Every year after Thanksgiving diner, my grandmother and my Aunt Dorothy would circulate slyly about the room nonchalantly questioning family members to determine which of their pans of dressing was more flavorful and whose pecan pie was tastier.

My cousins and I became adept at diplomacy and nearly ill from making sure we had sampled dressing and pies from both of our matriarchs.

The things is, their recipes were identical. They used the same recipes — same ingredients, same cook time, served in the same plain white Pyrex pan.

After my Grandmother and Aunt Dorothy passed away, my mother and my Aunt Suellen became our family matriarchs, and the task of preparing identical pans of dressing was passed on to them.

Pie duty was passed to me. For the first few years, I stuck with our family’s traditional recipe — a basic (okay, store bought) crust, pecans, brown sugar, eggs, Karo syrup. This was not the world’s most creative or sophisticated pie, but it was what we all knew and what we all loved.

However, a few years ago when I was on a (sort of) clean eating kick, I tweaked our family pecan pie recipe to substitute (mostly) whole food ingredients.

The result was life-altering. Well, at least Thanksgiving-altering. I am less of a health nut now, but I do still try to feed my family healthy foods as much as possible. And though I would eat styrofoam on Thanksgiving if that was the key to a moist turkey or perfect sweet potatoes, I do believe the real food ingredients in this pie are what makes it so incredible.

I’ll start with the crust. This no-roll crust from The Splendid Table is not only super easy, it is unlike any pie crust I have ever made (or bought). I think the key is the 11 tablespoons of butter. Basically it’s like eating pie on top of a shortbread cookie.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (When I’m in full-on hippy mode, I use freshly ground, whole wheat flour, but I don’t recommend that.)
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar or packed light brown sugar (Organic of course! Just kidding. It’s sugar — there’s no way to make sugar not unhealthy. But it’s also a holiday, so who cares!)
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt (not basic table salt unless you are trying to poison your family slowly — again, kidding)
  • 11 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted (Grass-fed, free-range, humanely treated, blah, blah, blah)

Whisk together the flour, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl. Slowly drizzle in the butter and stir with a fork until the mixture looks moist and crumbly.

Next, press the dough over the bottom and up the sides of a 9-inch pie dish. Try to keep the thickness even. Also, feel free to do some of that fancy-schmanchy pie crust decorating.

Before adding the filling, preheat the oven to 350°F. Line the pie shell with aluminum foil or parchment and and weight it down with pie weights. If you don’t have pie weights, dried beans will work.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove the foil and beans and bake for an additional 5 minutes, or until golden brown. Let cool before filling.

Next the filling! This pie filling is not a huge departure from Grandmother and Aunt Dorothy’s recipe, but the big change, the thing that takes this pie to the next level is substituting pure maple syrup for Karo Syrup.

Here’s how to make the filling. Mix together…

I cup maple syrup
1 cup coconut sugar (Or if you want to be less obnoxious, just use brown sugar.)
1 cup pecans
3 eggs (slightly beaten)
3 tbs butter melted
1 cup dark chocolate chips (because dark chocolate is the new broccoli)

Pour filling into pre-cooked and cooled pie crust and bake at 35o for 50 minutes to an hour.

Enjoy hot, room temperature, or, my personal favorite, cold with a cup of coffee -for breakfast.