Friday, December 8, 2006

pecan squares

pecan squares

You know, most people would look at a recipe that required more than a box of brown sugar, more than a teddy bear full of honey, two pounds of pecans and nine sticks of butter and say, oh hell no. Ina Garten is clearly trying to kill us. And while I thought that to myself many times, I really just saw this as a challenge. Could this be The Most Fattening Thing I Have Ever Made? I mean, this makes chocolate caramel cheesecake look like a Weight Watchers 2-point popsicle. I must make them.

made a mess here, too

Because if we’re all going to go sooner or later, I believe everyone should be allotted a few of these first, not that we ever doubted that pecan pie baked slathered over a thick shortbread base would be anything less than worth it’s weight in coronaries. And while I know our arteries are clogging and our scales groaning at the thought of such an avalanche of ingredients better taken in moderation, keep in mind that this makes a half-sheet pan full of bars. That’s a freaking lot of cookie.

that's only half
made a mess here, too

Alas, a recipe so costly in building blocks is begging for a critique and I do have a couple grievances, though the first is entirely of my own stupidity. Whatever you do, make sure your pan is at least the correct size as I’m realizing now that my baking sheet is perhaps a little short of 1-inch suggest height, as evidenced by the piles of burnt caramel all over the bottom of our oven and our ensuing smoke inhalation, but not the fun kind. It’s been a little over twelve hours since this mess crusted itself to the oven floor, and I’m beginning to suspect that our oven may not be a self-cleaning model after all — perhaps the absence of a self-cleaning settings should have given that away — though I really wish I would get on that already. It also pretty much destroyed our pizza stone, but as I’ve been hankering for a new one for a while, this is the perfect excuse.

thwuuunk is the noise

My only actual recipe-related grievance is that this is not the best shortbread I’ve ever had. I know that’s not the point, but I’d like both more flavor to it, and more structure. I think the baking powder makes it a little soft for the crushing weight of two pounds of caramel-swaddled pecans; it holds up, but not as well as it should so if you have a shortbread base that never fails your lemon bars or other cookies and can scale it up to this girth, I say go for it.

one path of exit

I might also line the pan with parchment paper next time. The recipe warns you not to pour the pecan mixture into the edges around the shortbread, but since this less-perfect cook inevitably will, it’s nice to have a backup plan to get it cleanly out of the pan. They come out either way, but a little silicon lining would make it all that much easier. And with an oven as charred and unlovable as ours awaiting us, we’ll take all the ease we can get.

exhausting to cut!

Pecan Squares
Adapted from Ina Garten

Crust:
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

Topping:
1 pound unsalted butter
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

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

For the crust: Beat the butter and granulated sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, until light, approximately 3 minutes. Add the eggs and the vanilla and mix well. Sift together 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. It will be very sticky; sprinkle the dough and your hands lightly with flour. 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 zests in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Cook over low heat until the butter is melted, using a wooden spoon to stir. Raise the heat and boil for 3 minutes. Remove from the heat. Stir in the heavy cream and pecans. Pour over the crust, trying not to get the filling between the crust and the pan. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, 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.


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