Well, here it is Thanksgiving already and plans are underway for a family get-together, not at the cottage on Lac Sam, in the Gatineau hills, where we often go for one last look at the lake and splendid fall colours, but here in the city, at my sister’s house, where a huge swing set has just been erected in the back yard for all the young ones to play on. (How’s that for an opening sentence?)
My contribution to our pot-luck feast is a vegetable dish to be determined, and a dessert. I did buy two small pie pumpkins a week ago thinking I’d make pies, but this being a busy time of year, when boilers need replacing, windows need washing, and the garden needs tidying, I’m considering alternatives. I’ll make something with those pumpkins when things settle down.
These Maple Shortbread Bars, from Regina Schrambling in the New York Times, might be just the thing. Who can resist the combination of pecans and maple syrup over a soft shortbread base? They taste like pecan pie, rich and gooey, but are easier to put together. And as part of a dessert table with other offerings, they can feed a lot of people.
I’ve made nut bars before and am not fond of the kind that call for corn syrup, poison that it is, or a topping that requires cooking on the stove before being baked in the oven. Too many steps. These bars call for pure maple syrup, which is natural and unrefined and practically a health food. And, after mixing the filling ingredients together and pouring the mixture over the base, the pan goes straight into the oven.
I made this recipe exactly as stated in the original except I left out the maple extract – they’re plenty maple-y without it. I also baked both steps for 5-10 minutes longer than instructed (my changes are reflected in the recipe), but note that my oven is old and the temperature may not be accurate. Be sure to cool these bars completely before cutting into them; in fact, refrigerating the pan for a little while to firm up the middle is a good idea. They freeze well, if you want to make them in advance.
- 2 cups flour
- ½ cup sugar
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2 sticks unsalted butter, chilled
- 1½ cups packed brown sugar
- ⅔ cup real maple syrup
- 2 eggs
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 teaspoon maple extract (optional)
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2 cups coarsely chopped pecans
- Heat oven to 350 degrees F. For crust, combine flour, sugar and salt in a bowl. Cut butter into slices, and cut in with pastry blender or 2 knives until mixture is crumbly. Or, combine flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine. Add butter cut into pieces, and process until mixture is crumbly. Press into bottom and half an inch up the sides of a 9- by 13-inch baking pan. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until edges begin to brown. Cool on rack.
- For filling, combine all ingredients except pecans, and mix until smooth. Pour into cooled crust. Distribute nuts evenly over top. Bake 30 minutes, or until filling is set. Cool on a rack before cutting.