The holidays are a time to be around family. It is the season to build memories and have a good time with those that you love. To play games, watch movies, listen to holiday tunes, and just enjoy some time off without worrying about the things you have to do, but rather focus on the tasks you want to do. We often lose sight of what the holidays are all about. We think that buying or receiving expensive gifts is what will make the holidays special. While yes, it is a time to give out presents, they do not necessarily have to be expensive gifts, or even things that you buy for that matter. It could be something you have worked hard to make with your own two hands. A craft of some sort. That, is a lot more meaningful. We must remember that a gift from the heart means so much more than a present from a store. Anyhow when it is all said and done, only one thing is really important during the holidays. In my opinion there is only one task that is most crucial. Something that the holidays would not be complete without. This time of year is all about eating. Sure we eat all year around, but this is the time where we get to eat seasonal dishes and treats that make the holidays stand out. It is the time to let loose and enjoy life. Food is life. Buttery, chocolatey, crunchy food is living.
If you want to give someone close to you a really special gift this holiday season, one that will make them light up with joy; a present they will really appreciate and smile over, then bake them something. If you have not experienced the magic that home baked goods have, and the effect it has on people, then you must experience it for yourself. And soon. Wrap up some brownies, cookies or bars like a present and watch the huge smile on your loved one’s faces form when they see their delicious treats for the first time. It will be a gift that will last, for each time they open the tin or box to reach one and grab another treat, they will be reminded of the love that is there. It will mean so much more than a store-bought present because they will know you spent time making them something special. A perfect treat to hand out are pecan bars, for instance, because they are sturdy, long-lasting, and oh so tasty. It is like pecan pie on the go, without the mess of cutting or worrying about a fork. If you want to make the pecan bars really decadent, then dip them in melted dark chocolate. Those really have immense powers. On the second thought, save the chocolate dipping for someone you really love, not just for any ordinary Joe.
Whether you make these bars for someone as a gift or just bake them up for the family this holiday season, keep in mind one thing. The holidays are meant to be enjoyable and stress-free. Look around you and be grateful that you are surrounded by loved ones, family and friends. I know it is not always easy to see the blessings we have and often we might think that we have it bad, but we must remind ourselves that it could always be worse. Someone out there in the world has it worse off than we do. Nothing is worth carrying a burden over. Let it all go, and enjoy the holidays. Above all be safe.
We start with a clean bowl and a stand mixer.
Even when I’m not baking or cooking to photograph it for a post, I still measure out all my ingredients before I start. This way everything is ready for me. It makes the process a lot easier and faster.
We start with two and a half sticks of butter.
Now I’m going to warn you right off the bat. Yes this recipe calls for a lot of butter—these two and a half sticks and two more later on for the filling/topping—but it is a good recipe. Trust me.
It’s the holidays after all, we should enjoy ourselves, and butter is the best way to do this.
Butter makes everything better, am I right?
Look at how great that butter looks. Don’t feel guilty. We don’t bake like this all the time, so don’t feel bad.
Add it to the bowl, you know you want to. The butter is calling. “Eat me. Eat me. Eat me.”
Whip the butter on high.
Continue to whip until it is light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.
It will look like this.
Add the granulated sugar.
Cream the butter and sugar for another 5 minutes, until light and fluffy.
Add the vanilla extract.
Mix once more.
Add the egg.
Mix the egg until well incorporated, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula, before and after mixing.
Let’s turn our attention, for a brief moment, to the dry ingredients.
To the all-purpose flour add the baking powder and salt.
Whisk the dry ingredients together, or of course, you can sift them if you’d like.
Give it all a good whisk to make sure the ingredients are well combined.
Add the dry ingredients, all at once to the creamed butter and sugar mixture.
Most times I tell you to add the dry ingredients in batches, but because we usually are alternating with the wet ingredients. This dough doesn’t require wet ingredients so you can add the flour all at once.
Mix until the dough comes together.
It will be slightly sticky.
Once the dough is sticky and no dry ingredients can be seen, turn off the mixer, you are done.
This is sort of like a shortbread, so if you’ve made shortbread before you’ll know what kind of consistency to look for.
Let’s prepare the pan.
You’re going to need a 9×13 inch rectangle baking dish, or two 8-inch square baking pans.
Line the dish with a piece of parchment paper.
**Tip: You most definitely want to add a sheet of parchment because it will make your life completely easier! The pecan filling is very sticky and once the bars are baked the paper will help you remove the entire thing from the pan in one swoop.**
Throw the dough on top of the parchment paper.
Spread out the dough into an even layer using your hands that you dusted with flour, that will prevent the dough from sticking to you as you handle it.
Bake the crust in a preheated 350° F oven for about 15 minutes.
You do not want it to be browned at all, this baking process is just to set the crust.
After 15 minutes, remove the pan from the oven and allow it to cool.
In the meantime, let’s make the topping.
Before we get started, we need to prep a few ingredients.
Use a microplane or a small hand grater/zester to remove the yellow and orange zest from a lemon and an orange. Do not zest off the white part underneath as that will create a bitter taste. All the essential oils lie in the skin on top.
