Tuesday, December 3, 2013
Chewy Pecan Squares
My holiday baking season has begun! Every year I send my brother-in-law a box of my pecan cookies for Hanukkah, and the Festival of Light comes early this year. When you use the Express Mail flat-rate box, it doesn't even cost all that much to get the cookies across the country overnight. I like to give them while they're fresh!
These cookies are crowd-pleasers, yet have a rich, elegant air. They are often called "candy-cookies" because of their silky caramel-pecan layer over a sweet crust. I increased the butter and vanilla from the original recipe and have a number of tricks I've learned over the past 14 years of making them that I share in the recipe below. You simply can't go wrong with these cookies, and they're good all year round. I took them to a family reunion a few years ago, and although there was a whole table of cakes and pies and fudge and rice pudding, these cookies were the first to go in all of five minutes. If you want a fancy presentation, you can serve them in paper or foil full-size or mini cupcake liners and pass them around on a pretty tray.
Chewy Pecan Squares
My adaption from a recipe in Bon Appetit, December 1999
(Makes about 32 medium squares, 48 petit squares)
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour (7 7/8 oz.)
2/3 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) plus 1-2 Tablespoons chilled, unsalted butter cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 1/4 cups packed golden brown sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
4 cups coarsely chopped pecans (about 14 1/2 oz) at room temperature
1/2 cup whipping cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350F. Line a 13x9x2-inch baking pan with foil, leaving a 1-inch overhang on all sides. Take foil out and butter flat. Gently replace foil in pan. Blend flour, powdered sugar, cornstarch and salt in a food processor. Add butter and process until the mixture just begins to clump together. The dough will be somewhat crumbly. Do not over process or it becomes greasy when baked. Pour it into a large bowl and press into clumps with fingers. Sprinkle evenly into the foil-lined pan and press dough down gently onto bottom. Make sure it’s not too thick in the center. Bake crust until set, light golden at edges and coloring slightly in center, about 25 minutes (overdone at 27 min). Remove from oven. Let stand while preparing topping. Reduce oven temperature to 325F.
Stir brown sugar, corn syrup and butter in heavy medium saucepan over medium-high heat until sugar dissolves and mixture boils; boil 1 minute. Add pecans and cream; boil until mixture thickens slightly, about 3 minutes. Stir in vanilla. Pour hot topping over warm crust. Bake nut-topped crust until filling is darker and bubbles in center, about 29-32 minutes depending on your oven. Transfer pan to rack. Cool completely (overnight is fine) in pan. The topping will harden as it cools.
Lift foil out of the pan onto a cutting board. Using a heavy, sharp knife, trim off about one half-inch around all four edges. Cut by sawing through the pecan layer gently in columns. Cut each column carefully into squares. (Try a serrated knife?)
TIPS FOR PECAN COOKIES
Note: The quality of the pecans does make a difference. I recommend mail ordering the "small pecan pieces" in a one-pound bag from Sunnyland Farms in Georgia, which is an excellent source for premium pecans and mixed nuts. While you're at it, the toasted not salted nuts (or get salted if you like) are the yummiest mixed nuts on the planet.
--Do not use a measuring cup to press down the crust, just your fingers.
--These cookies can be made up to one week in advance. Store between sheets of waxed paper in an airtight container at room temperature.
--Cut small for cookie boxes, about 1-inch square—they are rich, like candy.
--Serve in muffin cups for fancy presentation.