I’ve been thinking about Texas a lot lately, partially because I haven’t been to visit my family in 14 months and also because there was a devastating winter weather/energy crisis all over the state last week. Truly, I was consumed with horror listening to the news and compulsively checking in with friends and family to make sure they were alright.
Thankfully, all my loved ones seem to be “okay” (all things considered) and have handleable structural damage. I am obviously not personally affected as I haven’t lived in Texas for 13+ years, but I learned a few things about myself last week while I held my breath for everyone who does.
1) It doesn’t matter how far away I live or for how long, I will always hurt when Texas hurts.
2) If I am ever in a full-scale disaster, I’m calling my sister-in-law so she can tell me what to do. She thinks of everything and is the most prepared person I know. She ground coffee beans in her car, y’all.
3) Thinking about Texas makes me think about pecans, which make me think about pecan pie.
If you didn’t know, the pecan is the state nut of Texas (though we have a lot of men of note who might give it a run for its money). We call them “puh-cahns” in my neck of the woods and we put them in everything: chocolate chip cookies, sticky buns, Thanksgiving stuffing, you name it. The queen of all pecan desserts is obviously Pecan Pie, which (surprise!) happens to be the Texas state pie. It’s been declared by the Texas House of Representatives, so it’s legit.
I make a killer Maple Pecan Pie and have recipes for Pecan Pie Brownies and Pecan Pie Kolaches, but Pecan Pie Bars were missing from my culinary arsenal until last week. Rest assured, they were worth the wait.My Pecan Pie Bars are thick and buttery, with equal layers of brown sugar shortbread and sweet pecan pie filling. While some pecan pie bar recipes have a single layer of pecans perched on top of approximately 100 feet of sugar goo that goes everywhere the second you take a bite, that’s just not my style. Nope! These babies are packed to the gills with toasted pecans and will not disintegrate before you finish them. Handheld desserts shouldn’t require a fork and three napkins, y’all.I prefer the pecans in my Pecan Pie (and adjacent desserts) to be chopped pretty thoroughly, but feel free to leave the pieces larger (or even whole) if that’s what makes you happy. You could also tile whole pecans on top of the filling before baking if a pretty topper is important to your Pecan Pie Bar enjoyment. As for me, I think these are pretty perfect as-is. They may not quite be the state pie of Texas, but they sure are delicious.If you’d like to make a donation to help with hunger, housing or damage from the events in Texas last week, please consider supporting Funky Town Fridge, Austin Mutual Aid, or Lucha Dallas. I am seriously considering hosting a virtual baking class (either via Zoom or live on a social media platform) in the next few weeks to benefit continued relief down there. Would you be interested in participating or donating? Let me know in the comments!
Pecan Pie Bars
makes one 8- or 9-inch pan, about 12-16 bars
Pecan Pie Filling:
1 1/3 cup pecan halves, roughly chopped
2/3 cup maple syrup or light corn syrup
1/3 cup dark brown sugar, packed
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cold
Preheat oven to 350F. Grease an 8- or 9-inch rimmed square baking pan with butter. Line with parchment, leaving overhang on two sides for easy removal. Set aside.
Scatter pecans on a dry rimmed sheet pan. Roast 5-7 minutes, or until fragrant. Set aside.
Make the shortbread crust. In a medium mixing bowl, combine flour, brown sugar, and salt. Add cold butter. Use your fingertips to rub butter into flour until the largest pieces are the size of small peas. It may be powdery, but should hold together when pinched.
Press shortbread mixture into prepared pan. Spread it around to cover the bottom of the pan before using the flat bottom of a measuring cup (or the heel of your hand) to pack it down into an even layer. Prick several times with a fork. Bake 10 minutes to set.
Make pecan pie filling. In a medium saucepan, whisk together maple syrup (or corn syrup), brown sugar, eggs, vinegar, vanilla, nutmeg, and salt. Add butter. Whisk constantly over medium-low heat, just until it’s just beginning to bubble at the edges (about 7 minutes). Mixture will barely thicken.
Set a mesh strainer over a heatproof bowl. Pour filling mixture through to remove any bits of cooked egg. Fold pecans into filling.
Spoon pecan pie filling over par-baked shortbread. Bake 30-35 minutes, or until the center barely jiggles when the pan is jostled.
Let bars cool completely in the pan on a cooling rack. Chill for 1-2 hours for cleanest slicing.
Use parchment overhang to remove bars to a cutting board. Use a large, sharp chef’s knife to slice into bars, wiping clean between cuts as necessary. Serve.
Leftovers will keep an airtight container at room temperature for up to 4 days or in the refrigerator for up to a week.