Pecan Bars

Pecan BarsBelly up to the (Pecan) Bar
When life gets crazy, I bake. Others run or lift weights, but I self-medicate with cookies. This may not be the healthiest way to deal with life’s little curve balls, but the comfort is worth a thousand push-ups.

When this Barefoot Contessa recipe for pecan bars popped up on my Facebook feed, I knew I had to try them. I love pecans and anything with pecans—sweet or savory. Alas, the climate and soil of the East Bay are not optimal for a pecan tree, or I would have planted one within five minutes of moving in to our house.

With so much going on this month, I haven’t had time to make something for the fun of it…much less feed my family. So this recipe had been sitting on my try this pile taunting me. The perfect opportunity came last weekend for my sister’s impromptu gathering. After a stressful week, it was nice to get together as a family and relax…while yelling at the Cal game on TV.

The bars are good and I love that she uses honey instead of corn syrup. Not only does the honey give the pecan bars a more floral flavor, it’s just better for you. Plus, the addition of orange zest is delicious.

When I make them next time, I have a few tweaks. I would half the recipe (this makes way too many), and use regular butter instead of unsalted for both the crust and the filling. I like my pecan bars with a little more salt. Of course you could just sprinkle the cooling bars with some good-quality sea salt for a salted caramel feel. That would be darn tasty too!

Pecan Bars
Adapted from Ina Garten, The Barefoot Contessa
(Makes 20 large squares)

For the Crust
1-1/4 pounds butter (salted) at 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

For the Topping
1 pound butter (salted)
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
Good quality sea salt for finish

Preheat the oven to 350º F.

Make the Crust
Beat the butter and granulated sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Beat until light in color, for approximately 3 minutes. Add the eggs and the vanilla and mix until well incorporated. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Mix the dry ingredients into the batter keeping the mixer on low speed. Mix until just combined.

Press the dough evenly into an un-greased 18 x 12 x 1-inch baking sheet, making an edge around the outside. It will be very sticky, so keep the dough and your hands lightly dusted with flour.

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

Make the Topping
Combine the butter, honey, brown sugar, lemon and orange zests in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Melt the butter over low heat, the entire time using a wooden spoon to stir. Then raise the heat, and boil for 3 minutes.

Remove the butter mixture from the heat. Stir in the heavy cream and pecans. Then pour the pecan mixture over the center of the crust, and gently spread with a spatula. Do not get the filling between the crust and the pan.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or 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 freeze some of the bars, wrap them individually in plastic, and store in an airtight container or zip lock freezer bag.

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