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3 secrets for perfect pecan pie (with fewer calories and less fat!)

By Hilary Meyer, November 8, 2011 - 11:38am

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I love the expression “Why fix what isn’t broken?” I use this phrase when it comes to my time-honored Thanksgiving recipes. So why am I throwing out my old “perfect” pecan pie recipe this year in place for something new? Because the Maple Pecan Tart that recipe developer and makeover queen Katie Webster made for EatingWell is so much better.

After trying her version in the Test Kitchen a few months ago, I realized that I needed to ditch my old “perfect” pecan pie recipe. Not only does this new version taste better than the original, but it’s healthier too. Find out the three tricks to making better pecan pie.

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Trick 1: Replace corn syrup with maple syrup
Corn syrup doesn’t have a lot of flavor. The only thing it has to offer is sweetness, which is pretty boring. But it’s the cornerstone of traditional recipes. So to perk up the flavor, this Maple Pecan Tart uses maple syrup in place of the corn syrup. From a nutritional perspective, sugar is sugar, but from a flavor perspective, maple syrup is much tastier. The buttery flavor of the syrup plays up the nuttiness of the pecans. If you have a choice, opt for grade B or dark amber syrup. It has a richer flavor than lighter varieties.

Trick 2: Use nuts in the crust
Plenty of pecan pie recipes call for an already prepared crust, or if you’re ambitious you make your own from scratch. Either is fine, but the crust can be a hidden source of calories and fat from loads of butter and/or shortening.  In this Maple Pecan Tart recipe, we incorporate pecans in the crust to deliver a nuttier flavor that can’t be matched by a store-bought crust. And pecans have less saturated fat than butter:  1/4 cup of pecans has only 2 grams saturated fat vs. butter at 29 grams per 1/4 cup! Pecans also contain more antioxidants—compounds that sweep up tissue-damaging free radicals—than any other tree nut, according to a study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. Pecans also provide notable amounts of zinc, a mineral most often found in animal-based foods.
Related: 8 Tips for Tender, Flaky Pie Crust
Butter or Margarine: Which is a Healthier Choice?

Trick 3: Cut back on sugar
Pecan pie has a reputation for being sweet. That comes from the collective 2 cups or more of sweetener (corn syrup, sugar) that some traditional recipes call for! My teeth hurt just thinking about it. This Maple Pecan Tart recipe uses only 1 cup of sweetener (maple syrup and brown sugar)—half of what you would find in a traditional recipe. Plus, the filling gets an extra punch of flavor from chopped dried cherries. Unconventional—yes. But they deliver more sweet flavor with just a hint of sour so you won’t miss the cloying sweetness from that extra cup of sugar.
More Recipes to Try: Frozen Pumpkin Mousse Pie and More Impressively Easy Thanksgiving Desserts

Get the Recipe: Maple Pecan Tart

What is your favorite holiday pie? Tell us what you think below.

TAGS: Hilary Meyer, Food Blog, Dessert, Recipe Makeover

Hilary Meyer
Hilary Meyer develops and tests healthy recipes in the EatingWell Test Kitchen. She is a graduate of New England Culinary Institute.

Hilary asks: What is your favorite holiday pie?

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