Caramel Pecan Bars
I’m going to dispense with my routine flowery prose and tell you a story. You see, I once knew a man. This man, a great friend of mine, taught me so much about this world – the existential sort of world – that I want to share it with all of y’all.
We were two friends, soul mates even, who always seemed to just miss each other. We were on very different tracks headed in quite different directions. No matter what metaphorical train I’d be hopping on, he’d be walking right off. I’d trek long and far to find some sort of undiscovered sanctuary only to discover he had already charted it. Everytime we found ourselves crossing paths, all I could get out of him was a smirk. He knew more than I did.
And so it wasn’t long after I met him that I began to see him as a mentor. This man somehow knew where I was going. He had already been there and I wanted a clairvoyant glimpse at what was to come. A frivolous friendship turned into a serious one. He knew I looked up to him as a mentor and he took to the responsibilty.
He began telling me about life and sharing his insights. Five or six years older than me, his view was one I had always sought – I had always tried to live a year or two ahead of where I was when I was younger. His stories, his insight, was always curiously delivered in the form of questions. I naturally assumed they were rhetorical, or that he would ask them just to give me a chance to talk – perhaps to work things out on my own.
Years went by. We once again found ourselves on separate paths in different cities. Our fireside chats became long email and text discussions and phone calls that would stretch into forever. And as I grew and matured I began to pay more attention to this man’s thoughts. I began to notice his questions becoming more and more desperate. Questions and ideas were repeated – I could remember similar conversations popping up every year or two. By now we had become two very different men, prescribing to very opposing ideologies.
My ideologies seemed to work for me and his weren’t. And it hit me. One day when I heard a tear slide down his cheek over the phone, I realized he never was the mentor. I was. Five years had gone by and this entire time my dearest friend was desperately seeking answers in me when I thought I was the one looking for something. Every day we traveled together I grew a little and he somehow couldn’t figure out how to.
He taught me that the only person that will inspire you, help you grow, and make you truly happy is yourself, and he didn’t even know he taught me this. You can’t just study recipes or stare through the glass at the bakery. Sometimes you just gotta grab all the ingredients and throw them in a bowl or put your hand around the glass and pick up that pastry. He never understood this and I never got a chance to tell him.
Two days after that last phone call my friend left this world. I suppose his train came, a lot earlier than either of us had ever hoped. But knowing him, I’m sure he’ll get a kick out of experiencing that first too – one day I hope to see his all knowing smirk once more, a reminder that everything is going to be just fine.
So while this story, like so many in life, is tinged with bitter hints of regret and sadness, it is a story that makes me smile nonetheless. Without my friend I wouldn’t be who I am today. Without Kyle, I would have never learned to smile so much in life. And I surely would have never learned to eat dessert first.
These bars might just be my new favorite dessert. The earthy sweetness and soft crunch from the pecans, the complex rich fortified gooey caramel and the buttery, flaky pie crust create one heck of a treat. And even with a pound or more of caramel sitting on this thing, it doesn’t come off as too cloy or sickeningly rich – of course it helps if you keep the serving size small for these guys.
Fortified Caramel: Any caramel that has cream and butter added is called a fortified caramel. It is probably my favorite kitchen concoction as the creaminess and butteriness paired with the delightfully carmalized sugar is a match made in heaven.
Making fortified caramel is exactly like making classic caramel, but with fortified caramel you add cream and butter (and possible other flavorings) at the end. Now, people are going to yell at me for stating caramel is easy to make, but it is! Just be sure to stand at the stove and watch the boiling sugar closely. As soon as it reaches the golden amber – caramel – color, remove it from the heat. Sugar can go from caramel to burnt blackjack in a matter of a minute and once caramel is over cooked it is ruined – you will have to start from scratch if that happens.
- 1 pound Flaky Pie Crust Dough or Short Dough
- 1 pound sugar
- ⅓ cup water
- ½ teaspoon lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons corn syrup
- 1½ cups heavy whipping cream
- 2 ounces unsalted butter
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 12 ounces pecans
- Preheat the oven to 375°F.
- Roll the pie dough out so that it is large enough to fit inside the tart pan. Trim off any excess dough. Carefully line the dough (top and sides) with parchment paper, then fill in the pan with pie weights or dry beans
- (this is done so the pie shell will retain its shape as it bakes).
- Bake the shell for 25 minutes, or until the parchment paper comes clean off the dough without tearing or pulling at it.
- Remove the pie weights and parchment paper. Bake the shell for another 5 to 10 minutes until golden brown. Remove from the oven and let cool completely.
- Meanwhile prepare the fortified caramel. Add the sugar, water, lemon juice and corn syrup into the heavy-bottom pot and place over high heat. Stir until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is homogeneous.
- Watching the thermometer and color carefully, boil the mixture until it becomes a golden amber color, or reaches about 325°F. This will take about 10 to 20 minutes. Do not stir during this time.
- Once the caramel has reached the appropriate color (careful not to let it continue cooking too long) remove from the heat. Carefully pour the cream into the pot while stirring vigorously.
- STAND BACK as you do this as the caramel and cream could pop and explode upwards.
- If the mixture is lumpy, place the caramel back over the heat, stirring constantly until the lumps have dissolved.
- Off of the heat add the butter and cinnamon. Stir until the butter is completely dissolved.
- Add the pecans to the bowl and stir until the mixture is evenly distributed.
- Pour the mixture into the baked pie shell. Let the mixture cool to room temperature then place it in the fridge for a couple hours to thicken and harden.
This recipe is dedicated to the memory of Kyle McNeely.