As we head into fall, it’s never too early to start thinking about Christmas, specifically, what kind of treats to make for Christmas. Naturally, they should be easy to make, tasty, and they need to be sturdy enough to stand up to the rigors of being shipped. Not necessarily a small order, by any means. Fortunately for us, Shirley Fan has put together a whole bunch of recipes that will fit the bill in her book, The Flying Brownie: 100 Terrific Homemade Food Gifts for Friends and Loved Ones Far Away. When we saw it available at the library, we immediately placed a hold.
Looking through it, we found a number of recipes that are similar to ones we already have, but it’s nicely divided into bars, cookies, savories, etc., making it easy to find recipes based on what you’d like to make. Plus, it gives suggestions for wrapping and shipping. Since she did all that work, we figured we had to scratch up at least one of the recipes, so we looked for the easiest one for which we had all the ingredients in-house. We found the Pecan Sandy Bars, which we modified just slightly (doubled the amount of vanilla).
Makes 16 2×2-inch bars.
Not many ingredients, so you have to make sure that each one will stand up to the challenge. Vanilla, better use real vanilla extract; it has subtle flavors that aren’t in the imitation. Butter, only use unsalted, you’ll be adding salt to these bars, so you don’t need some factory helping you out. And, speaking of salt, use kosher, if possible; if not, cut back a bit, because there’s less salt per teaspoon in kosher salt than in table salt.
Procedure in detail:
Mise en place. We knew the butter had to be room temperature, so we went about measuring everything while the butter warmed. We also did the next three steps before our butter was warm enough to get started.
Line pan. First off, line an 8×8-inch pan with baking parchment, leaving some overhanging the edge so you’ll be able to pull the bars out later. I hear you say, “do I have to?” Well, we can’t force you, but we can tell you that these bars are delicate, and, while they aren’t likely to stick, turning them out of the pan in another way will probably result in broken pieces. Still tasty, just not as nice-looking.
Mix flour and salt. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour and the salt. We didn’t really use a whisk, we actually just stuck our hand in (yes, it was clean), and swished together the flour and salt. Set aside.
Toast and chop pecans. Your choice: you can toast the pecans on a baking sheet in a 350°F, or toast them in a medium skillet over medium heat. Either way takes about 10 minutes. We chose the latter as we didn’t have turn on the oven. Once toasted, chop the pecans into roughly 1/4-inch pieces. Set aside.
Beat butter. Place the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and start beating on medium-low. In a minute, it should be smooth and creamy. If not, your butter might not be warm enough. Wait 15 minutes and try again.
Add sugar. Once your butter is warm enough, add the powdered sugar and beat on medium-low until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.
Add vanilla. Measure in the vanilla, and mix until incorporated, about 15 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
Add flour. Scoop in about half of the flour-salt mixture and mix that on medium-low until it’s incorporated. Add the second half and mix that in. You might have to scrape up some of the flour from the bottom of the bowl to get it all to mix, but it will. Trust us.
Add pecans. Add the pecans and mix for 15 to 30 seconds. Most likely, not all the pecans will have mixed in by then, so, take the bowl off the mixer, and, using your spatula, fold the remaining pecans into the dough. The dough should be dry and feel a bit sandy to the touch.
Press into pan. Scrape the dough out into the paper-lined pan, press it down, and smooth it out. Once the dough is level, use a chef’s knife to lightly score the top into 2-inch squares.
Refrigerate. Place the pan in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes to chill.
Preheat oven to 300°F. Yes, that does seem low, but 300°F is correct.
Bake. Slide the pan into the oven and bake for 50 to 60 minutes or until the edges are a nice golden brown.
Cool and cut. Let cool in the pan until just warm. Remove from the pan by lifting out the baking parchment. Cut along pre-scored lines.
Enjoy. We did.
We’re not sure if we just happened to pick the best recipe in the book or what, but these bars are fantastic! They have a little salty kick to them, almost as though made with salted nuts, that counteracts just a bit of the sweetness. The shortbread has a nearly perfect texture; a bit crumbly when you bite, but not so crumbly that the bar disintegrates into pieces that make them hard to eat. In fact, that may be the only “problem” with these bars: they are easy to eat. In no time flat, we went through three bars each before deciding to save some for the next day. These are, easily, a high five!