I was running low on pecans so when I happened to be at Costco a couple of weekends ago, I went to buy the usual 2-lb bag I normally get. Costco is one of the places where I get certain baking ingredients because it's cheaper there for the quality: Nestle Tollhouse chocolate chips, C&H granulated & brown sugars, eggs, butter and pecans. Last time I had to get a bag of pecans, I remember being slightly dismayed that they had gone up from $8.99 to $9.99 a bag. So imagine my utter shock when I saw that they were now $14.99 a bag. Holy crazy expensive Batman! Has there been some blight on pecan production in the past several months that I hadn't heard about? Because that's a serious price jump. Much as I hated the thought of shelling out $15 for a 2-lb bag of pecans, past experience has taught me that if Costco's price was that high, other places would have it even higher. And that was borne out later when I checked Target, Trader Joe's and amazon. So I bit the bullet and bought the bag. It's safe to say I spend more on baking ingredients than I do to feed myself "real food". But we all have to have a hobby and mine is more innocuous and less expensive than, let's say, skydiving, bungee jumping, parasailing, skiing, golfing, etc.
So it was time to try the very expensive pecans on this recipe for pecan pie bars. I'm not normally a fan of the typical pecan pie. I don't like the gelatinous stuff that makes up the filling for the pecans to rest on. A pecan pie should be stuffed with pecans, not gelatin. So I was hoping this recipe would be different. The original recipe listed below as is calls for a 12" x 17" pan. That's a trifle too big, even if I were to share it with my former coworkers so I made half the recipe. I had planned to bake it in a 10 x 10 pan because 12 x 17 = is 204 so half a recipe in a 10 x 10 = 100 works just right. Unfortunately I couldn't find my 10 x 10" baking pan which was frankly irritating because it could only be somewhere in my kitchen pantry or cabinets. Yet it remained elusive.
So I used a 9 x 9 pan to make thicker bars and also put some crust and filling in mini tart pans. This probably still came out thicker than it should have. I baked it longer because they were thicker. The top layer formed a crust and browned fairly quickly but I knew it couldn't be done yet. I left it in the oven for over 40 minutes until the top was as brown as I dared to have it without burning. The toothpick test doesn't work here because when I poked one in, it broke through the crust, leaving the crust in pieces and showing the layer just beneath the crust was liquid. Yikes. I took it out anyway because I didn't want the top crust to burn and just hoped that once the bar cookies had cooled completely, the liquid would jell into something a little more solid. Fortunately, it did.
Taste-wise, I liked these - the coconut gives it some chewiness and distracts from the jelly-like texture of the filling. I had toasted the pecans before I used them and their flavor really comes out, just like in a pecan pie. Appearance-wise though, I'd consider them a FAIL. Because I baked them for so long and the top crust was so "crusty", they didn't slice cleanly and instead broke apart because the layer underneath was jelly-like. That's probably because I baked them in too small of a pan so the bars were too thick to cook properly. After the bars had cooled, some of the liquid hadn't firmed up and still oozed out between the slices, making them look worse. Next time, they should be made thinner so the top crust won't be able to form so thickly. I would also cut the filling recipe in half to 1 part crust (i.e. if you make half the crust recipe, make only 1/4 of the filling to go with it) and stuff it with more pecans than the recipe calls for. Oh well. It's good to fail once in awhile - it's how to learn and make things better.
1 ½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup firmly packed golden brown sugar
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
8 large eggs
6 cups firmly packed golden brown sugar
¼ cup bourbon (optional)
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups sweetened flaked coconut
2 cups pecan halves
1. To make the crust: Preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease a 12 by 17-inch baking pan with butter or cooking spray. Using a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter in a large bowl on medium speed about 1 minute. Add the sugar and beat about 1 minute, until fluffy. Add the flour and salt; mix on low speed until evenly incorporated but still crumbly. Press the mixture evenly over the bottom of the prepared pan. Bake the crust for 15 to 20 minutes, until it has darkened to a deep golden brown. Leave the oven at 350 F.
2. To make the filling: Whisk the eggs and sugar in a large bowl until blended. Stir in the bourbon, butter, vanilla, flour and salt, then the coconut and pecans. Pour the filling over the crust, spreading evenly. Bake until set, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool thoroughly, at least 30 minutes, before cutting into 3-inch squares or diamonds.