mom's spicy candied pecans

When I smell caramelizing sugar and chipotle wafting from the kitchen I know it's the holiday season. Mom makes gigantic batches of these remarkably addictive nuts each year to give out as Christmas presents. This year she doubled the recipe and made three batches, and what she didn't give away is long gone. She makes them without measuring, but fortunately she let me observe and record the recipe. Mom suggests you get all your ingredients ready ahead of time because the temperature rises quickly at the end which can ruin the consistency. If you don't like chipotle you can omit it and the nuts will still be good, they just won't have that extra bite.

1 cup unrefined cane sugar (or brown sugar)
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 to 1 teaspoon chipotle powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 cups pecans (lightly toasting first is optional)

Spread out a generous length of wax paper on the counter. In a large saucepan fitted with a candy thermometer, combine the Sucanat, water, and cinnamon over medium heat and stir until dissolved. When the temperature reaches about 225F, stir in the salt and chipotle. At 250F, remove from heat, add the vanilla, briefly stir, then add the pecans. Stir to coat the pecans and keep stirring until the sugar is completely crystalized. Spread out on the wax paper. Try not to "test" as many as I do.


pecan pie with fresh ginger

According to legend, the French invented the pecan pie after the the Native Americans introduced the pecan to settlers in New Orleans. However, the first recorded recipes of the pie popped up in the 1920s, and well-known cookbooks such as the Joy of Cooking did not contain it until the '40s. Karo syrup popularized the pie, claiming the executive's wife "discovered" it in the 30s as a new use for corn syrup, and most recipes since then called for Karo corn syrup. Like the origins of most food, we'll never know the true story. Since then it has become a specialty of Southern cuisine and, like the pumpkin pie, a constant feature at American holiday feasts.

Replacing the traditional corn syrup with maple and brown rice syrup and adding fresh ginger give this rich, crowd-pleasing pie a deeper flavor. It's in fact very gingery, so if you don't like ginger you can use only half, or eliminate it altogether. The pie will still be good, but I haven't heard any ginger complaints even from the picky eaters (like my brother). This year I made it five times for different Thanksgiving parties, and by popular demand it will be back for Christmas in just a few weeks. In the picture directly above, the visible portion of the pie was the only part remaining because my family couldn't wait for me to take a photo.

Makes one 9" pie; serves 8-10
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 1 hour

9" unbaked vegan pie crust
3 cups pecans
3/4 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup brown rice syrup
2 tablespoons peeled, minced fresh ginger
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons ground flaxseed
1-1/2 teaspoon arrowroot (or substitute with cornstarch)
1/3 cup non-dairy milk

Preheat oven to 350F. Par-bake the pie crust for about 15 minutes. Toast the pecans for 7-9 minutes, just until fragrant and slightly darkened. Chop the nuts, between fine and coarse, leaving a few whole for decoration.

In a medium saucepan combine the syrups, ginger, vanilla, cinnamon, and salt. Bring to a boil, simmer for 5 minutes, then remove from heat. Combine with the flaxseed, arrowroot, milk, and 1/4 cup of the chopped pecans, and pour in blender, and blend until smooth. Pour this mixture into a large bowl with the remaining chopped pecans and mix well, then pour into the pie crust. Place the whole pecans decoratively in the center on top of the pie. Bake for 40-45 minutes, until the pie is lightly browned and the filling almost set, as it will firm up more upon cooling. Cover the crust with foil if it is browning too quickly. Let cool and serve.