This is less of a New Year’s resolution and more of a general resolution: to cook one new thing each week. I’m far from a beginning cook, but I’m far from an expert, too. I collect recipes from magazines, TV, and the internet and while I do try some of them, I find myself with numerous years-old recipes that I’ve yet to take a crack at. The goal here is simple – try one new recipe every week and share how it turns out. I expect there to be some great successes, as well as some miserable failures, and overall I expect to continue learning more and more about food. For me, that’s part of the fun of cooking. With each new thing, you learn something you didn’t know before and you become a better cook for it.
Here is my first recipe of the year: Bourbon Pecan Bars. This is based on a recipe that I found in the 2012 Cook’s Illustrated Christmas cookie edition, but with a couple changes. One is that I didn’t want to buy a bottle of corn syrup to use just 1/3 cup, so I found a substitution online that called for 1 cup of sugar dissolved in ¼ cup water – with 1/3 cup sugar, that calls for 1/12 cup water, or 4 teaspoons (6 teaspoons in one ounce = 8 ounces in a cup = 48 teaspoons in a cup and 1/12 of that is 4 teaspoons, hello fractions!). Alternately, I think maple syrup would have been a good substitution, but I didn’t have any of that either. The other change is that I wanted to up the bourbon flavor. The original recipe called for 1 tablespoon of bourbon and 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract. I used only one teaspoon of vanilla and put in an additional teaspoon of bourbon. I used Maker’s Mark, because it’s what I had on hand, but if I had a more highly vanilla-flavored bourbon, such as Maker’s 46 or Bulleit, I just would have used all bourbon.
The bars turned out nearly as fantastically as I hoped they would. I say “nearly” because they were oddly a little salty. The friends who ate them said the extra salt wasn’t an issue and that it gave the bars a salted caramel sort of taste. All the same, when I make these again I plan to use only ½ teaspoon each in the crust and the topping mix and see how that turns out.
Below is the recipe as I made it. Salt issues notwithstanding, these are a wonderful, easy alternative to pecan pie and I definitely plan on making them again.
Bourbon Pecan Bars
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar plus ½ cup packed
¼ cup pecans, toasted and chopped coarse, plus 1 ¾ cups, chopped coarse
1 ½ teaspoons salt
¼ teaspoon baking powder
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch pieces and chilled
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/3 cup granulated sugar
4 teaspoons water
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoons bourbon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg
Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350°. Make foil sling for 8-inch square baking pan. Grease aluminum foil.
Mix 1/3 cup granulated sugar, 4 teaspoons water, and 4 tablespoons butter in small pan and heat until butter is melted and sugar is dissolved. Let cool.
Pulse flour, 1/3 cup light brown sugar, ¼ cup toasted pecans, 1 teaspoon salt, and baking powder in food processor until combined, about 5 pulses. Sprinkle 6 tablespoons chilled butter on top and pulse until mixture resembles cornmeal, about 8 pulses. Sprinkle mixture into prepared pan and press into even layer. Bake crust until fragrant and beginning to brown, 20-24 minutes.
Meanwhile, whisk remaining ½ cup sugar, dissolved butter and sugar mixture, bourbon, vanilla extract, and remaining ½ teaspoon salt together in large bowl until sugar dissolves. Whisk in egg until combined. Spread filling evenly over hot crust and sprinkle with remaining 1 ¾ cups pecans. Bake until top is brown and cracks start to form across surface, 25-30 minutes, rotating pan halfway through baking. Let bars cool completely in pan on wire rack, about 2 hours. Using foil overhand, lift bars out of pan. Cut into 16 pieces.