I'm inevitably attracted to recipes with dichotomous reviews, but more on that later. Historically, I was resolute in my belief that nuts don't belong in desserts, period. I never met a nut whom I thought should co-mingle with a dessert - offered fudge or a brownie with nuts, I'd almost rather turn it down than be forced to navigate around the crunchy hardness in order to find its true essence - the creamy chocolateness. Hardly worth all the effort; well, and then - all the familiar existential gustatory wonderings and questions arise - why do people use nuts in sweets, what am I not getting here, am I missing some taste buds, what did my parents DO to me with nuts as a child anyway - must ask therapist about nuts. And well, all of that is hardly worth it, now is it?
Digressions aside, I was recently riveted watching Ina Garten, aka the Barefoot Contessa, making her Pecan Squares. Can't say why really - something about them just looked --- utterly compelling and completely necessary for me to taste. The textures got under my skin as well - the smooth, buttery, blond crust - the rough, choppy, nubbly, nutty topping that is drowning in a darkly rich, carmelized, gooey looking mess - and if that doesn't have drool running down your chin, she then proceeds to dip half of each bar in chocolate ganache - the whole while chuckling to herself (and who wouldn't?). Saucy little minx. She got me, that one.
Anyhow, so I proceeded to Food Network to peruse the recipe and, of course, the reviews. And, wow, the reviews are *something*, all over the place I tell you. Most of the bad reviews are because of folks not following the recipe correctly - which of course - is clearly Ina's fault (*rolls eyes*). I mean, people reviewing the recipe are reporting fires in the oven, billowing clouds of smoke, alarms going off, spillage of toppings in their ovens, dough-not-holding-topping, calling the FIRE DEPARTMENT, and on and on.
But then, dichotomy....there were the 5-star reviews of the perfect recipe - from the "I hate nuts with sweets, but this is insanely good" and "My nut-hating husband is starry eyed and gooey-shoed..." - well - I was off to the store. They were every thing I'd imagined, and we did not share them with any firefighters.
Adapted from Ina Garten
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
1 pound unsalted butter
1/2 cup good honey
1/2 cup dark karo
3 cups light brown sugar, packed (last cup heaping)
2 teaspoons lemon zest
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 pounds pecans, coarsely chopped
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
For the crust, beat the butter and granulated sugar with an electric mixer, until light, approximately 3 minutes. Add the eggs and the vanilla and mix well. Sift 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. 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 zest in a large saucepan. Cook over low heat until the butter is melted, stir occasionally. Raise the heat and boil for 3 minutes. Remove from the heat. Stir in the heavy cream and pecans. Pour into the crust, trying not to crowd the edge. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the filling is set. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Cut into bars and serve. Can dip in or drizzle with ganache prior to serving; highly recommended. Even more de-lish the next day. Freeze wonderfully.
4 ounces good semisweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon espresso powder (can omit)
- Despite what the reviewers say, you can halve the recipe - use a 9 x 13 pan; if halved, you must use 1.5 eggs in the crust - tricky, but just halve one of the yokes and halve one of the whites - trust me, it can be done
- Make as much of an edge as you can with the crust - flour your fingers, it is a very sticky dough; the edge will prevent filling from spilling over; you can also use the edge of a measuring cup to press the dough into the side of the pan as well
- As a preventive measure, line baking rack (or extra baking tray) with foil to catch any errant spillage - so none reaches the floor of your oven (therefore, no "smoking"; therefore, no Fire Department)