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Sara's Secrets: Pecan Pie Squares

Wow, where to begin? This one's a disaster from start to finish. The concept is intriguing: take pecan pie components and turn them into bar cookies, using graham crackers as an ersatz crust. But the execution fails utterly. What I ended up with was a pan of sticky pecan pie filling, pecan halves that were too big to cut through neatly, and a crust layer that was so thin, it melted into nothingness. Not a successful recipe.

There are a couple of major problems with this recipe as written; the crust, which consists of a single layer of graham crackers lining the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch pan, is way too thin. Under the weight of the brown sugar and pecan filling, the crackers dissolved completely, providing no support or structure. The other major problem is the use of pecan halves. For a pecan pie, this isn't such a big deal -- you cut the wedges as best as you can, and sometimes an errant pecan half will mess up the perfect triangle shape. But for bar cookies, which need to be square or rectangular, it's a disaster. Trying to slice cookies out of this mess of sticky filling and large, irregular nuts was a comedy of errors.

Moulton tells the cook to line the pan with "generously greased" foil before adding the ingredients. I can only assume that the purpose of this step is to make it easier to remove the cookies. This was not the case, however. The foil stuck to the filling and wouldn't let go, making it almost impossible to pry the cookies out of the pan. Truly, this is a dessert that just plain doesn't work, and as always when confronted with such baffling failures, I'd love to be able to ask Ms. Moulton if anyone actually tested the recipe before it ended up in the book. From where I'm sitting, it sure doesn't seem so.

I've tried a couple of different ways to make this recipe work. First I used a double layer of graham crackers as the crust, hoping that this would provide a better base for the filling. No go -- the crackers still just melted away as though they weren't even there. Then I decided to try making an actual graham cracker crust, with crumbs and butter pressed into the pan and baked off before filling. This was somewhat more successful. The pieces around the edges of the pan held together nicely and came out of the pan without falling apart. The center pieces, however, were still very sticky and had a tendency to crumble when poked with a spatula. Be careful when you spoon the filling on top of the crumb crust. Make sure to evenly dollop the filling, since too much spreading with a spatula will disturb the crumb layer.

I used pecan pieces instead of halves, which made it a lot easier to cut the cookies into bars. Diamond makes a product called pecan "chips," which are fairly finely chopped. If you can find these, use them. Otherwise, chop your pecans yourself, and make them pretty fine.

My revised recipe is first. The original recipe is at the bottom of the page. I offer the revision with reservations (I definitely don't recommend the original recipe); if you love pecan pie and don't mind if some of your cookie bars fall apart, go ahead and give it a try. It's not a perfect recipe, but it tastes good and will satisfy a sweet tooth.

Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 15 to 20 minutes
Yield: about 16 bars

Pecan Pie Squares, Revised Version
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup light corn syrup
2 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp salt
8 oz. pecan chips or finely chopped pecans (about 2 cups)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly spray a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with nonstick spray. Combine the graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and butter in a medium bowl, and stir until the crumbs are moistened. Turn the mixture into the prepared pan and use a spoon to press the crumbs firmly into the pan. Bake until the crumbs begin to be fragrant, and the edges are slightly brown, about 8 minutes. Remove and let cool slightly.

Combine the brown sugar, eggs, corn syrup, butter, vanilla, and salt in a large bowl. Whisk until smooth, then stir in the pecans. Carefully dollop the filling mixture evenly over the crumb layer in the pan, gently smoothing with a spatula if necessary for even coverage. Bake until the filling looks set and the edges of the crumbs are deep golden, about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove and let cool on a rack for 15 minutes, then cut into squares. Allow to cool for another 15 minutes before serving. If any squares are left over, store in the refrigerator. Reheat, if desired, before serving.

Pecan Pie Squares, from Sara's Secrets for Weeknight Meals
16 to 18 graham crackers (2 1/2 by 2 1/4 inches)
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup light corn syrup
2 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp salt
8 oz. pecan halves (about 2 cups)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with aluminum foil; very generously grease the foil. Arrange the graham crackers in the pan, crumbing some to fill in any spaces.

Whisk together the brown sugar, eggs, corn syrup, butter, vanilla, and salt in a medium bowl; stir in the pecans and pour the mixture over the graham crackers. Bake until the filling is set in the center, about 20 minutes. Set the pan on a rack for 10 minutes before cutting into squares. Serve warm or at room temperature. Store remaining squares in the refrigerator and rewarm slightly before serving.

 

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©2005 Colleen Flippo. All rights reserved. Contact the author.