March 28, 2008

Tasty Treats in Reasonable Sizes

The Barefoot Contessa has some outstanding recipes, but many of them are really designed for very large crowds. Most of the time when I'm cooking a "crowd" tops out around six. So a dessert recipe designed for a half sheet is a little excessive. Luckily a more reasonable 9x13 holds exactly half the amount - making adapting such a recipe much easier (minus the uneven egg count).

I've been eyeing this recipe for a while, but the prodigious amounts of butter have kept me at bay. However, an excess of maple syrup and butter caused me to consider a halved adaptation. Especially since I had some willing guinea pigs to test them out. Our professor had invited us to his house for dinner instead of holding class on campus - and by the time I got home there was only one left (the one that hadn't fit in the container I took with me). After some requests for the recipe I promised to post it here in the near future (which only meant a few weeks).

Fans of pecans, but not some of the other ingredients take heart. My mother, not a fan of honey (one of the original sweeteners) or maple syrup thought that I had probably ruined the bars by their inclusion. I took a batch home for Easter anyway and she didn't seem to mind. In fact both she and my father seemed only too happy that I was leaving the rest of the bars behind when I left.

Pecan Pie Bars

2.5 sticks unsalted butter
3/8 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

2 sticks unsalted butter
1/2 cup dark maple syrup (Grade B)
1 1/2 cups dark brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 pounds pecans, coarsely chopped

2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted*

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Start with the crust. Cream the butter and sugar together, until light. A standmixer can do this in about 3 minutes. A handmixer will probably take closer to 5. Mix in the eggs, salt, and the vanilla. Sift the flour and baking powder together. Mix the dry ingredients into the batter with the mixer on low speed until just combined. Press the dough evenly into an ungreased 9 by 13 pan, making an edge (about 1 1/2 inches high) around the outside. The dough is very sticky. Bake for 15 minutes, checking occasionally to see if the crust is slumping off the sides. If it slumps too much. Take the crust out of oven and, with a spoon, patch the sides with thicker parts of the bottom. You want a set, but unbrowned crust.

For the topping, combine the butter, maple syrup, salt, and brown sugar in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Cook over low heat until the butter is melted, using a rubber spatula to stir. Raise the heat and boil for 3 minutes. Remove from the heat. Stir in the heavy cream, vanilla, and pecans. Pour into the crust. If you get the syrup right against the pan it will cook on and be hard to clean. Place in the oven and bake for about 30 minutes. Start checking after 25 minute. If the pecans are getting too dark remove from the oven. When done remove from the oven and allow to cool. Refrigerate until cold

To finish, remove from the refrigerator and using a spoon, scoop up some melted chocolate and begin drizzling over the top of the bars. After using up all of the chocolate return to the refrigerator to set the chocolate. This is easier to cut if very cold so remove from the refrigerator again, cut immediately, and serve.

* A few notes about chocolate:

  • I prefer to use a makeshift double boiler to melt chocolate. Place a small metal bowl over a small sauce pan of simmering water. The bowl should sit snuggly in the pan without falling in far enough to touch the water. Add your chocolate and walk away until it has started to melt and then stir gently.
  • If some liquid gets into your chocolate and it starts to seize add more liquid - milk, cream, water, coffee, whatever - it's counter intuitive, but basically you'll end up with a ganache that might not work for the recipe at hand but will be great with some cake or ice cream.
  • If you're going to melt chocolate please don't use chocolate chips - they have added stabilizers that interfere with a smooth melt. Use a good chocolate bar or something in bulk from the likes of Scharffen Berger, Callebaut (which I can get at my local co-op), or Ghirardelli (which is available in every grocery store I've ever been to).

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