What is the best recipe for pecan pie without corn syrup?
November 10, 2013 9:53 AM   Subscribe

What is the best recipe for pecan pie without corn syrup?

I bake a lot of bread and now I'm ready to venture into pecan pie territory. Most pecan pie recipes contain corn syrup. I don't know what to think about that. I'd rather eat and serve butter and sugar if I'm going through the trouble of baking. The sheer number of recipes and variations online is dampening my resolve to try this. So before I go any further I thought I'd start here and see where yall direct me.

I prefer the pecans on top, jam-like filling on the inside-- like what they sell at La Madeline in Texas.

If you feel that corn syrup is essential to pecan pie, I'd like to hear your thoughts too.
posted by vincele to Food & Drink (29 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
You can replace the corn syrup with cane syrup if you want it to taste basically the same as the corn syrup version. I prefer a mix of cane syrup and maple syrup, mostly because maple syrup makes everything more delicious.
posted by foodgeek at 10:01 AM on November 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think that corn syrup is necessary for pecan pie, because what else will provide the consistency and the cohesion? Keep an eye out for dark corn syrup, which has more complexity and flavor than the scary clear stuff you're probably thinkin about. Even pecan pies sold at Whole Foods contain this ingredient.
posted by oceanjesse at 10:02 AM on November 10, 2013 [3 favorites]

I agree with foodgeek. When I make pecan pie, I entirely sub maple syrup for corn syrup. It is way more delicious! (but watch out before you end up making a pie that costs like $20 in ingredients!)
posted by just_ducky at 10:04 AM on November 10, 2013 [3 favorites]

Another vote for substituting with Lyle's golden syrup or maple syrup! (In fact, when I have a pecan pie craving I sometimes just douse a handful of pecans in golden syrup and grab a spoon.)
posted by Westringia F. at 10:13 AM on November 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Normal corn syrup is as natural a food as maple syrup, it's not the industrial horrorshow that is high-fructose corn syrup. However, the sugar balance in it is very different than in cane sugar; cane sugar is sucrose, a disaccharide, while the sugar in corn syrup is mostly glucose, a monosaccharide. The two react kind of differently in baking applications because of their different chemistry, so you may get uneven results with sucrose syrup. Is there a specific reason you want to avoid corn syrup?
posted by KathrynT at 10:15 AM on November 10, 2013 [20 favorites]

Food writer John Thorne's pecan pie recipe -- made as originally written, with Muscovado sugar and Lyle's Golden syrup -- is pretty awesome.

(That said, there's nothing wrong with corn syrup. It's not any more "processed" than table sugar.)
posted by neroli at 10:18 AM on November 10, 2013 [9 favorites]

Response by poster: KathrynT, I wrongly thought it was the same thing as high fructose corn syrup. Cost is also a concern, so if corn syrup is not bad for you, and tastes delicious then I'm ok using it. Thanks for your explanation.
posted by vincele at 10:23 AM on November 10, 2013 [3 favorites]

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pecan_pie lists some alternatives to corn syrup in pecan pie.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 10:54 AM on November 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

You might want to try the Cook's Country version of Pecan Pie. When they developed the recipe, their primary objective was to "recreate a traditional pecan pie without using modern day, processed corn syrup". Here is the link, but you need to do the free 14 day trial membership to see the recipe.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 10:57 AM on November 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

Corn syrup is going to be way cheaper than maple syrup.
posted by rtha at 11:04 AM on November 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

You can buy organic corn syrup if you want (e.g.). It is also not high fructose corn syrup and won't be made from GMO corn if that would bother you.

Also I think the main point is that some people think the fructose in HFCS is bad for you. Regular corn syrup is still made by converting corn starches to simpler sugars by different processes involving chemicals and/or enzymes from various sources. I think some people would still consider these processes "industrial." I would say the end product is better for you than HFCS, and I have never hesitated to use it in recipes that call for it, but I don't think it's as "natural" as (organic) maple syrup.
posted by sevenless at 11:28 AM on November 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

I make the John Thorne recipe with Lyle's syrup and muscovado sugar and rum that neroli mentioned above. People fall all over themselves about it. (It's the recipe, not me, for sure -- the recipe is spreading around).
posted by janell at 11:36 AM on November 10, 2013 [3 favorites]

Molasses is another possible alternative although it's rare to find a recipe that subs in molasses for 100% of the sweetener; usually it's part molasses, part corn syrup or something else.
posted by slow graffiti at 11:36 AM on November 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Hmm, that John Thorne recipe looks like something I could handle. Can I get by using whatever cheap light rum is in the cupboard? Or do I need to buy a bottle of dark rum? I'll likely make more than one pie, so little airplane bottles aren't very economical.
posted by vincele at 12:31 PM on November 10, 2013

It is a Chocolate Pecan Pie, but I have been making it for years and it is delicious. And no corn syrup, just maple syrup

posted by unlaced at 1:05 PM on November 10, 2013 [4 favorites]

Given how highly flavored the other sugars are, I think you could totally get away with cheap light rum. Maybe up the vanilla just a touch to compensate.
posted by neroli at 1:24 PM on November 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yeah, Karo syrup is not the same thing as high fructose corn syrup.

However, I think you could probably get pretty far by using a sugar pie recipe (untested) and stirring in a bunch of pecans.

(e.g., if you're trying to make a pecan pie for someone with a corn allergy or something, or just for fun.)
posted by leahwrenn at 2:01 PM on November 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think the simple filling with corn syrup really lets the pecans shine, but you need really first rate pecans (NOT the kind that come in the little bag on the store shelf).
posted by anaelith at 2:24 PM on November 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'd up the vanilla or just use any other generic brown spirit.

