Monday, May 24, 2010

It's Nuts!

The first dessert cookbook I ever owned was Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Desserts. It was a gift, and although the person who gave it to me has not been in my life for many, many years, the book (worn and falling apart from use) is still significant. From the pictures on the cover to the cakes and cookies inside, I was hooked. Yesterday it rained here, and it gave me an excuse to spend the afternoon baking. I went back to Maida Heatter, her dessert and cookie books, and found these. The bottom layer is cake-like while the top layer is caramel, sticky with pecans. If you can’t decide whether you want a cookie or a piece of candy, these bars split the difference.
Before you begin, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Toast 2 cups of pecan halves in a shallow pan for about 10 minutes, stirring once or twice.  Set them aside.

Pecan Passion from Maida Heatter’s Brand-New Book of Great Cookies by Maida Heatter
Bottom Layer
3 ounces (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter
½ cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg at room temperature
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa, preferably Dutch process
¼ cup sifted all-purpose flour

Raise oven heat to 375 degrees.  Line a 9 inch square pan with parchment paper or aluminum foil sprayed with cooking spray.

In a small pan over moderate heat, melt the butter. Place the melted butter in the bowl of an electric mixer. Add the sugar, salt, vanilla and egg, and beat to mix.  Beat in the cocoa and flour.  Place this thick chocolate mixture in a ribbon or in several mounds all over the bottom of the lined pan.  Spread the mixture in an even layer- it will be a thin layer.  Bake 12-15 minutes until the cake springs back when gently pressed with a fingertip.  Remove the pan from the oven and let stand while you prepare the topping.

Pecan Topping
1 tablespoon dark rum or cognac
1/3 cup heavy cream
3 ounces (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 ½ cups firmly packed light brown sugar
scant ¼ teaspoon salt
¼ cup dark corn syrup
7 ounces (2 cups) toasted pecan halves

Add the rum or cognac to the cream and set aside.

In a heavy 3 quart saucepan over moderate heat, melt the butter.  With a wooden spoon, stir in the sugar, salt and corn syrup.  Stir over moderate heat until the mixture begins to boil all over the surface.  Place a candy thermometer in the pan and cook, stirring a few times, until the temperature reaches 250 degrees- about 2 minutes of boiling.  Watch it carefully.  Do not let it cook even a bit too long.

Remove the pan from the heat and quickly stir in the cream mixture (it will bubble up) and then the pecans.  Immediately pour the hot mixture over the bottom layer.  Use a metal spoon or fork to even out the layer, making sure the nuts are spread out evenly.

Bake at 375 degrees for about 25 minutes.  Do not bake too long or it will become too hard.  Remove from the oven and let stand for at least a few hours until completely cool.  Cover the pan with a flat board or cookie sheet, invert and peel off aluminum foil or parchment.  Then turn right side up.  Cut into quarters and then cut each quarter in half.  Cut each half into 3 bars.  You can store these in the refrigerator or freezer, but they should be served at room temperature. 

Maida Heatter notes that these work with walnuts as well as pecans.  ((post by susan))

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