Some food, some drink.
A Test-Run for Holiday Cookie Baking: Salted Caramel Chocolate Pecan Bars.
The Holiday baking season is just around the corner (hell who are we kidding; it's here!), and as I needed to bring a dessert for an office potluck, I figured now was as good a time as any to try a new bar cookie recipe. The last time I opened up a pound of butter, I found a real doozy of a recipe inside. For my interpretation of this Caramel Chocolate Pecan bar recipe, copious amounts of butter and brown sugar lay the foundation in which to nestle big ol' pecan halves and plenty of semi-sweet chocolate, finished with sprinkling of flaky, Kosher salt. In a substitution that feigns healthy, I figure if we're gonna get ridiculous with the fat and sugar then the least we could do is go whole grain and use whole wheat for a shortbread crust that also benefits from a shot of Bourbon whiskey.
You've been there, I'm sure. The sign up sheet for the office potluck. I let it be for two days while I brooded over just what exactly I was gonna bring. It ain't exactly salad or ice cream season, and someone else had already signed up for chili. Hmmm...
I usually find that when a self-imposed recipe block occurs like this that it's better to go all Muad'Dib on the problem and bend like a reed in the wind. So one evening as I'm opening up a box of butter, I see a recipe for caramel chocolate pecan bars that really piques my interest. I've made pecan bars before, but given the fuss of the last recipe I tried, I never felt obliged to make 'em again. This recipe here however looked simple enough and only needed a wee bit of tweaking to scale up to potluck proportions and satisfy the tastes of this here cook. Anyhow, I figured that with cookie baking for Thanksgiving and Christmas upon us, a test run was in order to see if we had a candidate for addition to my slowly-evolving list of must-bake holiday cookies.
Recipe: Jump to the detailed recipe. (or, keep reading for the gist of it) -
For the Crust-
Heat oven to 350F. Combine Whole wheat flours, the first 12 oz of brown sugar, the frist stick and a half of butter and the first ounce of Bourbon into a stand mixer equipped with the paddle. Beat at medium speed until mixture resembles fine crumbs, then press it all evenly and firmly into bottom of ungreased half sheet pan (again, that's 13"x18"). Place pecans evenly over unbaked crust.
For the Caramel-
Into a 1 quart saucepan over medium heat, add, the last 2 sticks of butter, the last 6 oz of brown sugar, and thatfinal tablesppon of whiskey. Stir with a whisk often so that it all integrates and doesn't burn. Once the entire mixture comes to a boil, keep boiling for 1 minute longer, continuing to stir with the whisk. Carefully pour the whole hot mess evenly over your staged pan of pecans and crust.
Bake for 18 to 22 minutes or until the entire caramel layer is bubbly. Remove from the oven and immediately sprinkle with the chocolate chips.
Cool for one hour before sprinkling with Kosher salt. After bars have cooled completely, cut 'em into bars.
This really is a solid recipe, so I really didn't wanna jack with it too much; besides caramel can be one of those things that when thrown out of ratio can go from fabulous to crap-tastic instantly. Still, even treading cautiously I did find a few tweaks that I thought necessary:
- The original recipe makes enough bars to fill a 13x9 inch pan. This particular pan is also known as a quarter sheet pan. For the crowd I was baking for, I knew I needed to scale up if I was gonna have any left to hoard for myself. Judging from the source data, I thought the crust might be a wee too thick anyhow; and after bootstrapping the math, I decided that a 50% increase in ingredients across the board would fill a half sheet pan perfectly. This was true for every ingredient except pecans, and I'm pretty sure noone's ever gonna complain even if I did happen to go overboard on pecans.
- When I think caramel, my mind immediately goes to whiskey. The hooch in this case is used in the same capacity as you would a vanilla extract. You may not know it's there, but you'd sure as hell know if it was missing as it works to reinforce all that's wonderful about the marriage of butter and brown sugar. You don't need much, so feel free to go with a higher proof hooch if you wanna.
- The whole grain flour isn't required, but I happen to like whole wheat in my cookies. Whole wheat flour adds a bit of nuttiness and a nice chewy texture to a cookie; and hey, whole grain is better for you anyway, right?
- Salt and caramel, salt and chocolate, salt, caramel and chocolate. It doesn't take a lesson in mathematical logic to appreciate this conjecture. If you really wanna get presentation points, pick a large-flaked variety of sea salt, and be sure to wait about an hour (maybe even an hour and a half) after baking to apply said seasoning so those salty bits remain identifiable.
Damn. These are good. I mean, I knew going in that they wouldn't suck, but man these cookie bars are hard to stop eating. If was the type of food blogger that had two X chromosomes and countless pinboards of snarky sayings on pastel-backed vintage illustrations, then I'd probably have to use the phrase "So addicting!!!" But I don't, so I won't.
It's very likely that these Salted Caramel Chocolate Pecan cookie bars will go into regular rotation on my holiday baking list. Each bite has a little something for everyone's tastes: Sweet, salty, chewy, crunchy; it's all there. Some of my favorite recipes come off the backs and insides of packages, and despite the depth and breadth of content available on the ol' Interwebs, when there are still gems like this printed on the packaging, I think it still pays to read a label before the box hits the recycle bin.