the making of pecan pudge
I love pecan pie. Or at least the idea of it - think of what it could be!!! Flaky all-butter crust, toasty pecans, deep brown sugar, toffee and maple flavors... dreamy, right? But alas, pecan pie has 2 major red flags. It's typically way too sweet and can have this weird jelly layer (typically from corn syrup or some other type of syrup). I did not set out to make pecan pie just to pudgify it. I wanted good pecan pie!
One thanksgiving, my sister-in-law and I made 3 pecan pies based on The Pancake Princess' pecan pie bakeoff. Our favorite for flavor is the King Arthur recipe - it's everything pecan pie should be, but fair warning: it's cripplingly sweet. I would still recommend it because it's delicious, but best served with ice cream. I also successfully made Stella Parks' "Impossible Pecan Pie" - it's famous for being purposefully omitted from her book Bravetart due to its high difficulty level. Redditors reverse-engineered the recipe here based on this Serious Eats video. It was difficult because you have to make caramel and then add it to eggs without curdling them. The result is a very caramel-y pecan pie that's a bit like candy. Effort aside, I'd still prefer the King Arthur recipe for the abundance of flavors - it was like brown sugar, toasty pecans, toffee flavors rather than just caramel + pecan.
It is very surprising how many pies, brownies, and cheesecakes I've made as baseline references! While I enjoy most desserts, I prefer to remain a cookie specialist. They are just my favorite medium. So let's pudgify pecan pie.
Vision for Pecan Pudge
I wanted all the flavors that compliment toasted pecans:
- brown sugar/molasses
- vanilla (or bourbon if good)
A touch of salt for balance, and not too sweet. (We typically don't want any of our cookies to come off too sweet, but it was critical here since it was an element we sought to fix in pecan pie).
Only 6 Versions in 2020
We released pecan pudge in 2020, and have made updates each year. In 2020, we only tested 6 versions - probably thanks to a/b tests and taking learnings from gourmet choco chip (which also uses toasted pecans). Here's what we solved/found in its first iteration:
- How to get more brown sugar flavor without adding sweetness (functions of brown sugar: retaining moisture, delivering tenderness & sweetness, and flavor).
- Incorporating maple flavor: maple syrup can taste awful in some contexts. I don't know why, but in our tests, it had a too-earthy sweetness, and was generally off-putting. We opted for maple extract but went light - it goes a long way and deliverers the pleasant taste of maple syrup.
- Caramel/toffee flavors: browned butter contributes some beautifully caramel-y nutty flavors (our policy is: browned butter whenever and wherever it optimizes flavor). And we toast our pecans in-house, meaning we can toast them to our preferred extent.
- Incorporating toasted pecans: if you bake with raw pecans, here's your sign to toast 'em. They are just so much more flavorful, aromatic, and powerful. We added pecans in a couple ways; ground for even flavor distribution, and chopped for crunchy texture.
- Salt for balance. This is definitely one of our more modern cookie flavors. It comes together as sweet, salty, and nutty. Not in an off-putting way, but just to bring out the flavors and end on a note you'll savor.
- Bourbon vs. vanilla: bourbon sounds good in theory, but I don't like it in pie or cookie form - none of the alcohol gets cooked out and it doesn't seem to mesh with the rest of the flavor. Perhaps we'd revisit it later (we haven't tried that hard to incorporate it into the cookie), but I really don't think it's necessary.
The 2021/2022 Updates
Spread. Spread is the main crux of this flavor. Due to the high volume of pecans, we've had a harder time getting pecan pudge to spread an average amount. [Note that it's not our goal to get each pudge to have the same amount of spread - however it does look more ideal. Each flavor is unique, so we know we'll get varying amounts of spread]. In previous years, pecan pudge was a little taller than we wanted. We always try our best of course, but we're happy to continually push out updates. We also made sure to stress-test it (bake it with a high volume of other cookies) to ensure it consistently spread the desired amount.
Note: other flavors have had similar issues with spread - notably, cookies 'n cream being a bit tall, and ube dulcey spreading a little wide.
A Note from Amy --
Every time I publish a blog post, I wonder, "What if someone tries to recreate it?". At the end of the day, the pudges are the result of years of experimentation, we're constantly updating recipes, and it takes a lot of time & persistence to produce the same product with consistency and most importantly - at scale. We mix in a very particular way, and our bake times are dialed in to the 30 sec marks, with 10 seconds of wiggle room. I have the absolute pleasure of making sure we get it right for you, every single time. I hope you'll enjoy pecan pudge - it's one of my favorites.