Several readers have written in to say they’d love to make a pecan pie, but they’ve been burned too many times with a filling that didn’t gel. There’s only one place to look for an answer to that problem: the eggs, as they’re solely responsible for creating the gel that all custards depend upon. The way I see it there are two potential areas of failure.
First, the pie might simply be under-baked. I was surprised yesterday when I made a second pie in a different pie plate and the pie took much longer to gel. I’d given away my good ceramic pie plate the day before, so I went with a simple pyrex job — the kind you can find in most grocery stores. Imagine my surprise when instead of 50 minutes the pie took 70 to finish. The only thing I can think is that the ceramic plate — which is much heavier — held the heat better when I removed the crust from the oven for the filling step. The low oven might have made it harder for the filled pie warm through once that heat was lost. This is just a guess of course.
The other possible problem is of course over-heating the eggs. This could happen either before or after the pie goes in the oven. Many recipes I’ve seen (including my own) call for adding eggs to other filling components that have been pre-cooked. If these other components are over 140 degrees when they’re combined with the eggs they’ll start cooking the egg white proteins, the ones that are primarily responsible for thickening the filling. Which means it’s possible for egg whites to be curdled before they even go into the pie shell. Of course they can also curdle while they’re in the pie shell during baking, which is why a low oven is so important.
That’s the extent of my thoughts on the issue. If anyone else has any ideas, please weigh in.