I Tried Pioneer Woman's Famous Pecan Pie

I Tried Pioneer Woman's Famous Pecan Pie

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Patty Catalano
Nov 13, 2018
(Image credit: The Kitchn)

Pecan pie, the simple, plain-looking pantry dessert made of pecans, butter, eggs, sugar, and corn syrup, doesn't quite have the same allure as a sparkling apple pie or a towering lemon meringue. Even Ree Drummond (aka the Pioneer Woman) confessed she, too, was skeptical of pecan pie as a child. But when she finally came around to it, she published her own recipe for it, and it has grown to become one of the most popular pecan pies on the internet.

The Pioneer Woman's pie calls for a homemade all-shortening crust, which is filled with a classic combination of butter, sugar, and eggs, as well as brown sugar and vanilla to give it extra caramel-y flavor. The pie's namesake nuts are chopped, a departure from many recipes where the pecan halves are left whole. Here's what I thought about the pie when I put all the pieces together.

Get the Recipes
Pioneer Woman's Pecan Pie
Sylvia's Perfect Pie Crust

How to Make Pioneer Woman's Pecan Pie

You'll start by making the Pioneer Woman's preferred crust, a reader-submitted recipe dubbed "Sylvia's Perfect Pie Crust." This is an all-shortening crust with the extra addition of an egg and a tablespoon of vinegar. The dough comes together as most standard pie doughs do: You cut the fat into the flour, then add the wet ingredients until a dough forms.

But then I got confused. Nowhere does it specify whether to split the dough in half, thirds, or at all. I guessed, based on the amount of dough I had made, that Ree uses half of the dough for the single-crust pecan pie. So I split the dough into two and flattened them into rounds, placed them into two zip-top bags, and froze, as instructed, for 15 minutes before thawing for 15 minutes.

You'll then roll the dough into a circle 1/2-inch larger than the pie plate (Ree prefers metal for this pie), transfer the dough to the pan, fold the excess dough under, and pinch to make a decorative edge.

You'll prepare the filling by whisking together the sugars, salt, corn syrup, vanilla, melted salted butter, and eggs. The chopped pecans are sprinkled into the raw pie crust, then the mixture is poured over the nuts. The pie is baked until no longer "overly jiggly," then cooled for several hours (or overnight) before serving.

(Image credit: The Kitchn)

What I Thought of the Results

Pecan pie is an excellent entry-level pie with no fruit-to-starch formula to worry about or custard to keep from cracking. The Pioneer Woman, with her step-by-step photos and conversational instructions, helps guide the reader through it.

But to be honest, the pie, especially the crust, was a major disappointment. The lack of any butter in the crust meant the flavor was seriously underwhelming. The unclear instructions on how to divide the dough could confuse and mislead cooks at home, just as it did me. The dough was sticky and crumbly at the same time, making it difficult to roll and transfer to the pie plate. Once in the oven, several tablespoons of the shortening rendered out of the crust, sizzling and burning on the floor of my oven. The texture of the baked crust was tender, but not flaky.

The filling was rich and sweet, just as a pecan pie should be. Ree calls for chopping all of the pecans, which results in a crust of candied pecans that rises to the top of the filling. I baked my pie for a total of 65 minutes, when the pie had slight movement (but didn't "shake a lot") and the nuts were brown and fragrant. I cooled the pie overnight and cut it into wedges, and while it didn't hold a firm slice, slicing through the layer of nuts offered a satisfying crunch. Ree smartly calls for salted butter and 1/2 teaspoon of salt (I used fine salt) in the filling, providing a much-needed counterpoint to the potentially cloying caramel sweetness.

(Image credit: Patty Catalano)

If You Make Pioneer Woman's Pecan Pie ...

1. Use butter in place of half of the shortening. Ree claims that using all butter simply won't work, but if a rich, golden pie crust that is both flaky and tender is what you seek (and I have a feeling that's what most of us are after), reach for both butter and shortening.

2. Set the pie on a foil- or parchment-lined sheet pan. Ree's pie crust has a high proportion of fat (a full 1/2 cup more than Kitchn's flaky pie crust) to flour. It made a mess of my oven floor as the fat rendered from the crust while baking. Learn from my experience and set the pie on a parchment- or aluminum foil-lined baking pan to catch drips. This also makes it easier to rotate and transport the pie in and out of the oven. An alternate option is to reduce the amount of fat from the start.

3. Chop pecans for a crunchy nut crust, but leave some whole for a more elegant appearance. Chopped pecans provide an even crunchier nut crust on the top of the pie. Since you don't have to navigate around larger pecan halves, you can cut any size slice: "thin slivers" or generous slices. Visually, chopped pecans give the pie a casual, everyday pie appearance. For holidays or special occasions I recommend leaving some pecan halves whole to ring the edge of the filling for a more elegant presentation.

4. Determine doneness with an instant-read thermometer. Knowing when the center of the pie is done is confusing for even experienced bakers. In addition to observing the pie's jiggliness, take its temperature (aim for 200°F).

Overall Rating: 4 out of 10

The chopped candied pecan layer atop a salted brown sugar filling was tasty, despite the soft, syrupy texture. The crust was a disappointment, and because there are so many pecan pie (and crust!) recipes out there, I don't plan to make Ree's version again.

Have you tried Pioneer Woman's Pecan Pie? What did you think of it? Or is there another famous recipe you swear by every year? Tell us everything in the comments below!

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