12 Tips Celebrity Chefs Swear By For Pecan Pie

Pecan pie, a quintessential American dessert, stands as a delicious embodiment of the fall and winter seasons. This delectable treat, with its rich, gooey filling and crunchy pecan topping nestled in a flaky crust, has become a beloved symbol of holiday gatherings and cool-weather comfort, in part because the nut is harvested in October and November, and in part because filling our bellies with it makes us feel all warm and fuzzy. The aggressive marketing campaign launched by Karo Syrup to promote pecan pie also did its part back in the 1920s.

That said, the pecan pie has to be good to achieve its pleasurable effects, so we're here to help you manage this, whether you've never made pecan pie before or all your previous attempts resulted in failure. Either way, we have a series of tips –- taken from celebrity chefs who know their onions, and pies -– that will help you craft a perfect pecan pie on your first try or elevate the basic and bland recipe you've been struggling with.

1. Joanna Gaines adds chili powder

If you think that your pecan pie is good but could be better, you might find it useful to throw open your pantry doors and start experimenting with spices. Or you could get straight to the point and follow Joanna Gaines's advice to change your pecan pie forever, for the better. Her secret ingredient is chili powder, which may come as a surprise, but is absolutely worth trying if you can handle spicy foods.

Although pecan pie is beloved, many people admit that the dessert can sometimes be overly sweet. To counteract this effect, Joanna Gaines adds ancho chili powder, which cuts through some of that sweetness and opens the door for your taste buds to experience some of the other flavors that are going on. Indeed, if you do intend to try this trick, do stick with the ancho chili pepper. It's not as spicy as some other varieties and comes with a subtle sweetness that blends in nicely with the other sweet ingredients in the pie while balancing them out at the same time.

2. Ina Garten doesn't snub the store-bought crust

Ina Garten is famous for her "store-bought is fine" attitude, which is why it's not so surprising that the idea extends to pie crust. In fact, not only is store-bought crust fine in her book, it's downright preferable, especially for Garten's bourbon chocolate pecan pie. That's because, as she told the New York Times, "the bourbon-chocolate filling is so rich, it benefits from a crust that isn't as buttery."

As a result, Garten's pecan pie is quick and breezy to make, as it cuts out all the trials and tribulations of preparing homemade pie crust. All you have to do is get hold of a good quality crust and fill it with a combination of brown sugar, granulated sugar, flour, salt, eggs, butter, vanilla extract, bourbon, chocolate chips, and pecans. Such a filling should really be decadent enough, and a buttery crust might indeed be going overboard. That said, make sure you go for a good quality item. After using up all those good ingredients on your pie, it would be a shame to waste them on a sub-par crust.

3. Ree Drummonds really chops up the pecans

Not all those who like pecan pie like it made in exactly the same way. Some prefer big chunks of nuts they can sink their teeth into, while others favor finely chopped nuts that form a more even texture. It appears that Ree Drummond falls in the latter category, because when she prepares her pecan pie, she really goes to town on those nuts, chopping them up as finely as she can.

At first glance, this may not sound like a big change from your usual recipe, which likely calls for pecan halves. But chopping nuts up finely creates a sort of flour, which, when combined with other ingredients, leads to a somewhat cakey texture. This is not far off from what happens in Ree Drummond's recipe. Necessity is the mother of invention, and in this case, Drummond necessitated a more even texture for her pie, so that she could cut it more easily. Thus she came up with the plan to modify the state of the pecans. As she explained on her website, "I've found that chopping the pecans makes such a difference and results in a nice, crunchy pie." She puts the chopped pecans in the bottom of the pie shell, and then pours the pie filling on top.

4. Martha Stewart lets the pie rest

Bakers need to rest after a big recipe is complete, and so do the pies they make. Martha Stewart seems to know this, because as she writes on her website, it's important to let the pie rest for "five to six hours to cool completely" after it comes out of the oven. This may seem like a burden, because you want your pie now, and we all do, but actually, it could be a blessing in disguise. Who has time to cook pie on Thanksgiving or Christmas day, when they're already busy with big birds, stuffings, and everything else? This resting rule allows you to make your pecan pie the day before, giving it plenty of time to rest before you cut into it.

