Friends, Thanksgiving is almost upon us, and I would be woefully remiss if another year went by without sharing my go-to pecan pie (bar) recipe with you! Because, you see, these bars offer everything that is glorious and delicious about pecan pie without the sickly sweet, gooey filling that is virtually impossible to get right.
Don’t mistake me. I love pecan pie. But it’s also a dessert that I: a) have not been able to master, and b) have to “cut” with vanilla ice cream in order to find tolerable. When you have to add ice cream to offset the sweetness of something? That is saying something. Even for me.
These pecan pie bars, on the other hand, offer the wonderful sugary taste of the filling we know and love without all the gooey mess or the overwhelming amount of sugar. In this case, you essentially coat the pecans in gooey goodness and then get to enjoy the actual pecan flavor instead of being overwhelmed by the sugar of the filling.
Plus! They are much less mess and easier to offer in smaller portions. Thus, if your holiday is anything like mine and there is a tendency toward too many desserts, these are a nice option for sampling. They also last several days, so they’re good insurance toward having leftover dessert to munch on. And! The shortbread crust doesn’t get soggy, so you can easily make them in advance and alleviate some of the day of/day before stress.
Really, there’s no going back to traditional pecan pie for me. I’ll get it from pie shops, but if I’m going to bake something in the arena of pecan pie? It’s these.
Note: this calls for a LOT of pecans – a full pound of them. So, it’s no joke pecan-wise. And not an overly budget-friendly dessert. For that, see my previous post about apple cider vinegar pie, or the easy pumpkin cupcakes/bundt cake.
Ingredients are listed in the order they appear in the recipe and anything that requires prep is in bold. Ingredients are bolded in the directions when you first encounter them, and the quantity required is included. Time estimates are bolded and italicized. I also include notes about any special equipment you’ll need.
Pecan Pie Bars
Required equipment: 9×13 pan and aluminum foil (you don’t want to try and make these without a foil liner – they will stick to the sides of the pan something fierce.
For the crust:
- ½ cup (1 stick/8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted
- 1 ¾ cups (250g) all-purpose flour
- 6 tablespoons (75g) granulated sugar
- ½ teaspoon salt
For the topping:
- 7 tablespoons (slightly less than 1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and hot
- ¾ cup packed (150g) brown sugar (*light or dark is fine – both are good, slight preference for light)
- ½ cup light corn syrup
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 4 cups (16 oz or 450g) pecans, toasted
Notes: don’t chop up the pecans. This works best when you’re using full pecan halves rather than pieces. You want the nuts to be mostly intact to help with flavor and so that you don’t have an imbalance of coating. Also! The edges of the bars are going to end up a bit crunchier/firmer than the center pieces. They’ll still taste good, but if you over-bake the bars, they can end up closer to toffee and a bit threatening to your fillings.
Prep work: Toast the pecans on a rimmed baking sheet in a 350-degree oven until fragrant, 8 to 12 minutes, shaking the sheet halfway through.
Since your oven should already be 350° from toasting the pecans, just leave it on while you make the crust.
Line a 9×13 pan with aluminum foil, preferably heavy duty (these bars will be sturdy/heavy when you pull them out). Spray foil with cooking spray and set aside.
FOR THE CRUST:
In a medium bowl, whisk together 1 ¾ cups (250g) all-purpose flour, 6 tablespoons (75g) granulated sugar, and ½ teaspoon salt. Add the melted butter and stir with a wooden spoon or silicone spatula until dough begins to form. Using your hands, continue to combine until no dry flour remains and dough begins to hold together when squeezed.
Scatter chunks of dough over the surface of the pan to make it easier to spread it out relatively evenly. Using your hands, press and smooth the dough across the bottom of the pan – trying to get it an even thickness.
FOR THE TOPPING:
Using the same saucepan, melt 7 tablespoons butter.
In a medium bowl (you can use the same one as the crust), whisk together the hot melted butter, ¾ cup (150g) brown sugar, ½ cup light corn syrup, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, 1 teaspoon kosher salt. It may not look like it’s going to come together at first, but just keep stirring (30 seconds to a minute should do it).
Fold 4 cups pecans into the sugar mixture and keep stirring/tossing until the nuts are evenly coated.
Pour the topping over crust. Using a spatula, spread the pecans over the crust, pushing to edges and into corners. You won’t be able to get this perfectly even or completely coated, but don’t worry. The topping will get all melty and fill in gaps.
Bake the bars until the topping is evenly distributed and rapidly bubbling across entire surface, 23 to 25 minutes.
Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let the bars cool completely in the pan, about 1 ½ hours.
Pull the bars out using the foil to lift, transfer to a cutting board, and to cut into pieces. I like to do long, skinny slices, but do whatever makes you happy! (Just remember that the edges will be crunchier, so be careful of your fillings).