High Country Baking: This bar cookie showcases a delicious combo of brown sugar, pecans and butter
High altitude makes cookies spread in the pan, cakes fall, and few baked goods turn out as they do at sea level. This bi-weekly column presents recipes and tips that make baking in the mountains successful.
Butter, pecans and brown sugar: The words alone can make your mouth water. It’s no wonder cookies that combine them are always popular. This butter pecan bar is a good example. With a taste reminiscent of butterscotch and a soft, close-to-gooey texture, it’s hard to resist. And, it’s almost effortless to prepare, requiring only two bowls, a whisk, a spatula and about 10 to 15 minutes of active time.
Be sure to use high-quality unsalted butter, soft, lump-free brown sugar, and fresh pecans. Though the dark rum is optional, I highly recommend including it. The additional level of flavor contributes a lot to the cookie’s taste. If you don’t use it, increase the vanilla by another teaspoon. To save time, purchase pecans that have already been roasted and chopped. If you can’t find them, roast ¾ cup of pecans as you preheat the oven, let them cool, and then chop them medium-fine.
Why do I specify baking these bars in a shiny metal pan? Because the pan you use makes a difference. A shiny metal pan reflects the heat it gets from the oven and conducts it evenly, so the dough bakes in a uniform manner, making it less likely that the cookies will be burned or underdone in spots. Dark metal pans absorb the oven’s heat, so dough baked in them cooks faster and, sometimes, less evenly. If a dark metal pan is all you have, reduce the oven temperature by 25 degrees and reverse the position of the pan on the oven rack half way through baking.
Butter Pecan Bars
Works at any elevation
Make in an 8-by-8-inch shiny metal baking pan
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour, spoon and level
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 packed cup dark brown sugar, plus 1 tablespoon for sprinkling
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla paste or extract
2 teaspoons dark rum, optional
Generous ¾ cup roasted and chopped pecans
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the center position. Line your baking pan with non-stick aluminum foil or regular aluminum foil, extending it several inches on two opposing sides to use as handles when removing the baked slab of cookies from the pan. Grease any exposed parts of the pan and the regular foil with a baking spray that contains flour. Set the pan aside.
2. Add the flour and salt to a small bowl or two-cup measure and whisk to combine them well. Set this aside. Cut the butter into 16 pieces, add them to a microwave-safe mixing bowl, heat at medium-low temperature in a microwave oven until melted, and then remove. (Alternatively, melt the butter in a small saucepan on the stovetop and transfer it to a mixing bowl.) Whisk in the brown sugar until thoroughly blended. Add the egg, whisk until combined and then whisk in the vanilla and rum.
3. Using a rubber or silicone spatula, gently fold in the flour mixture only until all dry ingredients are completely absorbed. Then fold in half of the chopped pecans until they’re evenly distributed in the dough. Scrape it into the prepared pan, smooth and level the top and sprinkle the remaining pecan and one tablespoon of brown sugar over it.
4. Bake until the top is set but still soft and pliable and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out with a few crumbs, about 20 minutes. Don’t overbake or the cookies will be dry and hard. Move the pan to a rack to cool. If the edges have risen while baking, gently push them down with the back of a spoon, so the top is level, while the slab of cookies is warm. Let the slab cool completely before using the foil handles to remove it from the pan. Cut it into squares and serve, or store in the fridge for up to three days. The slab can be wrapped airtight and frozen for a month.
This recipe is a variation of one published by Martha Stewart.
Vera Dawson is a high-elevation baking instructor and author of three high-altitude cookbooks (available at The Bookworm in Edwards, Next Page Bookstore in Frisco, and Breck Books in Breckenridge). She became a full-time Frisco resident in 1991 and has been developing and adjusting recipes so that they work at our altitude ever since. Contact her at email@example.com.