Thursday, December 17, 2009

Not a pretty cookie

I was looking through my cookbooks last weekend to find something sweet to bring to Zoe's on Sunday. I wanted something that would be pretty easy to put together and didn't require a lot of ingredients and came across this picture, in one of my favorite cookbooks, the Land o' Lakes Treasury of Country Recipes. Seriously, I've made a lot of different stuff out of this book over the years — it was in my mom's kitchen when I was growing up — and everything has been delicious. It contains my go-to recipe for macaroni and cheese, for example. And what was for a while my standard bring-a-dessert dessert: a chocolate-swirled almond cheesecake. And, as a matter of fact, the cheesecake brownies on the same page as these caramel and chocolate pecan bars are still talked about by the friend I made them for in 1993. (My word, that is a poorly constructed sentence! Fire the writer!) Great soups too.

Anyway, this is what I set out to make:
Nice, right?

And this is what they ended up looking like:
Poor ugly bastards.

I would consider them a hideous failure except for the fact that they were outstandingly delicious. I mean, they're basically butter and brown sugar with butter and brown sugar on top, covered in chocolate: not exactly a recipe for disaster in my book.

I chopped up the pecans because I know from experience that baked goods with whole large nuts [snerk] are a pain to cut and always look kind of messy. And then something went ... weird with the caramel. Granted, I didn't test the temperature nor do an ice water test, but I'm generally pretty good with caramel, had followed the directions and wasn't too worried about it. But it soaked into the crust rather than sitting on top in the gloriously gooey and shiny manner demonstrated in the top photo. Instead of getting chips, I chopped up about 8 oz. of a block of semisweet chocolate I had on hand, which I suspect was a lot more than the cup of chips listed in the recipe. Also, most of the chopped bits were smaller than your standard chip, so they melted immediately and pretty much formed an unbroken chocolate layer over the top. Again: not really a problem unless you wanted that nice marbelized effect.

I gave these to a bunch of people over the last few days and everyone went kind of crazy for them, so don't let their appearance put you off. They taste like brown-sugar shortbread soaked with toffee and covered in chocolate.

Caramel and Chocolate Pecan Bars
1/2 c. butter
1 c. packed dark brown sugar
2 c. all-purpose flour
1 c. chopped pecans

2/3 c. butter
1/2 c. packed dark brown sugar

1 c. chocolate chips or chopped semisweet chocolate

Preheat the oven to 350. Cream the butter and sugar, then mix in flour until mixture resembles coarse sand. Press into a 9x13 pan and sprinkle evenly with pecans. In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt butter, stir in sugar and stir constantly until mixture comes to a boil. Boil until temperature reaches 243 (117 C) or until a small amount dropped into a bowl of ice water forms a firm ball. Pour evenly over crust. Bake for 18-22 minutes, or until whole caramel layer is bubbling. Take out of oven and immediately sprinkle chocolate over the entire surface, spreading evenly if desired.

[originally posted on my old food blog 10.1.2008]

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