It’s that time of year again! As Autumn comes in and all that holiday baking is on the horizon, I always have maple pecan pie on my mind. It’s a classic for Thanksgiving and I can never get enough of it.
Egg replacement for pecan pie
I had been thinking about Treacle tart too (a British classic consisting of a tart shell filled with breadcrumbs & golden syrup) so when I decided to make a vegan pecan pie for when my friends came round for dinner, I used a bit of inspiration from the humble treacle tart to get the right texture for the filling without using eggs. Usually a pecan pie contains a sugary ‘custard’ that is thickened with eggs – they help the filling to set into a soft, gooey texture when the pie bakes. When veganising a pecan pie though, you need something more to help that sugary goo set. You can’t only rely on flax as the sugary filling will basically just end up as a liquid caramel. So I bulked up my filling with soft, fresh breadcrumbs (which also meant I could get away with using fewer pecans, making the pie a bit cheaper). The bread helped to absorb and hold onto the moisture in the filling whilst providing bulk.
I also added cornstarch and flax to help ‘gel’ the filling and it worked perfectly! I know some recipes rely on dates/tofu but I wanted to make my pecan pie without dates and tofu to bring through the purest flavour of the maple syrup, which I think cornstarch does very well.
Making dairy-free pecan pie
Usually my mum’s pecan pie contains dairy in 3 forms – butter in the filling, milk in the filling & butter in the pastry.
For this pie, I used pre-made shortcrust pastry from the supermarket (I always just use the ‘plain’ stuff, never the ‘dessert’ pastry as I find the sweetened one is more likely to slump when baked) as it’s an easy one to get and is already vegan. I’m all for dessert shortcuts, especially when you’re cooking for a crowd and don’t have time to make + chill your own pastry. If you have a favourite vegan pastry recipe you prefer, go for it!!
For the filling, I simply swapped the butter for olive oil which gives it a slightly more interesting flavour but you can equally use vegan butter instead (if you do this, use 75g (1/3 cup) of vegan butter in place of the olive oil). I use oat milk in my pie filling but you can use whichever non-dairy milk you prefer.
Using Maple Syrup, not corn syrup
My mum always used maple syrup in her pecan pies, so that’s what I do now! It is more expensive but the flavour of the maple with the pecans is something I love. If you’re in the UK and prefer it, you can use an equal weight of golden syrup instead of the maple syrup. You can actually even get maple-flavoured golden syrup in some UK supermarkets which works really well in this pie.
The rest of the sweetness comes from light brown sugar which adds a light molasses flavour. To amp up the taste of the maple, I also have a bottle of artificial maple flavouring which I got in the US. I use it exclusively for pecan pies and only use about 1/2 a teaspoon in the filling – it’s not essential but if you like that maple-y flavour, it’s a recommended buy.
How can you tell when pecan pie is done?
This vegan pecan pie just needs the cornstarch to gelatinise (relatively quick) and the pie crust to brown. After about 30 minutes, it should be done. The main way you can tell is by looking at the colour of the crust – is it nicely golden all over? Is it starting to darken in some patches? You’re good to go! You’ll notice that when you remove the pie from the oven, it’ll still be jiggly in the centre as the hot sugar is still liquid. But, it as it cools down it quickly sets up. For the neatest slices, let it cool completely before you cut into it but you can definitely serve it warm.
Overbaking a pecan pie can lead to the nuts on top burning which will impart a rancid flavour and less moist texture in the filling. It’s therefore better to underbake the pie slightly as the only downside of that may be a lighter crust (which, imo, is better than dry filling).
How do you store pecan pie & can it be made ahead of time?
I keep it in the tin, covered at room temperature as I know it’ll be eaten in a few days. If you’re planning on keeping it for longer, you can freeze the baked pecan pie. Just make sure it’s completely cool, slice up the pie and slip it into a resealable plastic food bag – label + date it and get it into the freezer. You can freeze a few slices or a whole pie! Just take it out of the freezer the day before you need it and let it defrost overnight at room temperature.
This is also useful if you want to make the pie way ahead of time (e.g. prepping for Thanksgiving!). If you’re making the pie a day or two before, just keep it at room temperature overnight, covered. It’ll be just fine the next day. You can warm it up in a low oven for 10 minutes before serving to make it a bit more gooey again.
- 375g (14 oz) ready made shortcrust pastry (ensure it's vegan), or your favourite vegan shortcrust pastry
- 190g (3/4 cup + 2 tbsp) soft brown sugar
- 125ml (1/2 cup) maple syrup
- 60ml (1/4 cup) extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 120ml (1/2 cup) oat milk
- 60g (1 cup) fresh breadcrumbs (see notes)
- 2 tsp cornflour (cornstarch)
- 2 tsp ground flaxseed
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 tsp maple extract (optional)
- 200g (1 1/3 cups) pecans, roughly chopped
- Preheat the oven to 160°C fan (180°C / 350°F).
- Roll out the ready-made pastry, on a work surface dusted lightly with flour, into a circle about 30cm (12 inches). Use it to line a 23cm (9-inch) pie tin. Fold any overhanging pastry under at the edges. Crimp the edges with your fingertips, if desired. Place into the freezer for 10-20 minutes as you make your filling.
- Place the sugar, maple syrup, oil, salt and half of the milk in a medium pot. Place over a medium heat on the stove and bring to the boil. Add the breadcrumbs and allow to cook for a further 1 minute. Remove from the heat.
- In a small bowl, mix the cornstarch with the remaining milk into a smooth paste. Add the flaxseed, vanilla extract & maple extract and stir again. Pour this into the pot and mix until smooth. Fold in the chopped pecans.
- Remove the crust from the freezer and pour in the warm pecan filling. Place the pie on a baking sheet and bake for 30-35 minutes until the crust is a light golden colour and the filling has thickened and set on top, but is still jiggly when you gently shake the tin.
- Allow to cool (the filling will set up more as it cools) before slicing and serving. Store at room temperature, covered, for up to 3 days.
- Fresh breadcrumbs were made by rubbing a couple of slices of soft white bread on the coarse side of a box grater.