Belly up to the bar cookie take 2


Another holiday season, and all the blogs and cooking sites are trying to claim that they have found the perfect cookie (or pie or entrée [you get the idea]).  I would not want to make such a outreaching claim, but I did find a nice alternative to make a pecan bar from Michelle Norris at Browneyedbaker.com.  She published a recipe that she put on her blog last month, and I made a batch (http://www.browneyedbaker.com/chunky-pecan-pie-bars/).  They are quite good.

Now, the reason I am slightly reserved in my enthusiasm for Michelle’s Grandmother’s recipe is that there is a better pecan bar, Ina Garten’s pecan squares (http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/pecan-squares-recipe.html).  However, this praise comes with a major caveat—the recipe uses over 1 kilogram of butter (for you non-metrics, that 2.2 pounds)—in fact, it uses 2.25 pounds of butter.  Yes, it makes a ton of cookies.  Yes they are great.  But you have to worry about several things that I will detail in a minute.

So, let’s do the numbers.  Michelle’s recipe first:

Chunky Pecan Pie Bars

INGREDIENTS:

For the Crust:
1½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup (1 stick) butter, softened
¼ cup packed brown sugar

Filling:
3 large eggs
¾ cup corn syrup
¾ cup granulated sugar
2 Tablespoons butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1¾ cups coarsely chopped semisweet or bittersweet chocolate (or chocolate chunks in a bag!)
1½ cups chopped pecans

DIRECTIONS:

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 9×13-inch baking pan.

2. For the crust, mix together the flour, butter and brown sugar until crumbly. Press into the baking pan and bake for 12-15 minutes or until lightly brown.4

3. For the filling, beat the eggs, corn syrup, sugar, butter and vanilla extract with a wire whisk. 1

Coarsely chop the pecans.2

Stir in the chunks and pecans.3

Pour evenly over the baked crust and bake for 25-30 minutes or until set.

4. Cool in the pan on a wire rack. Cool completely and cut into bars. Store in an airtight container at room temperature (or in the refrigerator if you live in a warm/humid area with no air conditioning).  Steve’s notes:  put the pan in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour to chill prior to cutting the bars.  Use a plastic knife or spatula on the outside edges of the cookies to free them from the sides of the pan before chilling.  Because of the chocolate, it is best to store these cookies in the frig.

These bars are excellent, and they are a snap to make.  They are not as dense or as rich as Ina’s squares, but they are not meant to be an equal.  If you want to make the best pecan square, then Ina’s is the “nec plus ultra.”  It is not the easiest bar to make, and some special care is needed.  I recommend that you don’t try to make this on a typical half sheet pan, as it will overflow and mess up the oven, even with the precaution of using some aluminum foil on the bottom of the oven to catch spillovers.  Nordicware makes a half sheet pan with 2 inch high sides, and it works perfectly for this recipe.

I also think that the recipe as Ina has written it has a little  too much citrus, so I would cut the amount of lemon and orange zest in half, and use 1/2 teaspoon of each.

Ina, when demonstrating this recipe on her show on Food Network, finishes the bars by dipping them in chocolate.  This is a little bit of a mess, and you can do better.  The squares definitely benefit from the counterpoint of a dark chocolate on top, so make a dense ganache of 2/3 bittersweet chocolate and 1/3 heavy cream (6 ounces 60% cacao chocolate, 3 ounces heavy cream, melted together in a double boiler).  Drizzle this over the top of the uncut cookies, or make a little squiggle pattern on top with the ganache.  That is a winner.

Barefoot Contessa Pecan Squares

Ingredients:
Crust:
1 1/4 pounds unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3 extra-large eggs
3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
Topping:
1 pound unsalted butter
1 cup good honey
3 cups light brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 pounds pecans, coarsely chopped

Directions
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
For the crust, beat 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. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. 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 topping, combine the butter, honey, brown sugar, and zests in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Cook over low heat until the butter is melted, using a wooden spoon to stir. Raise the heat and boil for 3 minutes. Remove from the heat. Stir in the heavy 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.
{published in the Barefoot Contessa Cookbook, 1999}

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About trustforce

A well trained amateur chef, I cook and enjoy many different cuisines. Nonetheless, I love a great Chicago style hot dog or Italian beef, even though the next meal might be haut cuisine. My biggest problem is that I know too much about restaurants and I find it hard to ignore or forgive sloppy technique or bad ingredients. I pull no punches in my restaurant reviews! All my recipe postings are extensively tested by me, and when I am not the originator they are correctly attributed to the source author.
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