Not-So-Sweet Pecan Pie

For more recipes like this, check out our cookbook, The New Pie: Modern Techniques for the Classic American Dessert.

One of the more common complaints we hear about pecan pie is that it’s too sweet. Of course, pecan pie is one of the sweeter pies because the filling is sugar based, instead of fruit or cream based like many other pies. The most common base for a classic pecan pie is corn syrup. We don’t have any qualms with corn syrup (which is not the same as high-fructose corn syrup), but it does taste a little one-note and can be pretty sweet when it makes up most of a pie’s filling.

To put our own spin on pecan pie, we developed our this Not-So-Sweet Pecan Pie. Instead of corn syrup, we prefer to use cane syrup which, like molasses, is made by boiling and concentrating sugar cane juice. Cane syrup is extracted after the first boiling of sugar cane juice; molasses is made form the second boiling. Cane syrup is sweeter than molasses, but has a more complex flavor than corn syrup.

You can find cane syrup (we use Steen’s brand) in your grocery store aisle next to corn syrup. If your grocery store doesn’t stock cane syrup, you can purchase it online directly through Steen’s website or on Amazon. You can substitute a combination of corn syrup and molasses, but the taste is not quite the same. (See the recipe footnote for amounts.)

In addition to cane syrup, we add a full 2 cups of pecan pieces and old-fashioned rolled oats that further help to cut down any sweetness. As you can see in the photo below, the filling is very nutty, and not just a sugary custard.

Fun Food Fact: A pie made using only oats instead of pecans is known as “poor man’s” pecan pie. Oats have been used as a substitute for pecans when nuts were considered too costly.

This is a great pie for autumn, but all of the ingredients are available year-round, so you can enjoy it at a summer BBQ as well as after Thanksgiving dinner!

Precisely Perfect Pie Dough, rolled, fitted into a 9-inch pie plate, trimmed and frozen1 recipe
Pecan pieces2 cups8 ounces227 grams
Old-fashioned rolled oats3/4 cup2.65 ounces75 grams
Unsalted butter6 tablespoons3 ounces85 grams
Dark brown sugar1/2 packed cup3.5 ounces100 grams
Eggs3 large
Ground cinnamon3/4 teaspoon
Salt1/2 teaspoon
Cane syrup, such as Steen’s brand*3/4 cup8.25 ounces234 grams
Fresh orange juice1 tablespoon
Finely grated orange zest2 teaspoons
Vanilla extract2 teaspoons

* If necessary, substitute a mix of 1/4 cup dark corn syrup and 1/2 cup molasses for the cane syrup.

BLIND-BAKE THE CRUST: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line the frozen crust with aluminum foil and fill with 4 cups of pie weights. Bake the crust for 45 minutes or until the crust is starting to turn a light golden brown. Remove the foil and weights and return to the oven, if necessary, and continue to bake until the bottom of the crust is dry and areas begin to turn light golden brown. The pie will bake longer after the filling is added, so it should not be completely browned at this point. While the crust is baking, make the filling.

MAKE THE FILLING: While the crust is baking, in a large saucepan, toast the pecans over medium heat until fragrant and lightly toasted, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Transfer the pecans to a medium bowl.

Using the same saucepan, toast the oats over medium heat until fragrant and lightly toasted, 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Transfer the oats to bowl with the pecans and set aside.

Still using the same saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat until it boils and becomes golden brown and has a nutty aroma, about 5 minutes. Whisk in the sugar to scrape up the browned bits of butter in the pan. Transfer the browned butter-sugar mixture to the bowl with the oats. Cool slightly.

In a large microwave-safe bowl, whisk eggs together until they are uniform in appearance. Whisk in the cinnamon, salt, syrup, orange juice, orange zest, and vanilla. Set the mixture aside until the pie crust is ready.

When the pie crust is sufficiently baked (see BLIND-BAKE THE CRUST, above), remove the pie crust from the oven and remove the pie weights and lining. Reduce the oven temperature to 300°F.

Heat the egg mixture in the microwave on medium (50%) power until the mixture reaches 130°F on an instant-read thermometer, 4 to 8 minutes, stirring every minute or so. (If you don’t have an instant-read thermometer, heat the mixture until it just begins to feel very warm, but not hot. Error on the side of being too cool. If you overheat the mixture, the eggs will scramble.) (Note: Preheating the mixture helps the custard bake evenly from edge-to-edge. If you don’t have a microwave, the mixture can be heated in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water.)

Stir the toasted pecans and oats into the warmed egg mixture. Transfer the mixture to the warm pie crust. Bake the pie until the edges are set but a roughly 4-inch circle at the center jiggles when the pie is jostled and an instant-read thermometer reads about 175°F, about 30 minutes. Remove the pie from the oven and cool to room temperature before serving. Store leftovers in the refrigerator.

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