You either need an invert sugar or something else to keep the texture right. Like that sugar pie uses a bunch of milk.
posted by JPD at 3:32 PM on November 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you can get cane syrup, I think that's the most traditional substitution. It's also "natural" (though I agree with the other posters that the distinction here is somewhat synthetic) in that it's a sweet vegetable juice boiled down into a syrup, like maple syrup or sorghum. It's sweeter and less strongly flavored than molasses, but has a distinctive flavor. If you use it, don't add any molasses. I can also second the Lyle's suggestion.

Normal corn syrup is as natural a food as maple syrup

It's not, really, but we're only talking about different kinds of sugar which make up syrup here, and none of it is toxic per se. Karo corn syrup is not chemically identical to HFCS, but the difference is only in the ratio of fructose to glucose; Karo is mostly glucose, most HFCS is slightly more than half fructose, which is, chemically speaking, about the same ratio you find in granulated sugar (granulated sugar is sucrose, a disaccharide composed of one glucose and one fructose molecule, which are split by enzymes in your intestine before your body absorbs them), and, for that matter, many fruits.

The argument about whether the higher fructose content of HFCS is problematic depends on a number of fine points of human metabolism, and the general takeaway should be "eating sugar all the time in general isn't great for you." However, there are good arguments to be made that HFCS is problematic because of the way it funnels a large part of our agricultural production (~85% of which is genetically modified) into a "hidden" sugar ingredient which is added to basically everything. Even if you believe that neither fructose nor genetically modified corn are a potential health problem, this is, in my opinion, still a reasonable thing to object to. And, if this is your objection to HFCS, Karo is not really different.

Both are made by enzymatic treatment of corn starch with α-amylase (produced by a bacterium) and glucoamylase (produced by a fungus), which convert the long chains of starch into individual glucose molecules. HFCS undergoes a third round of enzymatic treatment with glucose isomerase (also bacterial), which converts roughly half of the glucose to fructose.
posted by pullayup at 3:47 PM on November 10, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Corn syrup is not required. I use this recipe and it great. Pecan pie V

I usually use a lot more pecans, I add a couple of shots of rye or bourbon, and if I'm feeling fancy I substitute maple syrup for some of the sugar.
posted by boots at 8:59 PM on November 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

I wonder if Golden Syrup would work?
I mean, ultimately all the syrups suggested are really just heaps and heaps of sugar one way or another... but Golden Syrup, if it worked, would add a lovely burnt sugar/caramel flavour that would work well in Pecan Pie. I don't know where you are, but if it's not at the grocery store try Cost Plus (World Market) or similar. Yum!
posted by jrobin276 at 10:56 PM on November 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I use the same recipe as boots (Pecan Pie V) and have really enjoyed it. Incidentally, I also increase the amount of pecans. And starting this year looks like I'll be adding some booze.
posted by SeedStitch at 5:42 AM on November 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

Keep in mind that maple syrup has a very strong flavor. Pecan pie with maple syrup is another animal, like oatmeal cookies with chocolate chips.

I usually cut the sugar and up the eggs (yolks only). If you have sugar concerns, that's an option. (I am just a sugar cutter with most baking. Like to let the pecans or fruits or whatever come through.)

Put in way more pecans, too. The pie will set regardless of pecan to filling ratio.

And on the sugar front - non-cane sugars all have their own flavors. You may want to taste test if you plan in use another type of sugar. Maybe make a few sticky toffee puddings with different sugars... in the name of science!
posted by Lesser Shrew at 6:40 AM on November 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

I wonder if Golden Syrup would work? Absolutely - that's the John Thorne recipe.

I am just a sugar cutter with most baking You can't do this willy nilly though. Sometimes the sugar is there for texture
posted by JPD at 8:13 AM on November 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Southerners traditionally use sorghum to make pecan pie. Here's a recipe from the Lee Brothers (via Serious Eats). CookLikeYourGrandmother.com has step-by-step instructions if you need those.

If you can only come by blackstrap molasses in your area, here's a recipe for using that in your pie.


Please note that there's major differences between blackstrap molasses and sorghum. Blackstrap has almost no sucrose so it's really, really bitter. On the plus side, blackstrap's high in nutrients like calcium and iron (that's why folks making health food tend to favor it); back in the day, your Southern grandma would've made you swallow a tablespoon of straight blackstrap for an upset stomach and/or a general intestinal flush.

Anyway, if you're stuck with blackstrap, proceed with caution. Light and dark molasses can be used fairly interchangeably, but blackstrap can overpower your food like that .

This recipe from Cook's Country uses mostly maple syrup and a little molasses, if you're inclined towards using maple syrup. You can also make pecan pies using honey.

And for the love of God, if you are in Kentucky or serving Kentuckians, please add bourbon to your pie. :)

posted by magstheaxe at 8:19 AM on November 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: If I wanted to make tarts instead of a pie, could I use a muffin pan and top each tart with finely chopped pecans? What would that do to the baking time?

I am liking the Pecan Pie V recipe because I could make it without buying a lot of expensive ingredients. Also, I use that site a lot for bread.
posted by vincele at 8:26 AM on November 11, 2013

My uncle substituted macadamia nuts. I bet I haven't had that pie since the late 1980s and I still remember it.
posted by wenestvedt at 11:34 AM on November 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you all for these great answers. I feel much more confident about what I'm doing. Pecan Pie V is what I am looking for but everyone's answer was helpful...
Favorites for all!
posted by vincele at 6:47 AM on November 12, 2013

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