Pecan Maple Bars
Now that we've passed Groundhog Day and the weather is slowly turning from snow to "stuff" and then to rain, it's time to start thinking of spring. In parts of Michigan and Indiana, it's also sugar time for maple and birch tree farmers.
Sugaring is the practice of tapping maple and birch trees for sap. The sap is gathered, the excess water cooked out of it by slowly simmering it over low heat, and the thick, sticky substance left over is maple or birch syrup. If the syrup is jarred and refrigerated, it crystallizes into sugar. It takes 40 gallons of maple sap to produce one gallon of syrup, which accounts for the high price of the genuine stuff. But that price is well worth it when you add this flavorful sweetener to dishes such as baked beans, smoked bacon or pecan maple bar cookies.
These cookies are a fusion of pecan pie filling and a shortbread crust. Using maple syrup instead of dark corn syrup to sweeten the filling adds a different dimension to the traditional pecan pie flavor. You still get the gooey crunch of a traditional pecan pie, supported nicely by a very rich shortbread. Use your food processor to make the crust - it's much easier to "pulse" the shortening into the flour base than it is to use a pastry cutter, and the results are a lot more uniform.
|Use the parchment to lift the entire cookie out of the pan before cutting.|
Cut these into bite sized bars. There is enough sugar in each one to fuel a sugar high for an entire cub scout pack, so a little piece goes a long way.
Pecan Maple Bars
2 c. all purpose flour
1/2 c. sifted confectioner's sugar
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
2/3 c. vegetable shortening
3 whole eggs
1/2 c. packed light brown sugar
1/3 c. granulated sugar
1 c. pure maple syrup
2 tbsp. melted unsalted butter (no substitutes)
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 c. chopped pecans
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 13 x 9 baking pan with a large sheet of parchment paper; there should be enough overhang to create a "handle" for lifting the baked product out of the pan in one piece.
In a medium bowl, whisk together all dry ingredients. Place into bowl of food processor. Add vegetable shortening by tablespoons, pulsing after each addition. When all the shortening has been added, pulse an additional 10 times to fully coat the dry ingredients with shortening.
Pour the crust into the prepared pan, and use a spatula or back of a wooden spoon to spread evenly over the parchment paper. The texture of this mixture will resemble fine sand. Gently press the crust into place. Bake for 15 minutes, remove from oven and allow to cool on a cooling rack.
While the crust cools, prepare the filling. Crack eggs into a large bowl. Whisk gently, then add sugars. Whisk together until sugar is dissolved and evenly distributed. Stir in maple syrup and vanilla, then fold in pecans.
Pour filling mixture onto cooled crust. Return to the oven for 25 - 30 minutes, or until filling is set. Allow to cool completely before removing from pan and cutting. Makes 52.
NOTE: Walnuts can be substituted for pecans, if desired.