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.

Caramel Pecan Bars
Recipe by:
  • 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
  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
  2. 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
  3. (this is done so the pie shell will retain its shape as it bakes).
  4. Bake the shell for 25 minutes, or until the parchment paper comes clean off the dough without tearing or pulling at it.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. STAND BACK as you do this as the caramel and cream could pop and explode upwards.
  10. If the mixture is lumpy, place the caramel back over the heat, stirring constantly until the lumps have dissolved.
  11. Off of the heat add the butter and cinnamon. Stir until the butter is completely dissolved.
  12. Add the pecans to the bowl and stir  until the mixture is evenly distributed.
  13. 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.

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AUTHOR - Russell van Kraayenburg

Food nerd. Cookbook author. Founder of Chasing Delicious. Pastry cook at Fluff Bake Bar. Lover of hot dogs. Russell van Kraayenburg founded Chasing Delicious in 2010 and has been chasing delicious recipes ever since. Russell is author of the cookbooks Haute Dogs and Making Dough.


  • SallyBR

    Beautiful post, beautiful tribute. I had a similar experience, that of not making the phone call, and postponing the email for a less busy time. I guess it doesn’t change the impact of that person in our life, but it colors it with a big of regret. That “I should have”.

    loved the recipe too…

    thanks for a beautiful post.

  • Stephanie

    Even without your normal flowery prose, your message and writing shines through. Thank you for being such an inspiration always, for Kyle, for me, and for everyone else.

  • shelly (cookies and cups)

    I love the story, even thought the ending was not as I had hoped…
    Truly inspirational.
    And these bars are inspiring in their own delicious way!
    Fortified caramel? I need to fortify my life!

  • Yvette Scholtz

    ..I had just such a friend, and last year December he also decided that time has come for him…still miss him and his ice blue eyes and quick laugh and always a “hello ‘vette’ “…so sad he didn’t choose life…

  • Amanda

    What a sweet story about your friendship. And these bars do indeed look amazing!

  • thelittleloaf

    Fortified caramel? I’m sold. These look a-mazing :-)

  • Alba

    Oh, Rusell, I can’t go on a diet if you keep posting these delicious things that I MUST try… :( It looks so amazing I can’t resist! Gorgeous photography as always. xo

  • Rachel @ My Naturally Frugal Family

    Beautiful post and beautiful dessert to remember him by. I am indeed sorry for your loss.

  • Isabelle @ Crumb

    Hugs to you, Russell, and to everyone else who had to say goodbye to Kyle. This is a beautiful tribute to a beautiful friendship.
    It’s sad that sometimes the most important lessons we learn in life are the ones we learn by losing someone precious.

  • Laura (Tutti Dolci)

    What a beautiful post and a touching tribute to your friend. I’m all for dessert first, beginning with these bars!

  • Kathryn

    Thank you for sharing such a beautiful post with us.

  • Sommer@ASpicyPerspective

    Russell, I’m so sorry you lost your friend. There are always life lessons in the ups and the downs of life.

    …I’m sure he would have loved these. :)

  • Martina C.

    Fall in love with this bars, at all. I simply adore caramel and pecan=) A-M-A-Z-I-N-G!=)

  • Martina C.

    sorry, little mistake: these bars…=P

  • kelly

    A truly wonderful read!!!! Thanks for sharing it.

  • Averie @ Averie Cooks

    They look so gooey and rich and perfect!

  • Caramel et Fleur de Sel

    Wonderful story… brought tears to my eyes. I lost my best friend, my mentor, and above all my mother 5 months ago. It’s still very painful …

  • Cassie

    I love your usual writing and, while this is a sad story, you tell it beautifully and it truly is a tribute to your friend! These bars are stunning too!

  • Anitra

    I always look forward to reading your emails and even though this one was sad it was very introspective. Thanks for sharing such an intimate story. My condolences to you and Kyle’s family.
    Thanks for always reaching around the glass! Your recipes are always inspiring.

  • Marcello Arena

    Russell sto piangendo, sono emozionato….bellissima torta!! ♥

  • Nessie @ baking=love

    So sorry to hear about your loss Russell. Your beautiful words and gorgeous desserts are a moving tribute to the special friendship you two shared. Big hugs to you.

  • Karen

    Your friend would have loved this post. It’s a great tribute. Now let’s all have a group hug and eat some fortified caramel.

