The extra step that really matters.

Jennifer Davick

If there was a handbook on “How to Do Thanksgiving the Right Way,” the chapter on desserts would undoubtedly cover the importance of serving a pecan pie at dinner. Holiday dessert tables around the South exhibit a delicious assortment of pecan pies – you can find the classic recipe, the interesting pecan pie/cheesecake variation, and even the pies dressed up with the addition of chocolate and bourbon. Making a beautiful pie crust is your first step in pie-baking success, but there is one more element that will make your pecan pie a winner. Whichever recipe you choose, always toast your pecans before adding them to the filling.  Toasting nuts before stirring them into your pie is a quick and easy way to intensify flavor and add some extra crunch.

An Extra Step That Matters

You may think you are duplicating your effort – why toast pecans when you will just put them back into the oven again as an ingredient in your pie? Here is why it is important. The pecans in a pie are cushioned and insulated by all the other ingredients and don’t have a chance to get toasty or crisp. They simply get warm and maintain the same taste and consistency as when they first went in the oven. Toasting them in advance activates the oils, crisps the nut flesh, and ramps up the buttery and caramel notes. One word of caution: don’t toast any nuts that you will use to arrange on top of the pie. Since they are not insulated by other ingredients, they will be able to properly toast while the pie bakes.

How to Toast Pecans

To get a jump start on holiday baking, toast a big batch of pecans and freeze them, then you can just pull out the amount you need for the specific recipe. While you can toast a small amount of pecans on the stovetop, for best results, opt for oven-toasting when possible. The consistent heat ensures the pecans are toasted throughout, not just on the surface. Spread pecan halves in a single layer on a heavy rimmed baking sheet. Bake at 300°F for 23 to 25 minutes, stirring once halfway through. Cool completely before using or storing in air-tight plastic bags. Shelled, (toasted or untoasted) pecans can be refrigerated in sealed plastic bags for up to six months, or frozen for two years.

WATCH: This Chocolate-Bourbon Pecan Pie is So Good, You Might Need to Make Two

Choose the Best Pecans

When baking, start with unroasted, unsalted pecans that are plump and uniform. Some packaged nuts will have freshness dates on the bag, which is helpful when you need to buy the freshest possible. If you buy shelled nuts in bulk, break a few of them and make sure they are crisp and crunchy, rather than limp or rubbery. Give them a sniff, too – avoid nuts that smell musty or rancid.

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