Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Pecan Pie Bars (or Bites) from Cleo Coyle for #NationalPecanDay

Because today is National Pecan Day, and this recipe is a great pantry recipe that stays fresh for a long time after baking (and also freezes well), Marc and I are sharing my recipe for these "Best Ever" Pecan Pie Bars.

Why do we think these are the best ever

A few reasons...

A Note from Cleo
Cleo Coyle has a partner in 
crime-writing—her husband.
Learn about their books
by clicking here or here.

Pecan pie bars are always a good idea. The buttery layers of sweet, nutty flavor pair beautifully with coffee or tea. They freeze well, keep fresh for long periods of time, and are a cheerful favorite when served on cookie trays for parties, or after-dinner dessert plates. 

After experimenting with different types of crusts and topping ingredients, I believe this version is the best, and here’s why…

(1) Cream Cheese Crust: Because cream cheese does not melt as easily as butter, it makes a dough that is easier to work with yet it's still flaky. I've adjusted the ratio of flour to fat to create the perfect press-in crust, one that's tender but also strong enough to hold its shape for a bar. But the main reason I'm using this crust is for flavor. The slightly tangy (yet tender) crust creates a delicious counterpoint to the very sweet pecan topping. It's a marriage made in culinary heaven!

(2) Chopped Pecans: I use coarsely chopped pecans for our bars instead of whole halves like many other recipes. The reason is simple: chopping the nuts allows more surface area to be exposed to the hot sugar, creating more tasty caramelization.

(3) Combo of Dark Corn (or Cane) and Maple Syrups: Maple syrup gives a beautiful flavor to pecan pie and some bakers use it instead of corn syrup. I split the difference for two reasons...

Maple syrup can be pricey. But that's not the only reason. The bold, earthy flavor of dark corn syrup (or the more traditional sugar cane syrup, such as Steen's) is such a classic flavor in pecan pie that leaving it out would be, well, just wrong. So my recipe uses half maple for flavor and a small amount of dark corn (or sugar cane) syrup for economy but also for that more earthy traditional note. 
(4) Troubleshooting: I've built tips and advice into this recipe to help avoid pitfalls and achieve a nearly perfect end product. 

Why nearly perfect? Because while perfection is a common goal, it's overrated. Or as our amateur sleuth Clare Cosi put it in our 8th Coffeehouse Mystery Espresso Shot 

"Being good is better than being perfect." 

And these bars may not be perfect, but they are very good!

May you eat with joy!

~ Cleo Coyle, author of
The Coffeehouse Mysteries

"Where coffee and crime are always brewing"

To download this recipe in a 
free PDF that you can print, 
save, or share, click here.
Click here for the free recipe PDF.

Cleo Coyle's (Best Ever)
Pecan Pie Bars or Bites

For the press-in cream cheese crust

1/2 cup butter (1 stick), slightly softened
3/4 cup cream cheese, slightly softened
1/2 cup white, granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon table salt (or ½ teaspoon kosher salt)
1-1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 egg white (save the yolk for the filling)

For the whisk-together pecan pie filling

2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup dark corn syrup
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup white, granulated sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon table salt (or 1-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt)
3 large eggs +
1 egg yolk (save white for crust)
2 cups coarsely chopped pecans (measure after chopping)

Step 1 – Prep pan: In your 9 x 13-inch baking pan, create a crisscrossing sling out of parchment paper so you can remove the slab of pecan pie easily and cut it into bars. 

Two Tips: If you butter or spray the pan first, it will act like glue to keep the parchment neatly in place. I would also suggest lightly buttering the paper or coating with non-stick spray.

Step 2 – Make the easy press-in crust: Using an electric mixer, cream the butter, cream cheese, sugar, salt, and vanilla until light and fluffy. Stop the mixer. 

Add the flour. 
Blend until the dough makes coarse crumbs. 

Note: If your mixer creates dough instead of crumbs, don't worry. It simply means that your butter and cream cheese were not "slightly soft" as directed but very soft. You can still proceed with the recipe as directed below...

Pour these crumbs (or dough) into the pan and press it evenly along the bottom and up the sides of the pan at least half an inch (3/4 of an inch is even better). This crust edge will prevent the loose filling from spilling beneath the crust and ruining the bars. Here are a few more helpful tips to create perfect bars.

Tips for perfect press-in crusts: 

Cover the crumbly dough with plastic and use the side of a glass to roll the dough into an even layer. 

Use the bottom of the glass 
to press the corners into a smooth, even crust. 

Once again: Make absolutely sure you press that crust about half an inch to 3/4 of an inch up the sides of the pan. This is important because it will keep the filling from spilling over the edge, which will ruin the bars.

Flute edges as shown, and use a fork to thin them out. You don’t want edges that are overly thick. The fork tines create a more even texture.

Re-cover with plastic wrap and put the pan in the fridge and chill it for 30 minutes. This is very important to getting good results. The chilled dough going into the hot oven will make a flakier, more tender and delicious crust. Now pre-heat oven to 375° F. You want a nice hot oven and a 30 minute pre-heating time will ensure the temperature is hot enough.