Just make sure you let it cool for those five or six hours before you store it in the fridge. Putting it directly in the fridge could negatively impact its texture. Similarly, remember to take it out of the fridge with enough time to reach room temperature again before you consume it, or the cold might dampen its flavor. Other than that, Martha's pecan pie recipe doesn't call for any particular frills, and the whole process should be simple and easy.

5. Rachael Ray layers in the pumpkin

The holiday season is all about the pecan pie or the pumpkin pie. But what if we told you you didn't have to choose between the two? That doesn't mean you can just make one of each. It means you can have both your favorite holiday pies in one glorious dish –- a more perfect union. To that end, Rachael Ray makes available the ideal recipe on her website, where she explains how to layer some pumpkin purée into a pecan pie recipe.

The key to making this amped-up pecan pie is to create a sweet pumpkin puree mixture with condensed milk, sugar, salt, egg, and spices, and scoop it onto the prepared pie crust before the pecans go in. Just make sure to slip some chopped pecans in between the pumpkin purée and the halved pecan syrup mixture. This will create a barrier that prevents the top layer from sinking into the bottom one. To serve, simply top with more pecans and serve the pie with maple-infused whipped cream.

6. Emeril Lagasse turns it into a cheesecake

Adding cheese to any meal seems to instantly make it better, but according to Emeril Lagasse, the same can be said for desserts, or at least for his pecan pie. Thus was born his pecan cream cheese pie, which as the name suggests, is a combination of a pecan pie and a cheesecake. And if that weren't already exciting enough, when you see the directions you'll be all over this.

In fact, this recipe might be even easier than that of a regular pecan pie, especially if you pick up a good sweet crust from the store. All you have to do to make it is whisk the cream cheese with sugar and egg yolks and pour it into the bottom of your crust. Then simply top that with a mixture of eggs, Karo syrup, vanilla, and chopped pecans. Plop this mixture onto the cream cheese layer and bake the pie for about 1 hour and 10 minutes at 325 degrees Fahrenheit. If you have a lot going on while preparing your laborious Christmas dinner, this recipe is a nice quickie you can whip up and stick in the oven, where the heat will do all the work.

7. Ree Drummond boozes it up with bourbon

It is an established fact that booze can complement many different types of desserts, but it's not always clear which desserts are best served by the addition of alcohol, and even when that part is clear, we might not know the right proportions or spirits. Luckily, we don't have to throw away good bourbon on experimentation because Ree Drummond has already done the work for us.

Indeed, Drummond chooses to use bourbon in pecan pie in the easiest yet most effective way possible: She simply pours a little bourbon into the mixture of a conventional pecan pie before adding the filling to the crust. Just be careful not to get too excited about this addition. Too much alcohol might affect the chemical process that occurs during baking, causing your pie to come out all wonky. As such, she suggests using no more than a quarter cup of bourbon for this trick, but also no less than that –- we do want to taste the bourbon, or it's all for naught.

8. Alton Brown mixes it up with rye and bitters

While Ree Drummond likes to use bourbon in her pecan pie, when Alton Brown gets a similar craving he reaches for the rye instead, along with some bitters to balance out the sweetness of the pie filling. As he writes on his website, "Eating bourbon pecan pie reminds me of eating spiced nuts while drinking an Old Fashioned, so why not make it the way I like to drink it, with rye instead of bourbon."

And if you prefer rye over bourbon too, then this is the recipe for you. But this one is not just about splashing some rye into your regular pecan pie mix. Here you will include it in the crust itself by first pulsing the pecans in a food processor with flour, salt, chilled butter, and water before adding a bit of rye. Once the dough is worked and ready, press it into your pie dish and make the filling with eggs, sugar, golden syrup, butter, vanilla, salt, and more rye. Then add 20 dashes of that bitters for balance. By the time your pie is assembled, baked, and set, you'll have the ideal boozy pecan pie on your hands.

