I’ve had my eye on this recipe for quite a while. I see it, linger over the photo in the cookbook, and then sigh and move on. But my will power caved on me last week. I could no longer put off wondering how they’d taste, how heavenly their aroma would be baking in my oven. And the wait was so worth it.
The recipe is an enormous one, filling an entire large jellyroll pan. I would have split the recipe, but I had three different unsuspecting groups of people to gift the extra to: friends at a luncheon, in-laws after a Sunday barbeque, and colleagues at my husband’s office. That left a small amount for the three of us. I could blot my brow knowing that I wouldn’t have to pass them in the kitchen, avoiding their mouth watering buttery caramel chocolate nuttiness. Oh. My. Goodness.
The original recipe is called "Pecan Squares" from The Barefoot Contessa’s Cookbook. My revisions came from several places: memories of something called "Congo Bars" my best friend’s mother used to make, and all the lovely nuts I’ve been seeing this fall — especially pistachios. And because I wanted to incorporate chocolate, but didn’t want to bother with cooling and dipping, I decided to experiment with mixing it in instead.
The recipe is very straight forward, but you do have to plan ahead. I thought I had, but had a bit of a problem with my husband’s car the day I made them, and well, good thing I hadn’t decided to "dip" or it would never have happened. I wouldn’t have been able to take them to the luncheon or to my in-laws and I would have been left with most of them. On second thought, maybe that wouldn’t have been horrible.
After returning home from work, the first words out of my husband’s mouth were, "They didn’t like them…they’re all gone. But J wanted to know, ‘How much butter is in these?’"
How much butter indeed. Unbelievable. Truly.
Caramel Chocolate Nut Bars
1-1/4 lbs. unsalted butter at room temp
3/4 c. granulated sugar
3/4 tsp. vanilla
4-1/2 c. all purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 lb. unsalted butter
1 c. honey
3 c. dark brown sugar
1 tsp. grated lemon zest
1 tsp. grated orange zest
1/4 c. heavy cream
1-1/4 c. pecans, in large chunks
1/2 c. almonds, coarsely chopped
1/4 c. hazelnuts, coarsely chopped
1/4 c. pistachios (salted)
3/4 c. bittersweet baking chocolate bits
1/4 c. shredded unsweetened coconut
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Make the crust.
- In the bowl of your mixer, using the paddle attachment, beat the butter and granulated sugar until fluffy, at least 3 minutes.
- Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together and set aside.
- With the mixer still running, add the vanilla and eggs, one at a time until well mixed.
- Add the dry ingredients to the egg mixture and mix on low until the dough just comes together. Make sure you scrape down the sides.
- Dust your hands with a bit of flour and press the dough onto an ungreased jellyroll pan 18x12x1-inch in size. Make sure you push the dough up the sides to form a ridge all the way around at least 1" high.
- Bake until set, but now browned, not more than 15 minutes.
- Chop the nuts while the crust is baking.
- Cool the crust after its done.
Make the topping.
- In a medium sized saucepan,mix butter, honey, brown sugar, and zests, cooking over low heat until butter melts.
- Raise the head to medium and boil for 3 minutes. Keep an eye on this, watching for bubbles. As it boils it will rise in the pan and you will have to remove it quickly.
- Stir in the heavy cream and nuts.
- Sprinkle chocolate baking chips evenly over the cooled crust, then pour the caramel nut mixture over the crust being very careful not to let it ooze over the edge you created. Using a spatula, carefully distribute the nuts over the crust.
- Sprinkle coconut over the caramel nut topping.
- Bake for 30 minutes or until the filling is set.
- Remove from oven and cool for at least 20 minutes before cutting into squares. They will be sticky, so keep them separate on a plate.
- If you are planning on storing or packaging as squares, refrigerate the entire sheet first, then cut and wrap the squares.
Notes: The crust ridge is very important. I had too much topping so wasn’t able to pour all of it onto the crust. Some did spill over the ridge, but luckily it didn’t cause the crust to stick to the pan. After taking the bars out of the oven, I carefully ran a sharp knife around the edges a couple of times as they cooled just to make sure they wouldn’t stick. It wasn’t a problem. I was really pressed for time, so let them sit only as long as I could before cutting to take a few squares to a luncheon — about 15-20 minutes. I kept them separated on a plate, and they were just fine with no refrigeration. The topping did not ooze after cutting without the refrigeration. One person at the luncheon said she preferred the "traditional" pecan bar (no chocolate), but everyone else loved them. Another who isn’t a lover of pecan pie loved the crust, and was glad there wasn’t the custard quality to the bars that pecan pie has. My husband said the quality is "candy store" good. Thanks, honey! To send them to my husband’s office, I packed each in small wax bags willingly distributing all that butter and sugar away from myself.
Very rich, but extremely good. Unfortunately, I’m still in love with the photo in the cookbook of the pecan square dipped in chocolate. You do know what that means, right?