  • Jenny

    Beautiful story, beautiful friendship and beautiful bars.

  • Alison @ Ingredients, Inc.

    oh i am loving these!!

  • Patty

    Russell, thank you for sharing this story. It really touched my heart. God bless.

  • Kiran @

    I’m so sorry for your loss, Russell. This is a very nice tribute for your dear friend, Kyle.

  • thyme (Sarah)

    I, too, share in your melancholy. Just returned from celebrating the life of someone very dear to me. She inspired me when I was most vulnerable and because of her, I went in directions that I couldn’t have imagined. Everyone comes into our lives for a reason…but it may take awhile to understand what it is…but it will come!

  • joey @ 80 Breakfasts

    Beautiful post! Bittersweet and lovely words…a nice tribute to a good friend. Thanks for sharing this…made me stop and think as well, of all the special people that have come into my life, the lessons I’ve learned from them, but most importantly the lessons I’ve learned from myself being with them…

    Gorgeous caramel pecan bars!! Can I come over now? :)

  • Joanne @ Fifteen Spatulas

    This was a really beautifully written post. I’m glad that you can take away something good from what is probably a painful thing to remember at times.

  • Carolyn

    Oh sweet Russell, you have a lovely way with words. This was such a touching read, and I am so sad to hear your friend is no longer in your life.
    And pecans and caramel? Make me weak at the knees.

  • Kiersten @ Oh My Veggies

    I’m sorry for your loss, Russell, and I’m sorry you didn’t have the chance to say everything you wanted to say to Kyle. It’s hard not to be burdened with regret when you lose someone you care about, but it sounds like you were there for him just as he was there for you and I’m sure he knew this.

  • Katie

    Such a real story, and the photos convey a mood to match….these look fantastic!

  • Shelly Westerhausen

    Beautiful photography! It’s making my mouth water just glimpsing at it! : ]

  • Amy @ fragrantvanillacake

    Yummalicious! These bars sound amazing. I don’t think anyone can resist pecans in gooey caramel a top a buttery crust. Sorry to hear about your friend, but what a wonderful tribute to him this post is!

  • Carrian@ohsweetbasil

    Thanks for sharing such a moving experience with us all, reminds me to cherish all of my relationships more. This dessert looks amazing!

  • Maria

    These are going to be very dangerous in my reach!

  • Sylvie @ Gourmande in the Kitchen

    What a bittersweet story, sounds like you each learned from the other in different ways, it’s heartbreaking that he never realized it.

  • Liren

    Russell, my heart ached as I read this post. Thank you for sharing your story, and Kyle, with us.

  • Joanna @ Chic & Gorgeous Treats

    I love bars, especially when made with nuts and caramel. This post is truly inspirational and a great reminder to us all. Stay in touch and have a good weekend ahead! cheers~

  • Jen @ Jen's Favorite Cookies

    Sometimes, you gotta grab all the ingredients and throw them in a bowl. I love how you think, Russell.

  • Lisa | With Style and Grace

    I’m so sorry for your loss. Beautiful words & tribute to him.

  • Michael Toa

    Hi Russell. What a beautiful tribute to Kyle. I am so sorry for your loss.
    The caramel pecan bars look fab. I could use a slice or two right now. Enjoy your weekend.

  • Stephanie

    So sorry for your loss, glad that you can look back and smile though.

    These bars sound amazing. They look like the sort of thing that I’d “try” to have only a small piece of but just end up eating most the the tart and then have to roll around on the floor with sugar related regrets

    portrait. of. dignity.

  • Riley

    Well… There goes anything that resembled a diet in my life!

  • Jenn and Seth

    this was such a beautiful post, so sorry for your loss!

    the caramel bars are absolutely gorgeous – i’ve never made caramel before, but i’m totally inspired to try these

  • Jeanette

    Thanks for sharing your story Russell – I love what you said – that “the only person that will inspire you, help you grow and make you truly happy is yourself” – so true. We, as human beings, are meant to connect with others, so your friend and you were blessed to have each other to learn from.

  • Justin

    What a touching story. Sorry for your loss. The caramel pecan bars look so delicious.

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  • vanillasugarblog

    normally i don’t comment but felt compelled to tell you how touching this story was.
    i had one of those friends’ too

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