In lieu of baking a pie for our mini Thanksgiving dinner for two (since I knew I'd be making a pie for our actual Thanksgiving dinner), I made these scrumptious, gooey caramel-pecan bars. I was intrigued by them right away because they're a recipe from Ken Oringer (or technically his mother-in-law) -- who is pretty well known here in Boston (I saw him on the bus once after work and had to refrain from getting all school-girl giddy). He has several acclaimed restaurants, including KO Prime, Clio, Uni, Coppa, and Toro -- where I have been dying to go for a while now (hint, hint).
I figured if the food at his restaurants is held in such high regard, these caramel-pecan bars must be pretty amazing too. Oringer did not let me down. (And only these bars were able to sway me from my plan to just use recipes from the November issues of my magazines.)
Besides the turkey, this dessert was the most time-consuming part of my preparation -- but it was mostly wait time. It's nice to have some recipes for the big day that don't require your constant attention.
Below is my half-recipe version. It makes 9 bars, so we have each eaten one every night since Sunday, and there's just one lone bar left. I'm hoping a brawl doesn't break out!
Caramel-Pecan Bars (adapted from Food & Wine, December 2009)
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 plus 1/8 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, chilled and cut into cubes
2 tablespoons ice water
1/2 tablespoon distilled white vinegar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1/4 cup honey
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup heavy cream
7 ounces pecan halves
Make the crust: In a food processor, pulse the flour with the sugar and salt. Add the cubed butter and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Sprinkle on the ice water and vinegar and process until the crumbs are evenly moistened. Turn the crumbs out onto a sheet of wax paper and knead just until the dough comes together. Pat the dough into a disk, wrap in plastic and refrigerate until slightly chilled, about 15 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 375°. Line the bottom of an 8-by-8-inch metal baking pan with parchment paper (foil works fine if you're out of parchment). Roll out the dough between 2 sheets of wax paper to a 10-by-10-inch square (1/4-inch thick). Trim the dough to an 8-by-8-inch square and place it in the baking pan. Cut the remaining dough into 3/4-inch-wide strips and press them up the side of the pan to form a rim all around. Refrigerate the dough until firm, about 30 minutes.
Line the dough with parchment paper and fill with pie weights or dried beans (or uncooked rice).
Bake for about 20 minutes, until the dough is just set. Remove the parchment paper and weights and bake the crust for about 10 minutes longer, until lightly golden and set. Let cool.
Make the topping: In a large saucepan, combine the butter, brown sugar, honey, and salt, and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until foamy and slightly thickened, about 10 minutes.
Add the cream and cook, stirring occasionally, until a candy thermometer inserted in the caramel registers 240° (soft ball stage), about 10 minutes longer. (If you don't have a candy thermometer, I learned this great trick at the bakery where I work: Fill a glass with ice water, and drip a little bit of the caramel into the glass. Scoop out the caramel with your fingers, and roll it between your fingertips. If you can form it into a small, squishy ball, it's at soft ball stage. Following this trick actually enabled me to get caramel to work for the first time ever! I usually end up with rock-hard caramel.)
Add the pecans and cook for 2 minutes longer.
Pour the filling over the crust, spreading it evenly.
Bake for about 15 minutes, until the crust is golden and the topping is bubbling.
Let cool completely. Slide the parchment onto a cutting board.
Cut into bars and serve.
The bars can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.
My homemade whipped cream is apparently highly regarded in our home (I'm not sure why, as it's just whipping cream or heavy cream, confectioners' sugar, and vanilla), so I whipped up a batch to serve with these bars. They're probably best eaten if you just pick them up and bite into them. But we treated them like small squares of pie and ate them with a fork and sufficient dollops of whipped cream. I can't imagine having chosen a better dessert for the occasion. Somehow dessert ended up being my favorite part of the whole meal, and that's saying a lot considering how delicious the other recipes were!
I made my first double-crust apple pie for the official Thanksgiving dinner at my boyfriend's parents' house today (as opposed to my mini Thanksgiving). So I'll be sure to write all about that once the food coma wears off!
Did you make a dessert for today? What did you make?
Happy Thanksgiving to you and your families!