Using old-fashioned, less-refined sweeteners, a baker adds flavor complexity to a Thanksgiving classic.

By Sarah DiGregorio
Updated May 23, 2017
Con Poulos

Using old-fashioned, less-refined sweeteners, baker Cheryl Day adds flavor complexity to a Thanksgiving classic.

Of the three essential Thanksgiving pies—pumpkin, apple and pecan—pecan is the most polarizing. Some people look forward to it all year, while others find it way too sweet. But Cheryl Day of Savannah, Georgia’s Back in the Day Bakery makes a pecan pie to convert the naysayers. It tastes like dark caramel, toasted nuts and a little bit of bourbon—not just sweetness. Her fix: She doesn’t use the traditional light corn syrup. Instead, she turns to less-refined alternatives that used to be common in the South, like sorghum, sugarcane and dark corn. These syrups (and honey, too) transform pecan pie into a dessert of deep flavor complexity. Day’s recipe works with any one of them.

The Alt Sweeteners
Old-fashioned sweeteners like the ones Day uses for her pecan pie are having a revival as bakers look beyond white sugar. The versions below offer not just sweetness but also complex flavor.

1. Sorghum Syrup
Made from sorghum-grass juice; fruity, tangy and almost leathery, with the highest ratio of overall flavor to pure sweetness.

2. Cane Syrup
Made by boiling sugarcane juice in open kettles until it thickens and begins to taste a bit like caramel; has a long history in the South.

3. Dark Corn Syrup
Has much more character than light corn syrup, evoking brown sugar, though it’s still relatively neutral in flavor compared to syrups like sorghum.

4. Honey
Intensely floral as well as more sugary-sweet than the syrups above.