What do you do when you develop a pie recipe that most people can’t successfully make? That’s the question Stella Parks was faced with when the novel pecan pie method she’d developed for her cookbook proved too difficult for most home cooks. The answer, at the time, was to not publish it.
And that decision has stood ever since.
Stella and the rest of the SE crew make a tremendous effort to design our recipes so they’re as foolproof as possible and to help readers troubleshoot any issues that come up. The problem that came up with this pecan pie recipe, though, wasn’t that it needed to be written more clearly; it simply required a more advanced set of skills than most home cooks have. Just as Stella and her cookbook editors had decided, we, too, felt we couldn’t publish the recipe in good faith given the high failure rate and the fact that we can’t offer the level of one-on-one support needed. We also didn’t want to see the recipe get dragged by bad reviews that blame the recipe (it’s always so easy to blame the recipe).
That would have been the end of the story, except that in an interview, when asked what recipes were cut from the book, Stella mentioned this pie. As if on cue, her fans, upon learning of the existence of this recipe, wanted it. She shared it with a small number of people, with the understanding that she wouldn’t help if they had trouble; a few succeeded, more did not. This is how the legend of Stella’s impossible pecan pie grew.
That takes us to today. I’d seen discussions on Twitter about this infamous pie and thought it’d be fun to do a video where I, an experienced cook but a very inexperienced baker, tried to make it. The ground rules were simple: I couldn’t see the recipe in advance, and I had only one shot. No do-overs.
The video above is the result. It’s not an instructional presentation on how to make the pie, and I’m sorry to say, but we’re still not publishing the recipe—because the original concerns remain. Hopefully, it’s fun anyway and a chance to see how a more experienced cook goes about following a recipe—what instructions are mission-critical and just how faithfully one might go about executing them. And, you know, maybe I goof up a bit here and there, too, because we’re all human, and it’s okay to not have perfect results right away. Part of cooking any recipe is learning its finer points and unexpected variables and improving on them the next time.
Editor’s Note: You will notice that there is no recipe for the pie here. That is not a mistake. Stella has chosen not to publish this recipe because of its difficulty and narrow margin of error, particularly for beginners who might stumble upon it through a casual search.