Fill in the blank for me: “As American as _____________.”
Did you say “apple pie?” If you did, I salute you. That’s the expression. But I’m not here for apple pie today. I’m here to talk about an oft-neglected staple of American dessert cuisine: the pecan.
We never really think about something until it’s gone, which I learned with the pecan from my sister-in-law’s mother. She hails from Ecuador, and apparently, the pecan action there is rather lacking. She once told me that when she comes to the U.S., she gets her fill of pecans and chocolate chips. They’re not available everywhere. Remember that next time you turn down that slice of pecan pie!
In general, we try not to take things for granted because they don’t last forever. I was doing my D.C. summer thing today, walking the streets (as opposed to streetwalking, which is very different) and nosing in and out of shops. The problem is, so many of my favorite shops are now gone.
Let me take a moment to pay my respects to Cone E. Island, the ice cream shop near George Washington University. That place got me through graduate school, and now it’s gone. Countless bakeries and restaurants are similarly shuttered, replaced by large chains. I mean, do we really need another Chipotle? And today, I discovered to my horror that a favorite chocolate boutique was also closed.
It’s the way of the world, I suppose. Change. Do I keep having to be reminded that life is short and that all is temporary? I’d rather think that it will all last forever. But everything is in short supply, from sunny sweet days to pecans in other countries.
My initial plan was to bake pecan pie bars, but these are different. I’d call them pecan brownies, but that would be misleading, since there’s not any chocolate here. Essentially, there is a pecan shortbread crust that is topped with a brownie-like (I’m talking consistency) layer of brown sugary pecan goodness. No, I did not copy that tagline from a cereal box, though it sounds as if I did.
The bars are less sticky than traditional pecan pie bars and therefore more durable and portable. In this season of July 4th potlucks, you can carry these around without having to worry about everything falling apart. And you still get a crust. It’s a winner!
If you want to make your life easier, rinse out the mixer bowl after you make the crust and then just combine the filling ingredients by hand in the same bowl. It eases up on dishes and counter clutter. I hate clutter. My grandmother always taught me to clean as I bake!
In the end, you’ll have a perfectly American dessert that everyone will love and be grateful for. I bet you never realized that pecans shouldn’t be taken for granted, did you? Think about all the things you might take for granted and then take some time to appreciate them!
1 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup chopped pecans
1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
3/4 cup light corn syrup
2 tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup chopped pecans
- Preheat the oven to 350. Line an 8-inch square pan with foil, leaving enough to hang over the sides. Coat liberally with cooking spray. Set aside.
- In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the brown sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Add in the egg and vanilla, mixing until smooth. Add the flour mixture, mixing until just combined. Stir in the chopped pecans by hand.
- Press the crust into the bottom of the prepared pan. Bake for 10-15 minutes until golden.
- While the crust is baking, prepare the filling. In a bowl, whisk the eggs until foamy. Add the brown sugar, corn syrup, flour, salt, and vanilla extract and whisk until combined.
- Pour the filling onto the baked crust and distribute the chopped pecans evenly over the top.
- Bake for 25 minutes until golden and set.
- Cool completely and cut into squares. Store in an airtight container.