Growing up, if a dessert had nuts in it, I stayed clear away. A brownie or chocolate chip cookie with nuts was the ultimate disappointment. The nuts took space away from the chocolate, left a bitter aftertaste, got in between my teeth, weren’t soft and gooey–the complaints were many. As an adult, I still prefer nutless brownies and cookies, but when it comes to a dessert where nuts are the stars, that’s a different story. Chocolates with nut pastes (gianduja) are out of this world. Cakes and pastries with ground nuts are oh so good. As for nut pies, though, I was still lukewarm about them. For this reason, I stayed away from the iconic pecan pie for many years. But then a friend who is a pecan pie whiz tempted me with a piece of her pie. It was so delicious that it changed my mind about nut-based desserts forever.
I associate pecan pie with the holidays, both Thanksgiving and Christmas. I think they’d be a killer dessert for a holiday party either in the office, at home, or at someone else’s home, but bringing a pie to a party has its downfalls. It’s hard to cut, hard to serve, and hard to eat while standing and juggling a plate and a drink and a fork. Solution: pecan pie bars.
There are two parts to a pie–the crust and the filling. Crusts can be daunting because it seems as though one misstep can cause the entire dessert to flop. The worst has to be when, after the pie is done baking, the crust comes out thick and raw. Since it’s down at the bottom of the pan, covered by the filling, you can’t see whether it’s baked through or not. In this recipe for pecan pie bars, a simple press-in type of crust is made and then pre-baked to ensure against having a raw crust. Here is how my attempt went this time around:
I started off with pecans. I wanted to add some ground pecans to the crust for added flavor. I used my trusty mini-food processor to do the job.
I then used my large food processor to mix the crust ingredients together: ground nuts, flour, salt, and butter. I cut the butter up into tablespoon size pieces so that it would get incorporated better.
I pressed the pulse button at relatively short intervals, until the mixture turned into coarse crumbs. If the dough ends up being a big lump in the machine, it’s a sign that the dough has been over-processed, and the crust might not be tender enough. To check if it’s been processed enough, test the crumbs to see if they hold together after being squished in your hand. If the crumbs are too dry and do not stick together, pulse a couple of more times.
I pressed the crumbs into a 13 x 9 x 2 inch pan. The crust was then ready to go into the oven for about 20 minutes or until lightly browned. I set the rack in the oven to be one rung below the middle.
While the crust was baking, I needed to make the filling so that when the crust would be ready to come out of the oven, I would be ready to pour the filling onto the crust and pop the pan back in the oven to bake further.
The filling required combining melted butter, corn syrup, brown sugar, salt, and vanilla extract.
Then came mixing in the eggs.
The mixture was a little gooey.
At this point, I mixed in the pecan halves. Some recipes call for coarsely chopped pecans, but I think the pecan halves end up giving the bars a better texture. The filling was ready just when I had to take the crust out of the oven.
I poured the pecan mixture on top of the crust and made sure that the pecans were distributed evenly and in one layer.
It went into the oven again for the final bake according to plan. This is where I made a faux pas–I left it to bake for too long. It was in for 40 minutes, but it probably should have been just 35 minutes. My oven is so fickle! I never know when this sort of thing will happen.
You can’t test doneness with a cake tester. You test it by sensing when the filling has set. In my case, I failed to check 5 minutes before the usual 40 minute bake time and the filling was a bit beyond set. In all honesty, I actually like the more-baked texture, so I’m not sure I regret my timing.
Most importantly, the family loved it–even those who aren’t crazy about nuts. The bars are not too sweet, have a nice caramel flavor, are a little bit chewy, and are terribly addictive!
I had to protect the pan from getting attacked so I could save some for another day.