Bars are probably one of my favorite desserts. It’s like pie on a cookie that you can eat without a plate, fork, or any of those nice civilized things. (Bars are also probably my dog’s favorite dessert, for the same reason. People without dogs must have to sweep a lot.)
Like any good Texan, I love pecan pie. After all, pecan trees are native to Texas – they’re the state tree. And it would naturally follow that pecan pie is now the state pie, as of 2013 (but this does not include pecan pies with chocolate chips).
I am the proud owner of a very large, very old pecan tree in my front yard. Every other year, the tree gifts me with enough pecans to actually feed the state of Texas.
As you can see, it completely dominates. All bow before the tree.
This is what it looked like this weekend when I blew the leaves off my driveway.
My first year in this house, I was bright eyed and optimistic about my pecans. I gathered eighty pounds – EIGHTY POUNDS – of these. There is only one wee problem. My pecan tree is what they call a “native” pecan tree, rather than a hybrid. Its pecans are small, with thick, tough shells. Hybrid trees can give pecans that are “paper shelled” and so soft that you can crack them just by holding two together in your hand and squeezing. Not so with my native pecans. Shelling them is an exercise in futility. The shells are so hard that you have to apply extreme force to crack it open, and when you do, you’ve probably crushed the meat inside. You’re lucky to retrieve half of the meat. I did some googling and discovered that a senior center near downtown would shell the nuts for 25 cents a pound. Fearing I was headed for early-onset carpal tunnel syndrome if I continued to try to do them by hand, I hauled my 80 pounds of pecans 20 miles one way to the senior center, only to have the “nut room” volunteer take one look at my bags of nuts, chuckle, and say “that’s squirrel food”. I was then given dire warnings that their machines did not deal well with “the little ones”. I paid anyway, and received back 80 pounds of mangled pecans.
So I’m back to shelling them by hand, but only enough for a few special desserts. It takes about an hour to shell a cup’s worth of meat.
But there’s a secret to this “squirrel food”. These small, hard, aggravating nuts are the best pecans in the world. Deep, buttery pecan flavor. And nearly every nut off the tree is the same quality, the same can’t be said of many hybrid “paper shell” trees.
So that’s the story of my lovely tree. It’s been here longer than I’ve been alive. It will probably be here after I die. Every other year, without me doing anything to it (which is a good thing since I possess a naturally black thumb), it rains down food on me. That’s pretty awesome, even if it’s maddening to try to get the actual food out.
Back to these bars! As much as I love pecan pie, I hate corn syrup, which is the quintessential ingredient in pecan pie. So I set out on a mission to make a pecan pie bar using Lyle’s Golden Syrup (cane syrup).
Pecan pie made with Lyle’s is delicious, but tends to end up a little soupy. The cane syrup just doesn’t firm up the way the corn syrup does. Drawing from a conversation thread on Chowhound referencing John Thorne’s book Outlaw Cook, I adapted his pecan pie recipe for bars on a rich, buttery shortbread crust. The result is amazing – toasted pecans enrobed in a buttery brown sugary filling, with no ingredients that were created by a guy in a lab coat.
- 1 cup lightly salted butter, cut into pieces
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- ½ cup white sugar
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 packed cup dark brown sugar
- Scant ⅔ cup Lyle's golden syrup
- ½ cup lightly salted butter
- 2 tbsp good quality vanilla (or other liquor of your preference - bourbon or rum work well)
- 3 eggs
- ¼ tsp salt
- 2 cups roughly chopped toasted pecans (ALWAYS toast your nuts!)
- Place all ingredients in food processor and blend just until the mixture is starting to clump together.
- Line a 9x13 pan with parchment paper. Press mixture into bottom of pan and bake at 350 for 20 minutes.
- While crust is in the oven, prepare filling.
- In a saucepan, place dark brown sugar, Lyle's golden syrup, and butter. Bring to a boil, stirring and scraping sides constantly. Bubbles and foam will start to form around the edges - scrape it away immediately.
- Bring mixture to a full boil and allow to boil for about one minute. Remove from heat and let it cool somewhat.
- In a separate bowl, beat 3 eggs until creamy. When syrup mixture has cooled just enough not to cook the eggs, add eggs, salt, and vanilla or liquor. If it is too thick to stir, return to the stovetop and heat VERY GENTLY while stirring constantly just until mixture is fully combined.
- Add pecans and pour mixture over cooked crust.
- Return to oven and bake for 25 minutes. Remove and allow to cool fully before cutting into squares.
Try not to eat the whole pan yourself. This is harder than it sounds.