Adding the zest to the topping will give the bars a nice citrus balance to the sweetness from the filling and the slight saltiness from the crust.
Put the zest to the side and chop the pecans.
You don’t want to finely chop them, just a rough run through with your knife. It’s okay if some of the pecans are slightly bigger, while other pieces are smaller, this will add to the look of the bars.
Set the pecans aside as well.
Heat a large, heavy-duty, pot over low heat.
Add two sticks of butter. This is the last of the butter, I promise. I draw the line at four and a half sticks.
Allow the butter to melt slowly and at a low temperature.
You do not want it to brown, just melt.
Why don’t we take a closer look at that butter?
Add the honey.
And the light brown sugar.
Carefully mix everything together with a wooden spoon.
Throw in the grated lemon and orange zest.
Stir the zest in and allow the mixture to come to a boil.
Boil for about 3 minutes, stirring constantly.
**Note: Be very very careful at this stage while stirring the caramel. This mixture is molten hot and you can seriously get hurt if any of it touches you. So be extremely cautious while mixing it.**
After 3 minutes, turn off the flame and remove the pot from the stove.
Add the chopped pecans.
Throw in the heavy cream and bourbon.
Give it all one final stir, the mixture should be somewhat thick and shiny.
Carefully pour the pecan filling mixture over the cooled crust.
Bake for about 25 minutes until the filling appears to be set, it should move slightly when you shake the pan.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely on a wire rack.
To make cutting easier, place the cooled pan in the fridge for half an hour.
Once chilled, using the parchment paper, remove the bars onto a cutting surface.
Cut into equal squares, to desired size.
You can cut the bars into 16 small/medium sized pieces, or 32 miniature pieces by cutting these in half.
I like to make the miniature sometimes because I don’t feel bad eating like fifty because they’re so small and when stuff is small like that they don’t have that many calories. That’s how it works right?
Here we have pecan bars.
They are delicious just like this. Basically it’s pecan pie on the go. Easy to eat.
So like I said they are perfect like this, but you know me, I like to take things over the edge. Take them to the next level.
What else can take these bars to the next level you might ask?
Well if you paid attention to the name of this post, you’re probably wondering where in the world the chocolate-dipped part comes into the picture.
There, now that’s better, and it’s super easy to do.
In a small bowl throw in about 2 cups dark chocolate chips.
Nuke it in the microwave in 25 second intervals, stirring after each, until the chocolate is melted and smooth.
Dip one side of the bar into the chocolate and place back on the baking sheet. Once all the bars have been dipped with the melted chocolate, place the pan in the fridge for a few minutes to allow the chocolate to harden.
Now we can eat it.
These bars freeze really well, so if you can’t find yourself eating all of them then you can tightly wrap each, individually, with plastic wrap and then place in an airtight container. Allow the bars to defrost before eating.
Chocolate-Dipped Pecan Bars
These bars are quite decadent and are perfect for the holidays. Give them out as gifts or serve them at parties. If you think the chocolate is too much,
you’re crazy, you can omit the chocolate dipping step and just eat them without it.
yield: 16 medium or 32 miniature bars
For the crust:
- 1¼ cups (2½ sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
- ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1 large egg
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2¼ cups all-purpose flour
- 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
- pinch of salt
For the topping:
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
- ½ cup honey
- 1½ cups light brown sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
- 1/2 teaspoon grated orange zest
- 2 teaspoons bourbon, optional
- 3 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
- 4 cups (1 pound) chopped pecans
- 2 cups dark chocolate, melted (optional) for dipping
1. Preheat oven to 350° F and line a 9×13 inch rectangle baking dish with parchment paper. Set aside.
2. For the Crust: Drop the softened butter in the bowl of an electric mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment. Whip on high for about 5 minutes until the butter is light and fluffy. Slowly stream in the granulated sugar and continue to cream for another 5 minutes. Add the egg and vanilla extract, and mix well. In a small bowl whisk, or sift, together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Add it to the creamed butter and sugar and mix on low until just combined. Press the dough into the prepared baking dish until the crust is in an even layer. The dough will be slightly sticky so lightly sprinkle your hands with flour to help you press the dough. Bake for 15 minutes, just until the crust is set but not browned. Remove from the oven and all the crust to cool. In the meantime making the topping.
3. For the topping: Heat a large heavy-duty pot over low heat. Add the butter and melt, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon so as to not brown the butter. Stir in the honey, brown sugar, and the lemon and orange zests. Raise the heat and bring to a boil for about 3 minutes, making sure to stir constantly and carefully. Be extremely careful when mixing this caramel as it is very hot. After 3 minutes remove the pot from the heat and stir in the heavy cream, bourbon and chopped pecans. Pour the topping over the cooled crust. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the filling is set.
4. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely. Wrap with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator, this will make cutting the bars a lot easier. After they have chilled, cut the bars into even pieces.
5. If you are dipping the bars in the chocolate, place the dark chocolate chips in a medium bowl. Microwave the bowl in 25 second intervals, stirring after each, until the chocolate is completely melted and smooth. Dip one end of each bar and place back on the parchment paper. Put the pan in the fridge for a few minutes to allow the chocolate to harden. Serve and enjoy!