Pecan Bars – Nutty Salty Caramel Goodness

Here’s some really good advice. Do not make a batch of your favorite cookie if you are home alone on a rainy day. Do. Not. Holy shit, y’all. Seriously. I’ve eaten three of these and had to force myself to stop. Three doesn’t sound like much, does it? But these are buttery rich little tiles of heaven and one would be perfect for a normal person.

I’ve never made these before – so why now? We had a cookie potluck at work the week before Christmas; one of my co-workers brought in some of his girlfriend’s pecan bars. Oh, lawdee lawd. They were so good. Crunchy base, caramely salty pecan topping. I have not been able to get them out of my mind for three weeks. That, plus the fact that my mom gave me three pounds of pecans, and you can see why I had to make these.

The interwebs garnered many a recipe, and pecan PIE bars appears to be the preferred nomenclature. But I don’t want a gooey top, I don’t want a pecan pie. I want that toasty nutty chewy sticky caramel taste. I found an awesome recipe at Shockingly Delicious – which of course I had to tweak.

My one take away from this, though? Grease that pan. Then, when you think you are done, grease it some more. This is serious sugary sticky shit.

Pecan Bars

Preheat the oven to 350*. Heavily grease a rectangular cake pan – 9”x13”x2”. Line it with parchment or foil, à la Alton Brown brownie hammock. You’ll need those edges as handles to lift them out after baking.
In the mixer with the paddle attachment, mix:
2 c AP flour
2/3 c powdered sugar
1 ½ sticks butter
½ tsp salt
When it looks like crumbs, it’s done. Dump the mix in the bottom of the pan. Smooth it out. Then, cover it with a sheet of plastic wrap or wax paper and use the bottom of a jar or glass to smoosh it down. Be sure to put a little lip up all the sides and especially the corners. Remove the wrap, and bake it about 20m until it’s set, but not brown. (This would also be a fun kid part – smooshing it down with their hands.)

While it is baking, combine in a heavy 2 quart sauce pan on medium heat:
½ c. plus 2 Tbsp brown sugar
1/3 c. honey
¼ c. corn syrup
14 Tbsp butter (two sticks minus two Tbsp)
½ tsp salt.
3 Tbsp. heavy cream (I used coconut/almond coffee creamer)
Stirring frequently, bring the mix to a low boil – it will get all foamy and lighten a bit in color.
Remove from the heat til the crust is done.

When the crust comes out of the oven, spread out on top:
3 1/2 cups pecan halves or pieces
Even pour the caramel mixture over them. Make sure everything is well-distributed, then all back in the oven for another 25-ish minutes. It will be bubbly and a little darker when it’s done.

Cool completely, lift it out of the pan and slice in small squares. Sprinkle with some good flaked salt, like a kosher salt or fleur de sel.

These will keep in an air-tight tin for quite a while. If they last that long.

Focaccia (Using a Poolish)

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I used to just love that Tyler Florence focaccia recipe – it was easy and fast. But the last time I made it, I realized it was just…..white bread. Focaccia is chewy, and pillowy, and crisp from the olive oil, with big air holes.

I started to wonder if that poolish thing that works for baquettes would work for focaccia, and the interwebs said yes!!
focaccia1How the poolish looks the next morning.

Our Google overlords took me back to the absolute number one bread blog in the world (and one I thought had been taken down), Artisan Bread Baking. This recipe is a mix of that, and what I remember from a Cook’s Illustrated recipe from long ago.

I wanted to give some to the neighbors, and remembered the CI one used cake pans – so there we go.
focacciacollage

This turned out fairly well. Light. Beautiful olive oil crust. The only thing I’d do differently next time is split the dough between four pans – in three, it was just a smidge too thick for our tastes.
focacciahalf

I hope you try this – this is a very kid-friendly recipe. You get to smoosh the dough out in the pan using your hands, place toppings on it, and poke it with your fingers before baking. Tactile play that is deliciously edible! Good times!!
focacciaside

Make this next weekend. For reals – you’re home on a Saturday morning anyway, right? Give it a try.

Focaccia

The night before, make the poolish and some rosemary water:
9oz water
9oz AP flour
2 tsp yeast
Stir it up (it will be a thick sticky batter). Cover it with wax paper or saran and leave it on the counter overnight.
Boil 6 oz water. Put it in a heat-safe cup or bowl, drop in a 3″ sprig or rosemary or a tablespoon of dried, cover it with saran and leave it on the counter next to the poolish overnight.

The next morning, in your KitchenAide bowl or a big mixing bowl, add:
14 oz AP or bread flour
6 oz rosemary water
6 oz extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp dried Italian Herb mix
and the poolish.
Mix it up (with a dough hook or a wooden spoon) til it comes together, cover and let it rest 20 minutes.
Add the salt, knead it for six minutes. This dough is sticky. Cover and rest 30 minutes.
*Gently* fold the dough(Good Dave Johnson vid after the jump). Cover and rest 30 minutes.
Again, *gently* fold the dough. Cover and rest 30 minutes.
Finally, *gently* fold the dough. Cover and rest 20 minutes.

Line a sheet pan (or 3-4 8″ round cake pans) with parchment, generously grease the bottom and sides with olive oil. (For the smaller pans, cut the dough into thirds or fourths with your bench scraper.) Put the dough in the pan, and *gently* push it out to the edges of the pan using your fingers. Place your toppings (onion, olive, tomato – anything thick and moist – the light herby-type stuff comes later). Drizzle with olive oil. Loosely top with waxed paper and a tea towel and let it rise for at least an hour.

Heat the oven to 500*. If you have a baking stone, get that mofo in there. While it is pre-heating, poke the risen dough with your finger to make those focaccia indentations. Drizzle with more olive oil, and sprinkle with the herbs of your choice. (I like fresh rosemary.) Let this sit for 15 minutes, then pop in the hot oven. Reduce the temp to 450* and bake about 25 minutes or so until golden. Interior temp s/b at least 200*. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with some flaked kosher salt and coarse black pepper.

Cool, and eat. This makes amazing sammiches with some pesto. If you don’t eat it the same day, warm it a little in the oven to bring the crust back before serving.