Sunday, February 22, 2015

Easy Honey Caramel Pecan Bars

This is a great dessert to make for parties, especially when you don't have much time---it goes together amazingly fast. They firm up nicely when cooled and stay perfect even when stored for a few days, so feel free to make them early before that holiday potluck. I also like them as "power food" for long days hiking and skiing in the winter.

I found the recipe on many years ago, and have made these many a time. They're distinctive in the mixture of honey and pecans, instead of, say, maple pecan bars (which would also be amazing, of course). But I recommend using honey for two reasons. First, it's unexpected (yet delicious). Second, this is already a dessert that's just slightly on the expensive side (when you make a dessert with pecans, you must really like the people you're making it for!.....or, you're making it for yourself). Using an inexpensive honey (not the good stuff, and not maple syrup) helps keep the cost down. Also, find cheap pecans. We use Costco.

In the original epicurious recipe, this was billed as part of a quadruple recipe with one shortbread base and four topping options, one of which was the pecan bars. I've never branched out to make the others, although I once had already finished baking the shortbread base before I realized I had no pecans in the house (which is unusual: we stay well-stocked in nuts). I turned it into brownies on a shortbread, and that was good, but I prefer to make these awesome pecan bars.

What's so easy about them is that the shortbread is ridiculously easy in the food processor and it bakes while you make the caramel pecan topping; the caramel isn't fussy (although how long you cook it will determine how chewy versus hard the pecan top is). I like it salty and switched unsalted to salted butter in the topping part of the recipe, but if salted caramel isn't your thing (??) then go back to unsalted.

Honey Caramel Pecan bars

Originally from

1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) UNsalted butter
2 cups all-purpose flour (can substitute whole wheat pastry flour generously here)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt

Pecan topping:
2 cups pecans
1 stick (1/2 cup) salted butter
1 cup brown sugar
2 Tbsp heavy cream
1/3 cup honey

To make shortbread: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and line a 13 x 9 baking pan with parchment paper. In a food processor, add all shortbread ingredients and process until small lumps. Dump it into the baking pan and use a metal spatula to press the mixture into a flat, even surface. Don't wash the food processor just yet.

Bake in the middle of the oven 20 minutes, until slightly golden. It will be ugly, maybe pockmarked and unevenly colored, but don't despair, it will be great. The topping takes less than 10 minutes to make, so give yourself a much-deserved 10 minute break before starting the next step.

Use the food processor to coarsely chop the pecans. (Skip this step if you've bought pecan pieces.) In a heavy saucepan, melt the butter on medium heat. When it starts sizzling, add brown sugar, cream, and honey, raise the heat slightly, and bring back to a sizzle. Once it starts bubbling, cook for 1 minute and then stir in pecans and then remove from the heat. By now your shortbread should just be coming out of the oven. Spread out the caramel pecan topping over the shortbread and bake for 20 minutes. It should be bubbling.

When cool, cut into bars.