Caramelly Honey Nut Squares

Today is all about nuts.  Lots and lots of nuts — which is perfect for me about now as I listen to the painters downstairs finally, finally ripping the paper off the floor which has been taped on for more than a week.  I thought yesterday they’d be done, but they’re putting finishing touches here and there.  Clearly, they’re very thorough, which I’m grateful for.  I’m so ready to roll up my sleeves and rearrange my things again.

Dust.  Vacuum.  Hang pictures.  Tackle the pile in the garage to unbury my books.  Gather things for one last big donation of the year…

…then decorate for Christmas.

Like I said — NUTS!  Or in this case, Biscotti Quadrati al Miele e alle NociHoney Nut Squares, Gourmet’s Favorite Cookie from 2003.  These are a delightful bite of flaky cookie crust, creamy honey caramel and three kinds of nuts.  You can’t get much easier for something pleasant, crunchy, and surprisingly, not too sweet.

That makes eleven cookies with one left to go.  Here’s nuts to you! 

Caramelly Honey Nut Squares

Here’s the recipe as it appears at Gourmet

Honey and cream suspend almonds, hazelnuts, and pine nuts in a gorgeous, glossy candied topping on a buttery crust.

This is just one of Gourmet’s Favorite Cookies: 1941-2008.  Although we’ve retested the recipes, in the interest of authenticity we’ve left them unchanged: The instructions below are still exactly as they were originally printed.

For crust

1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 large egg, lightly beaten

For topping

1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon mild honey
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 tablespoon heavy cream
1/2 cup whole almonds with skins (3 oz), toasted
3/4 cup hazelnuts (4 oz), toasted and any loose skins rubbed off in a kitchen towel
1/4 cup pine nuts (1-1/2 oz), lightly toasted

Make crust:

Butter a 9-inch square metal baking pan (2 inches deep) and line with 2 crisscrossed sheets of foil, leaving a 2-inch overhang on all sides.  Butter foil.
Blend together flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and butter with your fingertips or a pastry blender (or pulse in a food processor) until most of mixture resembles coarse meal with small (roughly pea-size) butter lumps. Add egg and stir with a fork (or pulse) until a crumbly dough forms.
Turn out dough onto a work surface and divide into 4 portions. With heel of your hand, smear each portion once or twice in a forward motion to help distribute fat. Gather dough together with scraper. Preheat oven to 375°F.

Press dough evenly onto bottom (but not up sides) of baking pan and bake in middle of oven until edges are golden and begin to pull away from sides of pan, 15 to 20 minutes. Cool in pan on rack.

Make topping:

Bring honey, brown sugar, and salt to a boil in a 2-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved, then boil, without stirring, 2 minutes. Add butter and cream and boil, stirring, 1 minute. Remove from heat and stir in all nuts until completely coated.

Pour nut mixture over pastry crust, spreading evenly, and bake in middle of oven until topping is caramelized and bubbling, 12 to 15 minutes. Cool completely in pan on a rack. Lift dessert out of pan using foil overhang and cut into 25 squares.

Honey nut squares keep, layered between sheets of wax paper, in an airtight container at room temperature 1 week.

My Usual Notes:

  • I don’t have a 9″ square pan.  I have an 8″ square pan and 10.5″ square pans.  I decided I’d like these more thin than thick so went with the bigger pan — except for it is silicone.  I thought I’d be smart using it because the product would come right out of the pan with no foil sling.  But when the crust baked, it definitely came away from the sides of the pan, so when I poured the caramel over it, it seeped beneath the crust for the final bake.  Not anywhere near being a disaster, but yes, I keep learning about the idiosyncrasies of silicone baking pans.
  • When you’re mixing the dough, don’t worry about dividing and smearing.  Just grab the dough in your fist and squish it through a few times.
  • I did not toast the nuts.  You could say I was lazy and you’d be correct.  But I also enjoy the flavor of non-toasted nuts — especially pine nuts.
  • This particular combination of nuts is very mild and pleasant — but it would be fun to try others in this as well.  Maybe some chocolate chips?  Mmmm….
  • These are slightly sticky, but they stack just fine for presentation without clinging to one another.
  • They slice easily with a sharp knife, so you can cut them fairly small for a cute little bite.

My baking compatriots are long done with their cookies for our frenzied extravaganza thingy, but by all means, if you’ve not checked out their cookieness, then get on over there.  Andrea of Andrea’s Recipes, Claire of The Barefoot Kitchen, Sandy of At the Baker’s Bench, Courtney of Coco Cooks, Judy of No Fear Entertaining, and Jerry of Cooking by the Seat of My Pants.