Here is what you need to know about this pie:
A mixture of brown sugar and honey takes the place of corn syrup.
Brown butter makes it toasty and rich like a dark cup of coffee.
One tablespoon of lemon juice cuts through the sweetness like a knife.
A subtle 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon adds depth and warmth.
It tastes 100% traditional.
When I set out to make a classic pecan pie without corn syrup, I had to pause to ask myself why. Was it because corn syrup is inherently evil? Had I just been brain washed into thinking that it was that bad? I had avoided corn syrup in the past largely because it seemed a more processed product than raw honey and organic maple syrup, but to completely denounce the sweetener without any research hardly seemed fair.
What I discovered was that due to the unknown effect of consuming large amounts of fructose, high-fructose corn syrup is generally considered to be a consume-at-your-own-risk kind of ingredient. On the other hand, pure glucose syrup is a simple sugar that has several interesting applications in the kitchen. The problem is that most commercial corn syrup actually contains an unspecified amount of high-fructose syrup as an ingredient, unless the brand advertises otherwise. Eventually, after sifting through multiple conflicting articles, I decided that regardless of the possible pitfalls of corn syrup, honey and maple syrup are always going to be superior options for me. Not only do they impart so much more flavour, but it is incredibly easy to find people who produce these products locally and organically.
With that settled, I turned to crafting a recipe that was both free of corn syrup and ‘traditional’ – that is one without bourbon, chocolate, or any other third party ingredient attempting to offset the sweetness. Rather, I relied on the subtle aroma of darkly browned butter, a whisper of cinnamon, and soft notes of floral honey to add dimension without compromising the classic flavour of molasses and nuts. Use this as an opportunity to see how far you can brown your butter without burning it, and you will be rewarded with unparalleled flavour.
Contemporary Pecan Pie
Adapted from: Carole Walter. ‘Southern Pecan Pie.’ Great Pies and Tarts.
1 disc prepared pie pastry*
7 tablespoons unsalted butter (3.5 oz)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated white sugar
1 tablespoon flour
1/2 teaspoon Ceylon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs
2 tablespoons mild honey
8 oz pecans
*an additional disc of pastry is required for a braided edge
Roll the disc of pastry into a 12 inch circle. Carefully fit the pastry into a 9 inch pie plate, then crimp or decorate the edge as desired. Freeze the shell for at least 30 minutes.
Darkly brown the butter, then let it cool while you prepare the other ingredients. Click here to learn how to make brown butter.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Arrange the oven racks so that you can place the pie plate on a rack in the lower middle of the oven, and a baking tray underneath it on the bottom rack.
When the oven has finished preheating, toast the nuts on a baking sheet for 6-8 minutes or until they are aromatic and slightly oily.
In a medium bowl, combine the brown sugar, white sugar, flour, cinnamon, and salt.
In a large measuring cup, combine the cooled brown butter, vanilla extract, and lemon juice.
Pour the liquid over the sugar mixture and stir until the ingredients are moistened. Whisk in the eggs one at a time, just until they are well combined. Wisk gently – you do not want to incorporate too much air into the mixture or it will puff up during baking. Whisk in the honey.
Remove the prepared pastry from the freezer. Spread the cooled nuts across the bottom of the pie shell. Give the filling a final stir then pour it over the nuts. Fill the pie to a scant 1/4 inch below the top of the crust, to allow room for the filling to expand during baking.
Place a large metal baking sheet on the bottom rack of the preheated oven. Place the pie on the middle rack and bake for 55 minutes to 1 hour, rotating carefully after 30 minutes. Use a pie shield if necessary to prevent overbrowning in the last 20 minutes. The pie is finished baking when the crust is completely golden brown and the filling has puffed up through to the centre. The filling should still wobble slightly when the tray is jiggled, and it should only begin to crack in the last few minutes of baking – if at all.
Let the pie cool completely before serving. Store in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. Serve slightly chilled or at room temperature.