Step 3 – Make easy filling: While your crust is chilling, place a large saucepan on the stove. Over low heat, melt the butter and remove from heat. 

Off the heat, stir in maple and dark corn syrups. Add cornstarch and whisk until fully dissolved. Add the two sugars, vanilla, salt. Fork-whisk eggs separately and beat them in very well until the batter is smooth. Stir in chopped pecans, coat well. Set aside.

Step 4 – Prep Crust and Bake: Take the chilled crust from the refrigerator. Remove the plastic wrap. Prick the crust all over with fork tines to prevent it from rising up during baking. 

Create an egg white wash by whisking the egg white with a few drops of water. Use a pastry brush to lightly coat the bottom and sides of the crust. You are creating a barrier between the crisp crust and wet filling. 

Bake about 12 to 15 minutes 
in your well preheated 375° F oven. 

The crust will turn a very light golden brown. When you first pull it out of the oven, you may see areas that are puffed. That's okay. Allow the pan to cool 5 minutes or so and the crust will settle back down, looking like this...

Step 5 – Final bake: While the crust is still warm, slowly and carefully pour on the filling; you can even ladle it on to make sure that none of it sloshes over the crust edges and beneath the crust, which will ruin the bars (ask me how I know). 

If you’re afraid the pan is getting too full, simply hold back a bit of the liquid filling, but use all of the chopped pecans. All of the filling should fit IF you pressed that crust up the sides of the pan as directed. No matter what, keep every bit of that loose filling inside the crust’s edges! Return the pan to your 375° F oven. See bake time in next step…

Step 6 - Baking time notes: To prevent the ends from over-baking and the middle from under-baking, carefully rotate the pan (don’t spill the filling) after 10 minutes of baking and place foil loosely over the top of the pan. Bake another 15 to 20 minutes…

For a total of
25 to 30 minutes
final baking time. 

When is it done? You are watching for the top of the filling to set. It may even puff up a little. There should be no liquid-looking areas. If there are, remove the foil and bake 5 minutes more and check again, but be careful not to burn the crust or scorch the topping. 

The pecan pie slab must cool completely before being cut. After removing the pan from the oven, allow the slab to cool in the hot pan, undisturbed for at least 1 hour.

TIP: If you're giving these as gifts or presenting on a holiday tray and want perfectly clean cuts, I suggest chilling them in the fridge before cutting.

Use the handles of the parchment paper to lift the slab carefully out of the pan and onto a flat surface. Then cut into beautiful, caramel-topped pecan bars!

These bars freeze very well, too! Just be sure to protect them from freezer burn with freezer-safe plastic containers or freezer-safe plastic bags. 

Click here for the free recipe PDF.

Eat (and read) with joy!   

New York Times bestselling author
The Coffeehouse Mysteries &
Haunted Bookshop Mysteries

This is us >> Alice and Marc.
Together we write as Cleo Coyle

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  1. These look great! We love pecan pie, pralines, etc. here. So I will have to do these. Just as soon as I get some Karo syrup. I make over night oven baked french toast from time to time. I bake loosely covered for the majority of cooking time. Taking the foil off during the last 10-15 minutes. Would that work here to keep them from burning? Did you try that? I would guess the filling going over the sides would either burn the crust in that area and make them sort of 'tough'. Or soggy. What did it do for you? bessdeepotter84 at gmail dot com

  2. Thanks for your comment, Bess. You asked about foil and sloshing. On the foil, I would not put the foil on first. As my recipe advises, allow the pastry to cook without foil and brown nicely. Putting the foil on too soon may prevent the proper cooking of the pastry. Putting it on at the end (as I suggest in the recipe) helps prevent over-browning. In my experience, that works best. On the sloshing, if you allow the filling to slosh over the sides, your crust will turn out soggier than you'd like (that's happened to me). That's why my written suggestions, throughout the recipe, will help you prevent that from happening to you. Thanks for stopping by today. Be well and stay safe, and that goes for everyone! (Enjoying some good meals and treats definitely helps.) Love,

    ~ Cleo
    Coffeehouse Mystery.com
    “Where coffee and crime are always brewing…”
    Cleo Coyle on Twitter
    Friend or Follow Cleo Coyle on Facebook

  3. Yum!
    A question on the directions--
    "Stir in chopped pecans, coat well. Set aside."
    Finally fold in your chopped pecans and coat well. Set aside."
    You say this twice.

    You two stay safe and well.

  4. Thanks, Libby. (The second mention was simply meant to be a caption for the photo below it, so no worries.) If you make these, we hope you enjoy them as much as we do. In the meantime, thanks for dropping into the Kitchen. We appreciate it!

    You stay safe and be well, too, and that goes for everyone! Love,

    ~ Cleo
    Coffeehouse Mystery.com
    “Where coffee and crime are always brewing…”
    Cleo Coyle on Twitter
    Friend or Follow Cleo Coyle on Facebook