When I agreed to join other Chicago cooks and bakers tonight for the Hideout Haiti Benefit & Bake Sale, I knew I needed a recipe that I could make the night before and that would be easy to individually wrap for sale in compact, but rich quantities. While I'm not a big pecan pie fan - (dry pecans, corn syrup) - these maple pecan bars appealed to me with their thick caramel filling, cookie crust and maple syrup. The bars are soft when warm and crisp and brittle when cool. I made two batches last night, yielding two dozen squares. I hope you will come out to the Hideout to join us tonight and sample some of the wonderful contributions. All proceeds will be donated to Partners in Health, an organization that has been working on the ground in Haiti for over 20 years.
Update: The Hideout Benefit raised nearly $8,000! The bake sale contributed $752 of this total. Thank you everyone!
Maple Pecan Bars
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Essentials of Baking
For the crust:
1 1/4 C unbleached, all-purpose flour
1/3 C light brown sugar, packed
1/4 tsp salt
8 Tbl butter, at room temperature
For the filling:
6 Tbl butter
1/3 C pure maple syrup
2/3 C light brown sugar, packed
1/3 C heavy cream
2 C pecan halves
Preheat oven to 350F. Carefully line an 8x8x2 inch glass baking dish with heavy-duty aluminum foil, allowing the foil to extend over the sides of the dish. Lightly butter the foil.
In a medium bowl, combine all the ingredients for crust. You will have a dry dough that sticks together when you press it between your fingers. Press the crust mixture into the prepared baking dish in an even layer. Bake the crust, rotating half way through, until the edges are lightly browned and the top feels firm when gently touched. About 15 minutes.
After the crust is finished baking, begin preparing the filling by combining the butter, maple syrup and brown sugar in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir until all the ingredients dissolve. Bring to a boil and boil for one minute.* Remove from the heat and quickly stir in the cream. Then stir in the pecans. Pour the hot filling over the partially baked crust and spread evenly with a spatula.
Bake until filling is somewhat set when you shake the pan and small bubbles appear over the whole dish. About 25 minutes. Transfer dish to a wire rack and allow to cool for 30 minutes. Transfer dish to the refrigerator and allow to cool for an hour.
Gently lift the foil liner to remove from the baking dish. Gently peel away the foil and cut into pieces using a sharp knife. Store in an airtight container for up to three days.
(*A few words of advice for bakers who get nervous about cooking sugars on the stove top. This is a pretty simple recipe to ease into the process. The butter, brown sugar and maple syrup mixture will begin to simmer along the sides, but wait until you are seeing more vigorous bubbles in the middle of the mixture before you start timing the minute that the recipe calls for the boil.)