The Ingredient Swap For A Bold And Smoky Pecan Pie

There are two pies that dominate during the holidays: pumpkin pie and pecan pie. While both sweet treats offer up nature's seasonal bounty (squash and nuts), pecan pie tends to have staying power well beyond Thanksgiving. Ranked one of the top five favorite pies in America, as reported by Better Homes & Gardens, pecan pie is a deliciously decadent dessert, but what if there was a way to make it even better? For a bolder and smokier pie, think beyond butter.

Given that pecans are native to North America, The Culture Trip explains that their prevalence made them a dietary staple for Native Americans. Through these indigenous tribes, it's believed that the nuts were introduced to the French settlers of New Orleans, who then used them to bake some of the very first pecan pies dating back to the 19th century. 

Classified as a sugar pie, Eater shares that the pecan pie features a collage of caramelized pecan halves that cover a sweet and gooey filling made with eggs, butter, sugar, vanilla extract, and corn syrup, which is baked inside of a flaky pie crust. Although most recipes tend to stay true to the standard ingredients, variations also exist whether that be through incorporating ingredients like chocolate chunks or using molasses rather than corn syrup. But, if you really want to add layers of complexity, look at reworking your pie crust.

For a more flavorful crust, add bacon fat

Despite the fact that you could add a splash of bourbon or a drizzle of maple into your pecan pie filling, infusing your pie crust with flavor is an even better — and dare we say, more clever — alternative. According to MasterClass, adding bacon fat to a homemade pie crust can create a subtle saltiness and smokiness, along with providing an insane amount of umami richness. Since it acts similarly to shortening, the drippings will also help ensure that the crust becomes extra flakey and buttery.

Not sure how exactly to incorporate bacon fat? Because balance is key, rather than using bacon drippings as your primary fat source, it's best to add just a touch to prevent the crust from being overly savory. In addition to 2 ¼ cups of flour (along with ice water and an egg), Food Network recommends adding just 2 tablespoons of bacon fat, along with 8 tablespoons of butter to a pie crust recipe. As per any pie recipe, make sure that the fat (bacon, butter, or otherwise) is super cold. Doing this will allow it to melt in the oven and create pockets of steam, which Taste notes will make the pastry form layers upon layers of flakey goodness. Happy baking!