December 9, 2022

Batter Together: A Holiday Baking Series

6.2 min read

(Molly Bolton/Contributed)

Hello!  I’m Molly—baker, recipe developer, food stylist, photographer, and curator of The Nostalgic Crumb baking blog. A native Texan, I now call Birmingham, Alabama my home. It’s where I get to do life with and grow alongside my husband, two beautiful children, and our Giant Schnauzer “Nana.”  Baking has always been a comforting, familiar place for me. It’s a space where I feel most creative, most at ease, and most like myself. I have space to do what I enjoy most and share that with the people I love most.

Beyond flour, sugar, butter, and delicious results, I believe that baking is a great way to create memories, show hospitality, and to invite others into our homes and lives. Baking is a simple way to cultivate togetherness, and it’s what inspires me to create and share my recipes with people like yourself. I’ve teamed up with SoulGrown for a holiday baking series that will be running this month. Keep an eye out for three, delicious recipes for the holidays, starting with these delectable pecan pie bars.

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Is there anything better than a slice of pecan pie on a holiday? I know, I know, there’s a big debate on pumpkin versus apple versus pecan pie, but I’m not here to settle that. I’m just here to speak my truth and that, plain and simple, is that pecan pie is gooey, sticky, nutty, dessert heaven. Now, I would never presume that a “re-do” of the age-old favorite is necessary. However, as a baker and mother of two littles, I’d be remiss if I didn’t 1) put my own delicious spin on pecan pie and 2) make it a simple, easy-to-make recipe. Enter my 9″x13″ pan, browned butter, chocolate chips, and bourbon (if you like bourbon). 

Baking in a 9″x13″ pan, in my opinion, is a way of saying, “Pull up a seat and grab a plate! The more the merrier.” And when it comes to holiday baking, there’s always more room at the table. And that’s one thing I love about these chocolate pecan pie bars—there’s plenty to share. And let’s talk about what exactly we’re sharing in these pecan pie bars, because honestly, it’s worth talking about. First, you prepare an easy, buttery, brown-sugar shortbread crust to serve as the base of your bars. Once that’s baked and cooled a bit, you have time to mix up the pecan pie filling, which is packed with all the richest, deepest of flavors. Browned butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, bourbon, all the warm and cozy flavors. Sprinkle some chocolate chips over the slightly cooled crust, pour over the pecan pie filling mixture, and toss that pan in the oven until your whole house smells like Mrs. Claus’ kitchen. So simple, so delicious, and certainly feeds a crowd.

My late grandmother, “JuJu” as we called her, used to make the most delicious pecan pie. I remember watching the pecans float to the top of the pie as she poured the Karo syrup into the pie crust shell. I thought it was magical, how she made all those pecans float to the top like that. When I make these chocolate pecan pie bars, I can hear her saying, “Now Molly Kathryn, what was so wrong with my pecan pie recipe that you had to go and make your own?” And of course, I’d say there was absolutely nothing wrong with Juju’s pecan pie recipe. It was delicious. But what I remember more than the taste of her pecan pie is watching those pecans float effortlessly to the top, thinking she knew just what she was doing. While I do hope that my children one day grab this very recipe for my chocolate pecan pie bars to prepare for their own holiday gatherings, I more so hope that they remember making these with me. And that they also love a 9″x13″ baking pan for the sole purpose of sharing what they’ve made. 

(Molly Bolton/Contributed)

Chocolate Pecan Pie Bars

Makes 24 bars

Ingredients

For the shortbread crust:

  • 113 gm (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 160 gm (2/3 cup, firmly packed) light brown sugar
  • 188 gm (1 1/2 cups, spoon and leveled*) all-purpose flour
  • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

For the pecan pie filling:

  • 56 gm (1/4 cup) unsalted butter
  • 240 gm (1 cup) light corn syrup
  • 240 gm (1 cup, firmly packed) light brown sugar
  • 4 large eggs 
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons bourbon, optional
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 280 gm (2 1/2 cups) pecans, roughly chopped
  • 220 gm (1 cup) semisweet or dark chocolate chips

Directions

To make the shortbread crust:

  • Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly spray a 9″x13″ metal baking pan with nonstick spray and line the bottom and sides of the pan with parchment or aluminum foil. 
  • In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, brown sugar, flour and kosher salt on medium speed until combined and crumbly. The dough will look dry, but it should hold together when you press it between your fingers. Pour the dough into the prepared pan and press evenly into the bottom of the pan and 1/2″ up along all sides.
  • Bake for 15 to 18 minutes, until lightly browned. Set aside to cool slightly.

To make the pecan pie filling:

  • First, brown the butter and set aside to cool slightly (**see my notes below for instructions on how to brown butter)
  • In a large bowl, add the browned butter, light corn syrup, brown sugar, eggs, vanilla, bourbon (if using), kosher salt, and ground cinnamon and whisk to combine. Add in the chopped pecans and stir until all the pecans are evenly coated. 
  • Sprinkle the chocolate chips evenly over the surface of the shortbread crust. Next, pour the pecan pie filling over the chocolate chips and spread into an even layer. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until the pecan pie filling is set. Allow to cool completely before removing from the pan and slicing into bars. For even easier slicing, I like to place the pan in the fridge for an hour or so before cutting into bars.

Notes

*How to measure flour using the spoon and level method: if you don’t have a kitchen scale, I recommend using the spoon and level method to measure your flour. This will give you a much more accurate measurement than scooping with a measuring cup. First, loosen the flour in the canister or bag by fluffing it with a fork. Next, spoon the flour into your measuring cup until it’s full. Then, holding the cup over the canister or bag of flour, use the back of a knife to level off the flour.  

**How to brown butter: Place the butter in a small stainless steel saucepan set over medium-low heat. Allow the butter to melt and come to a boil, stirring constantly. As you continue to stir, you’ll hear the butter begin to make a crackling noise. Eventually, the crackling noise will subside and a foamy layer will surface to the top. Continue to stir constantly and watch the liquid butter underneath the foam go from yellow, to tan, to caramel-colored; the butter will become fragrant. Once you’ve reached this stage, pour the butter into a heatproof bowl, being sure to get all the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. 

Storage: Keep leftovers in the refrigerator in an airtight container. 

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