Vail Valley recipes: Layered pecan bars
Vail CO, Colorado
Editor’s Note: Living in the Colorado high country is pure joy. Baking in it isn’t. High altitude makes cookies spread in the pan, cakes fall, and few baked goods turn out as they do at sea level. This twice-monthly column presents recipes and tips to make baking in the mountains successful.
I’m always embarrassed to serve these bars. They’re almost too easy to make. “Surely,” I say to myself, “I should present my guests with something that requires more time and technical skill.” They are also so well known that I anticipate a ho-hum, not-that-again reaction. Yet every time I make them, they’re extremely well received, gobbled up before other treats that I expect to get far more attention, and at least one person, often several, beg for the recipe or request that I publish it in this column.
So, these layered pecan bars have curbed my tendency towards baking snobbery and taught me a valuable lesson: It doesn’t matter how difficult or unusual a recipe is. What counts is taste. And these bars have it … rich, chewy, and lush with chocolate, butterscotch and nuts. They are very, very good.
Rather than be ashamed of their ease in preparation, I’ll extol it: All it takes to get these delicious morsels in the oven is crushing graham crackers, melting butter and layering other ingredients. They are virtually foolproof.
If you want a smaller batch, you can easily cut the recipe in half and bake the bars in an eight-by-eight inch baking pan. If you have more than you need to serve at one time, they freeze well if wrapped air tight.
Layered Pecan Bars
Make in a 9-by-13 inch baking pan
1 1/4 of graham cracker crumbs* (about 8 whole crackers)
8 tablespoons of unsalted butter (one stick)
1 cup of sweetened shredded coconut
1 generous cup of butterscotch chips
1 generous cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips or a mixture of semi-sweet and milk chocolate chips
1 can (14 ounces) of sweetened condensed milk
2 cups of chopped pecans
* Crush the graham crackers in a food processor. If you don’t have one, place them in a plastic bag, close the bag and roll a rolling pin back and forth over it or smash the crackers, in the bag, with a heavy object (i.e. a meat mallet, can of beans, pot bottom) until they are finely ground.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, with a rack in the center position. Line the baking pan with Reynold’s Release non-stick foil or with regular aluminum foil. Allow the foil to extend several inches beyond two opposing ends of the pan to use as handles when you remove the cookies. Generously grease the foil if you aren’t using the non-stick variety.
Cut the butter into about eight pieces and melt it in the microwave or in a small pan over medium-low heat on the stove. Using a fork or your hands, stir the melted butter into the graham cracker crumbs until all are well and evenly moistened. Pat this mixture into the bottom of the pan, leveling and smoothing it as you do so.
Sprinkle the coconut evenly over the graham crackers. Follow with the butterscotch and then the chocolate chips, distributing them equally all over the coconut. Drizzle the sweetened condensed milk evenly over top of these ingredients. Finally, sprinkle the chopped pecans over the sweetened condensed milk.
Place the pan in the oven and bake for about ten minutes, then, using a metal spatula, gently press the nuts into the layers below them. (This will keep them from falling off when you cut and serve the cookie.) Continue to bake until the sweetened condensed milk is bubbly and turns a golden, light caramel color wherever it is visible between the nuts … another 25 to 30 minutes (making a total time in the oven of 35 to 40 minutes).
Remove the pan from the oven and cool it to room temperature on a rack. Cover the top of the pan with foil or plastic wrap and freeze it for about an hour or let it sit overnight before removing the cake from the pan with the foil handles and cutting it into bars. I use a long, thin, sharp knife, it makes the cleanest edge on the bars. Store these at room temperature for up to three days or freeze them for up to a month.
Vera Dawson lives in Summit County, where she bakes almost every day. Her recipes have been tested in her home kitchen and, whenever necessary, altered until they work at our altitude. Contact Dawson with your comments about this column and/or your baking questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.