands with flour. Applying even pressure, roll out the dough with a back-and-forth motion. Give it a half turn, and repeat the process until it’s roughly 1/8 inch thick. Dust the dough, and fold it in half twice, so it forms a wedge. Place the crust in a 10-inch pie pan, and unfold it.
3. Some people crimp the crust using fork tines, but Royer simply pinches the dough between his fingers. “This is homemade, which means it doesn’t have to be perfect,” he says. “Life’s too short to make decorative leaves out of dough.”
4. Melt the butter, and combine it with the sugar, corn syrup, eggs, salt, and vanilla. Pour the mixture into the pie shell. Place the pecan halves on top. (“It’s important to use the halves,” says Royer. “They taste better than the pieces.”) Bake at 350 degrees for 45 to 60 minutes. It’s ready when you stick a knife into the pie and it comes out clean.