Thursday, December 23, 2010

A New Holiday Favorite

I have always loved the holidays because they bring everyone together. Coworkers gather for parties, Friends make extra time for special restaurant dinners, and Families travel to be together, even if it is just for a few nights or one special meal. The time between Thanksgiving and New Years always passes too quickly; there are always more things to do than there is time to get everything done. But that sense of quickened time makes the season all the more precious, the time with loved ones all the more special.

For me, this season centers around food: which favorite meals to make for company, what to bake for friends, and especially where to pick up take out after shopping and before baking, because there just isn’t always time for making dinner in the midst of it! I love baking and sharing what I’ve made with people, watching them smile with anticipation as they open a package and smell the spicy scent of gingerbread. It brings such happiness to make someone smile, especially during such a busy time of year.

I have a few recipes that I make nearly every year, but I also like to try to new things. I collect pages from magazines or from online for a year, waiting until the big rush of baking starts just after Thanksgiving. My holiday dinners are pretty much set in stone—my Grandmother’s Lasagna Verde and my mother-in-law’s Norwegian Meatballs on Christmas Eve and roast beef on Christmas Day. Especially this year when we’ll be in Texas without family, these recipes will be our link to our families in another place.

As much as I love tradition, it is fun to try new things and eventually create new traditions. This year, in honor of living in a new part of the country, I decided to make something more Texan to add to the mix. At this time of year, there are gorgeous Texas pecans at the farmer’s market and in the grocery stores, so I wanted to make something invoking pecan pie, but that were sturdy enough to package with cookies.

Enter Pecan Bourbon Squares. I love the dark, strong flavor of molasses and the warm spice of cinnamon and cloves, and I believe that all pecan pie is improved with a healthy dose of bourbon. Everything works together to offset the sweet nuttiness of the pecans, and since they have just the right amount of salt, they have that sweet/savory flavor that makes them extremely addictive. I’m sure this is one recipe that will be in the repertoire for many years to come.

Bourbon Pecan Squares

These look lovely in seasonal muffin cups if you are packaging them for gifts, and they will stay good in a sealed container and/or in the fridge for several days (the flavors actually meld and it tastes better the next day). This recipe freezes well, so if you’re getting a head start on baking, just cool completely, cut into squares and package in a freezer bag with sheets of parchment beneath each layer.

¾ cup pecans, toasted and chopped
9 Tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small chunks (1 stick + 1 Tablespoon)
1 ½ cups flour
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1 ½ teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup + 2 Tablespoons packed light brown sugar
1/3 cup molasses
½ cup light corn syrup
6 tablespoons butter, melted
¼ cup Bourbon
1 ½ Tablepoons Vanilla
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
3 large eggs, beaten
1 ½ cups toasted and chopped pecans

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the middle of oven. Line a 12” x 17” jelly roll pan with aluminum foil, leaving some hanging over the edges. Spray foil generously with cooking spray.

For the crust, combine the pecans, butter, flour sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Press the mixture evenly into the prepared pan. Bake for about 30 minutes, checking at 25 minutes, until lightly golden.

While the crust is baking, make the filling. Whisk together the sugar, molasses, corn syrup, butter, bourbon, vanilla, salt and eggs in a medium bowl. Stir until the mixture is well combined and the sugar has dissolved. Stir in the pecans, mixing until well-coated.

When the crust is finished, immediately pour the mixture into the pan over the hot crust and return to oven. Bake until the top is browned and the filling is well set, about 30 more minutes, again checking for doneness at 20 or 25 minutes; you don’t want to burn the pecans but the filling does need to be set or the bars will be runny. Cool on a rack in the pan until completely cooled and set.

Remove the bars out of the pan by lifting the foil evenly, and set on a cutting board. Remove all of the foil, taking care that none tears and remains on the crust. Cut into 1 inch squares; makes 40-50 squares.

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