9. Jamie Oliver goes all out with molasses

Pecan pie can come in many forms, but one thing we think all chefs can agree on is that it must always have a good dose of sweet syrup. In the case of Jamie Oliver, that syrup is molasses and lots of it. And after all, this makes a lot of sense. As Oliver explains on his website, pecans are native to Louisiana, which also has an abundance of molasses, so why not combine these two neighboring ingredients and make something truly regional? That may be what Oliver was thinking when he came up with the recipe, which would also explain the addition of a good Southern bourbon.

But although this recipe bills itself as a traditional Southern pecan pie, it diverges slightly from this narrative from the very beginning. For instance, it calls for vanilla bean seeds and lemon zest to be added to the pie crust. Next come the eggs, sugar, cinnamon, butter, bourbon, pecans, and the molasses that will entirely take the place of the more usual Karo syrup. Finally, the cooking time is only about 30 minutes compared to about an hour for most other pecan pies — but that only means you get to savor it sooner.

10. Nigella Lawson mixes up the nuts

Although the name pecan pie suggests pecans are involved in the recipe in a big way, that doesn't mean it's not possible to add a few other types of nuts and still call it a pecan pie. Variety is the spice of life, so including other nuts in your pecan pie is a great way to spice it up without actual spices. In fact, if you must know, you could go all out and replace the pecans entirely with your favorite nut, but let's not get ahead of ourselves.

For a great recipe that gets the nut substitution right, look to Nigella Lawson. Her pecan-plus pie includes the required pecans plus walnuts, Brazil nuts, almonds, and hazelnuts, but you can come up with your own favorite combination. Just make sure you pick a fresh bunch of good quality nuts, and as she says on her website, they must be "unsalted and free of additives." Other than that, the rest of her recipe is that of a good old-fashioned pecan pie, with golden syrup standing in for the Karo syrup, likely because the former is far easier to get ahold of than the latter in Nigella's native Britain.

11. Alex Guarnaschelli is fine with adding chocolate chips

Nothing beats the classics when you're looking for comfort food, and the classic pecan pie is ideal for filling a craving for something familiar and delicious around the holidays. But if you're in the mood for switching things up a bit, that's okay too, and we have an idea we think you'll like. Or rather, Alex Guarnaschelli has the idea, which is to put chocolate chips in that classic pecan pie, making it less classic but more scrumptious.

In a recent Facebook post, the Food Network personality wrote that for her, Thanksgiving "starts with pie," before going on to say that it's okay to "add chocolate chips or more nuts if you like." We do like that suggestion, thank you very much, and if you were wondering how to do that without messing things up, don't worry, because Guarnaschelli also provides a recipe you can toy around with. After making (or buying) the crust, just whisk together eggs, sugar, salt, cocoa powder, molasses, corn syrup, unsalted butter, dark rum, and vanilla with 2 ½ cups of toasted chopped pecans. Or more, because Alex says you can. At this point you can also fold in the chocolate chips, if you so desire. Bake the pie at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 45 minutes and pecan chocolatey goodness is yours for the taking.

12. Duff Goldman uses golden syrup

Variations in the sweetening agents in pecan pie are normal and expected. Although Karo syrup tends to be one of the most common ingredients used, other types of corn syrup, molasses, and even maple syrup can sometimes be called for. But golden syrup can be equally useful, and might even beat Karo syrup in the flavor and texture department.

Indeed, this seems to be the opinion of pastry chef and Food Network judge Duff Goldman, who uses golden syrup in his pecan pie. In an exclusive interview with Tasting Table this year, Goldman told us that "the real trick to a delicious pecan pie is don't use corn syrup. Use golden syrup." But Duff Goldman is no iconoclast, at least not intentionally. The use of golden syrup was entirely accidental -– it happened when he was in the middle of a pecan pie recipe one day, and found that he'd run out of corn syrup but had plenty of golden syrup. Once the substitution was carried out, he found that it reminded him of "what pecan pie is supposed to taste like. It's not gloopy. It's not cloyingly sweet." In other words, the golden syrup seems to be an improvement over corn syrup, which Goldman considers to be too thick. By contrast, golden syrup can give your pecan pie a lighter texture. Can't find golden syrup? No problem. Goldman suggests replacing some of the corn syrup with maple syrup to achieve a similar effect.