Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Pecan Squares

Several years ago I was performing some Saturday morning cleaning chores.  Ina Garten was keeping me company in the form of her Barefoot Contessa television show on The Food Network.  When I heard "...pecan bars..." I dropped my cleaning cloth, tripped over my cleaning bucket and found a seat in front of the TV.

I had about 30 pounds of pecan halves in the freezer and I was getting ready to learn how to use 2 of them.

Before I resumed my cleaning I looked through my copy of The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook  and bingo....the recipe was in there.  I have been making her recipe ever since.

Beware...it's a fattening recipe, it is an expensive recipe; you want to invest in a good quality unsweetened butter and pecans are expensive these days (in Texas anyway).  Another important item to invest in is a good quality, professional half sheet baking pan (about 18" x 12" x 1").

It all begins with a shortbread crust

With so much butter, I cut mine up a little to begin the creaming process

Once the butter and sugar are nice and creamy add the eggs and vanilla

After you incorporate the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder and salt) you have this fluffy blob.

The shortbread dough will be sticky as you press into the pan.  Use a little flour on your hands and the dough.  Try to make a nice edge up the sides of the pan as well as making the bottom fairly thin.  You will need all the room you can muster up for the filling.

While the shortbread cools you can create magic with this stuff.

Place everything but the cream and pecans into a large, heavy saucepan.

Butter, honey, brown sugar, and citrus zest, boiling into that which will coat my arteries bind the pecans together; nom-nom-nom-nom-nom.

 After boiling for 3 minutes, remove the filling from the heat and stir in the cream. Don't overcook the filling.  You don't want it to get to a hard candy stage.

Then fold in the nuts

Pour your filling into the cooled shortbread crust.  Hopefully the nice edges you made will keep as much of the filling as possible from seeping underneath the crust.

It is a given that this will boil over so I would suggest to cover the lower rack in the oven with foil to catch the drips.

Bake until set, allow to cool and feel happy knowing that






Notes and  Comments: 
Baking sheet - for this whole recipe, please go out and purchase a half sheet professional baking sheet.  It is definitely deeper and a little wider than the normal jelly roll pan you may have in your cabinet.  Don't ask me why I know this is important; it was not a pretty sight.  On the other hand, the recipe does half well to use a smaller pan.

It looks like Ina Garten cuts her bars into 2" x 3" pieces.  I don't have a super sweet tooth and these are so rich that this size is way too large for me.  I cut them half that size.

Be sure your honey is of good quality, 100% raw and not a 'honey blend'.

Pecan Squares
From Ina Garten's The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook
Makes 20 squares

For the Shortbread Crust
For the Crust:
1-1/4 pounds unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3 extra large eggs
3/4 tsp pure vanilla extract
4-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

Mise en place:
  • set butter on counter to reach room temperature
  • measure sugar
  • crack 3 eggs in a small bowl
  • measure vanilla
  • measure and combine flour, baking powder and salt into bowl and sift together
Preheat the oven to 350°F.

For the crust, beast the butter and granulated sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, until light, approximately 3 minutes.  Add the eggs and the vanilla and mix well.  Mix the dry ingredients into the batter with the mixer on low speed until just combined. Press the dough evenly into an ungreased 18 by 12 by 1-inch baking sheet, making an edge around the outside.  It will be very sticky; sprinkle the dough and your hands lightly with flour.

Bake for 15 minutes, until the crust is set but not browned.  Allow to cool.

For the Filling
1 pound unsalted butter
1 cup good honey
3 cups light brown sugar, packed
1 tsp grated lemon zest
1 tsp grated orange zest
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 pounds pecans, coarsely chopped

Mise en place:
  • Place butter in large saucepan
  • measure out honey and place in pan
  • measure out brown sugar and add to pan
  • zest the lemon and the orange and add to pan
  • measure cream and set aside
  • roughly chop pecans and set aside
Melt contents of saucepan over low heat until everything is melded, using a wooden spoon to stir.  Raise the heat and boil for 3 minutes.  Remove from the heat.  Stir in the cream and pecans.  Pour  over the crust, trying not to get the filling between the crust and the pan.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the filling is set.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool.  Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until cold.  Cut into bars and serve.

If you want to be fancy and wrap individual bars for a gift you can dip one end of each bar in melted chocolate for a nice presentation.

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