If I were home right now I would throw a party — a party to help me get all of this food away from myself. The last 30 days participating in NaBloPoMo have been deeply fulfilling (my pants no longer fit) and deeply challenging (scraping burnt sugar off the oven floor is no one’s idea of a good time). But, enough of my behind the scenes drivel. You came here for the food!
Countless friends and family have invited me as their guest to their holiday parties over the last few weeks and I have encountered somewhat of a challenge in preparing dishes to share that can be 1) served at room temperature, 2) travel well, and 3) can be prepared in advance. As many of my friends also have tiny kitchens, I cannot exactly move into their limited culinary real estate and take over their stove, oven or counterspace. I have to show up ready to go.
Once again, I turned to splendid Ina Garten of the Barefoot Contessa fame and franchise for the answer. Her pecan bar recipe is probably the most artery clogging dish ever to grace my kitchen, but it was positively delicious and positively transportable. Between the shortbread crust and the pecan topping, these bars use a whopping nine sticks of butter. NINE. I promise, I am not trying to kill any of you and I am certain Ina isn’t either. Depending on the size you cut the bars they can easily serve a large crowd, more than once. (Plus, tiny pieces allow a smaller degree of guilt.) The shortbread base would be decadent on its own but it is topped essentially with pecan pie filling. They really are as fabulous as they sound.
A few preparation tips: Line the bottom of the oven with foil. This is a must. No one wants to scrape burnt sugar off the floor of the oven this time of year. Or any time of year, for that matter. Using a pizza cutter, rather than a knife, made slicing through these thick bars much easier. Lining each bar with a flattened muffin paper liner helped with transportation and keeping guests’ hands clean.
adapted from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook
yields 20 large bars
For the crust:
1-1/4lb unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4c granulated sugar
3 extra-large eggs
3/4t vanilla extract
4-1/2c all purpose flour
1/2t baking powder
For the topping:
1lb unsalted butter
3c light brown sugar, packed
1T grated lemon zest
1T grated orange zest
1/4c heavy cream
2lb pecans, coarsely chopped
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. If possible, line the bottom of your oven with foil to catch spillovers.
For the crust:
In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter and the granulated sugar for about 3 minutes until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat until combined. In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. On low speed, add the flour mixture to the butter mixture until combined. Press dough evenly into an ungreased 12 by18 by 1-inch baking sheet, making an edge around the outside. Flour your hands to manipulate the dough. Bake for 15 minutes until the crust is set but not browned and allow to cool.
For the topping:
In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt the butter, honey, brown sugar and zests over low heat. Once everything is melted, turn up the heat and boil for 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the heavy cream and pecans. Pour over the cooled crust, trying not to get the filling between the crust and the pan. Bake for 25-30 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.