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So I was making a corn-syrup-free pecan pie, and it called for a procedure that I've never seen before. To combine the liquids (milk, eggs, vanilla) with the solids (dark brown sugar, butter, flour) it called for combining the solids over medium heat, cooking it until the sugar was completely melted, and then combining with the liquids.

Now, my candy experience starts and stops at "things containing chocolate", but I can melt sugar. However with the addition of butter and flour I was worried about it burning, and I didn't render it all the way down to full on molten sugar. It was quite melted but it poured more like a thin batter than like liquid sugar.

Combined the liquid(y) sugar with the liquids, and exactly what I thought would happen, happened: the sugar immediately solidified into chunks, and wouldn't incorporate. Rescued it by heating the whole thing, and stirring until it incorporated. This worked, but I think it sent the texture off a bit.

My question is: is this even feasible? Can you really melt sugar to a thin liquid, and then seamlessly incorporate it with a cold liquid? And wouldn't the addition of flour cause issues with cooking the sugar? I pretty much expected it not to work, so it may just have been a failure of will on my part.

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4 Answers 4

I'm wondering if this was perhaps an imprecise use of "melted" to mean "dissolved". I.e. cook the butter, flour, and sugar just until the butter melts and everything is dissolved, not until the sugar melts.

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Well it was 2 packed cups of dark brown sugar, 3 tbs flour, and 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter. Not sure that's enough butter to dissolve it... –  Satanicpuppy Dec 29 '10 at 19:23
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up vote 2 down vote accepted

So, I tried it a second time, but this time I went all out. Got the sugar hot enough to pour in thin streams, put the liquid ingredients in a stand mixer on low, and slowly drizzled the sugar into the mixer. Combined reasonably well, well enough at least, that I didn't feel like I had to heat it further. So it is possible. It really only worked though because the proportion of hot sugar to cold ingredients left a final mixture that was warm enough to keep the sugar suspended.

However the pie was pretty much exactly the same, and the process was much more involved than just lumping all the ingredients in a pan over low heat, and warming gently until they combined.

So, in conclusion, you can do it, but I don't know why you'd want to.

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Combining hot liquid sugar with a cold liquid will cause it to harden. That is one of the ways to test the stage of the sugar concentration. Do a search for Cold Water Candy Test for more information on that.

I would recommend raising the temperature of the liquid or adding it slowly to prevent crystallization. That is what I typically do for my pecan pies.

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That sounds . . . strange. It would make more sense to heat the milk and sugar together first, thicken with the butter and flour, then add the eggs (tempering them with some of the hot mixture first).

Alternately, you could just mix everything together cold (except for the butter, which would need to be melted). I don't really understand the necessity of pre-cooking some of the ingredients, unless this is supposed to be a "no-bake" pie or something. Enzymes in the eggs will digest the flour unless the mix is brought to a boil first, but I doubt there's enough flour in a pecan pie recipe to really matter (it would take a few days for anything to happen, and I've never seen a pecan pie last that long).

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+1 for saying out loud what I said to myself when I read the recipe. The only reason I could think for cooking the sugar and the flour together was to maybe kill any potential floury taste. –  Satanicpuppy Dec 13 '10 at 21:35
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The flour actually acts like a thickener. Think about when you make gravy. Cooking it allows the starches to expand and hold the liquid when it is added. Mixing it before hand makes sure that it is evenly integrated with the sugar. Once the flour expands it makes it harder to get the sugar evenly distributed. –  Doc Walker Dec 14 '10 at 3:29
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