I must say up front, I’m not a nut lover. A peanut lover, yes. But real nuts—like the kind that real people eat, I don’t love them. I only eat them when I’m starving and don’t have anything else to eat. So, I haven’t been completely excited about making a pecan pie. However I think that pecan pies are my dad’s favorite or at least at his request I’ve had my fair share of slices and usually I just want to eat the sugary part between the pecan layer and crust. In fact, I think that’s why I liked the crack pie that made a few months ago because it reminded me of that non-nutty layer. So there…nuts are just okay in my book.
Also while searching for recipes I found that almost every recipe calls for corn syrup—a lot of it—and I didn’t want to use corn syrup and ultimately I decided to use a substitute and hoped that would be successful. Corn syrup is usually used because the sugars don’t crystallize or turn grainy when it’s cold, but as a general cooking rule, I prefer to choose natural ingredients over processed whenever I can.
Any way, from what I’ve read, there are a few things that you can use as a substitute for corn syrup: honey, sugar dissolved in water (the internet provides several suggestions about the ratios), maple sugar, and something called golden syrup to list a few. They all change the taste just a little bit and are sweeter than corn syrup, but can be used measure for measure.
Since they are sweeter, I used a little bit less than what was called for in the recipe. I substituted ½ cup maple syrup for the ¾ cup corn syrup that it originally called for (maple is one of my favorite flavors and I thought it would got well with pecans, which is why I choose it).
This pie was very sweet and in the end I thought the maple/orange/pecan mixture was just okay. However, while I don’t know if the corn syrup would have created a different effect (since it keeps sugar from crystallizing), my favorite part about this pie were the pecans on the top of the pie that had crystallized during the baking. They were delicious and for the first time, all I wanted to do with this pecan pie was eat the nuts on the top, which is exactly what I did.
Old-Fashioned Pecan Pie
(adapted from epicurious.com)
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 to 5 tablespoons ice water
3/4 stick unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon grated orange zest
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
2 cups pecan halves (1/2 pound)
Crust: Blend together flour, butter, and salt in a bowl with your fingertips or a pastry blender (or pulse in a food processor) just until mixture resembles coarse meal with some roughly pea-size butter lumps.
Drizzle 3 tablespoons ice water evenly over mixture and gently stir with a fork (or pulse in processor) until incorporated.
Squeeze a small handful: If it doesn’t hold together, add more ice water, 1/2 tablespoon at a time, stirring (or pulsing) until incorporated, then test again. Do not overwork dough or pastry will be tough.
Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface and divide into 4 portions. With heel of your hand, smear each portion once or twice in a forward motion to help distribute fat. Gather dough together, with a pastry scraper if you have one, and press into a 5-inch disk. Chill, wrapped in plastic wrap, until firm, at least 1 hour.
Filling: Preheat oven to 350°F with a baking sheet on middle rack.
Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin into a 12-inch round and fit into a 9-inch pie plate. Trim edge, leaving a 1/2-inch overhang. Fold overhang under and lightly press against rim of pie plate, then crimp decoratively. Lightly prick bottom all over with a fork. Freeze until firm, at least 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, melt butter in a small heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add brown sugar, whisking until smooth. Remove from heat and whisk in syrup, vanilla, zest, and salt. Lightly beat eggs in a medium bowl, then whisk in syrup mixture.
Put pecans in pie shell and pour corn syrup mixture evenly over them. Bake on hot baking sheet until filling is set, 50 minutes to 1 hour. Cool completely.