Food & Drinkrecipes

Ellise Pierce’s Pecan Salty Caramel Tart

by Kristina Gill

This week’s recipe for a Pecan Salty Caramel Tart comes from blogger and cookbook author Ellise Pierce, also known as the Cowgirl Chef. Ellise mixes elements of Texan and French cuisines to make her own fusion cooking. The pecan salty caramel tart draws on the pecan from her home state and the tart, a cornerstone of French pastry. The result is an incredibly sweet pie that is packed with pecans. (Warning: It is highly addictive!) The fleur de sel cuts through and balances out some of the sweetness, but there’s no way around it. If you don’t like sweet sweets and don’t like pecans, you should try only a tiny slice. If you love pecans, you should eat the whole pie yourself. The best part of making pies and tarts, as you’ll notice, is that you don’t have to be terribly neat or precise when you’re rolling out the crust because any holes can be patched, filled and covered by the filling! This crust is so great that I made two batches and have one in the freezer to experiment with later! — Kristina

About Ellise: Author of the cookbook Cowgirl Chef: Texas Cooking with a French Accent (Running Press) and the blog CowgirlChef.com, Pierce splits her time between Paris, Dallas-Fort Worth and Santa Fe, New Mexico, all places she calls home. Her Cowgirl Chef column runs in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and is distributed to more than 300 newspapers. She teaches cooking classes on both sides of the pond and is currently working on her second cookbook and developing a cooking show.

The full recipe continues after the jump . . .

Pecan Salty Caramel Tartelettes
Makes twelve 3.25-inch (8.25 cm) tartelettes


  • 15 ounces/425 grams of pecans
  • 2 cups/250 grams all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 3/4 cup/60 grams powdered sugar
  • 1 stick/125 grams butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes and popped into the freezer ahead of time
  • 1 egg, separated
  • 4 tablespoons ice water
  • 1 1/2 cups/300 grams sugar
  • 1/4 cup/60 ml water
  • 1 stick/125 grams butter
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt
  • 1/2 cup/120 ml cream
  • fleur de sel, optional, for serving



1. Preheat the oven to 375°F/190°C and toss your whole pecans on a cookie sheet. When the oven’s ready, slide them in. They’ll take just 10 or 15 minutes to toast, but watch them carefully and check on them often so they don’t burn. When the edges are slightly brown, take them out, pour them into a bowl and set aside. (I often do this in advance.)

2. To make your tart crust, first measure 3 ounces/90 grams of the toasted pecans and finely grind them in your food processor. To this add the flour, sea salt and powdered sugar and pulse a time or two to combine. Now add your frozen bits of butter and quickly pulse 5 or 6 times until the mixture looks like pebbles. Whisk the egg yolk with 2 tablespoons of the ice water and add this to the mixture. If the dough is still too dry, add the other 2 tablespoons of ice water. You’re not going for a super-wet dough here; it should come together easily when you pinch it with your fingers. Pour this onto a piece of plastic wrap, shape it into a disc and pop it in the fridge for a half-hour.

3. While the dough’s chilling, cut out two pieces of parchment for each 3.25-inch/8.25-cm tart pan. (Don’t fret about these being perfect; it’s fine to have bits of parchment overhanging.)

4. Turn out your dough on a lightly floured surface and roll it out to a thickness of about 1/8 inch/30 cm. Using a round pastry cutter that’s slightly larger than your tart pans — mine’s a 4 1/2-inch/11.50-cm ring, and it works perfectly — cut out rounds of dough and press them into the parchment-lined pans. Pop these into the freezer and let them firm up for a half-hour.

5. Put the crusts on a cookie sheet, place the second piece of parchment paper inside each one and fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes and then let cool on a rack.

6. While the crusts are cooling, make your caramel. Get out your deepest, heaviest pot so you don’t splatter yourself with caramel, and add the sugar and water. Give it a stir. Turn the heat to medium-high and let this cook. Don’t even think about picking up that spoon again. I know it’s tempting, but the key to making caramel is to leave it alone. After about 5 or 10 minutes, you’ll see the edges begin to turn a very light amber. Now you can pick up the pot and give it a gentle swirl. Let this go until the color deepens to amber. Then turn down the heat; add the butter, sea salt and cream; and give this a stir with the longest-handled wooden spoon you’ve got. Now add your toasted pecans and turn off the heat.

7. To assemble your tartelettes, simply spoon some of the pecan-caramel mixture into the cooked and cooled shells. These will keep nicely for a day at room temperature. Serve with a sprinkle of fleur de del, if you’d like.

Tip: You can make one big tart, too. Just use an 8.5-inch/22-cm tart pan instead.

Note from Kristina: After fitting the crust in the ring, I took a knife and trimmed off more to reduce the height of the tart to match the quantity of the pie filling.

Food images by Kristina Gill. Portrait of Ellise by Xavier Lhospice.

Why Ellise Loves This Recipe

It’s a perfect example of “Cowgirlified Frenchy” cuisine, recipes that borrow flavors and techniques from Texas and France effortlessly — here, Texas pecans, a pecan and butter crust that’s like France’s favorite buttery cookie, the sablé (think Pecan Sandie) and a very French fleur de sel caramel sauce as glue to hold it all together.

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