If you have a sweet tooth, a slice of gooey, golden pecan pie is one of the most glorious ways to make it happy. That combination of caramelized nuts, achingly sweet filling and tender, crumbly crust adds up to just the right amount of "too much." Most recipes call for corn syrup as a key ingredient in the filling, which can be an issue if you have a corn allergy in the house or if you've run out and can't get to a store. In that case, there are several substitutes you can use to still get dessert on the table.
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It's Not Just a Sweetener
When you need a substitute for corn syrup in pecan pie, you're not just replacing a sweetener. Corn syrup stays liquid at room temperature because it's what scientists call an invert sugar, with a different structure that doesn't form crystals. That's important in candy making and some sugary baked goods, like pecan pie, because it also keeps regular sugars from crystallizing. In a pecan pie, it's what keeps the filling delightfully gooey even if — unlikely though it may be — you have leftovers for a few days.
Direct Corn Syrup Replacement
There are a few liquid sweeteners that can act as a one to one corn syrup replacement. Liquid glucose, available in cake-decorating shops and bulk stores, is a bit thicker than corn syrup but has a perfectly neutral flavor. Lyle's Golden Syrup, a British pantry staple, is very similar.
Brown rice syrup isn't as thick, and its faintly nutty flavor works very well in pecan pie. Agave syrup is just slightly thinner than corn syrup and has a very neutral flavor as well. You can use any of the three to make a pecan pie without corn syrup, but they all share the same difficulty: If you're looking for an emergency replacement, they're not likely things you'll find in your cupboard.
The Sugar and Water Substitute
Many recipes suggest using a mixture of sugar and water to replace your corn syrup. To replace a cup of corn syrup, you'd use a full cup of sugar and 1/4 cup of water. Use plain, granulated white sugar if your favorite recipe calls for light corn syrup or tightly packed brown sugar if your recipe calls for dark corn syrup. You can just dump them into your mixing bowl with the other ingredients, but there's a better option.
Heat your sugar and water in a small saucepan first with a teaspoon of vinegar or lemon juice until the sugar has mostly dissolved into the water. Dissolving the sugar and water to make a syrup isn't the important part, though it makes sure your pie filling will more or less have its usual texture. The important part is that adding heat and acidity inverts the sugar, so it behaves like corn syrup in your baked goods and helps keep the filling from crystallizing as it cools.
Honey and Maple Syrup
Honey and maple syrup are perfectly good options as well, though they have strong flavors of their own that will come through in the finished pie. If your recipe calls for light corn syrup, for example, you'd want to use the mildest-tasting honey you can find. Dark buckwheat honey makes a good replacement for dark corn syrup. Honey does crystallize, so heating your honey with a splash of vinegar as you would with sugar gives a better end result.
You'll find many a pecan pie recipe with maple syrup if you browse around the internet. That distinctive maple flavor really works well with pecans, so it's a legitimate option even when you have corn syrup. The only thing of which to be wary is that your filling will be thinner than usual and can soak through the crust. Many recipes call for a spoonful of flour or cornstarch for extra thickening or an extra egg yolk. Partially baking the empty pie shell for 10 to 15 minutes helps too.