Monday, November 15, 2010

Cranberry pecan caramel bars

Yesterday, to procrastinate working on a paper, I baked up a batch of these delectable bars (and now, to procrastinate more, I'm blogging about it). I found the recipe in The Gourmet Cookbook a few days ago, and couldn't wait to try it. The bars have a layer of buttery shortbread topped with caramel, cranberries, and pecans, and finished with a drizzle of chocolate. They're decadent and perfect for the holidays, especially because cranberries are in season right now. The tart cranberries keep things from getting too sweet, and the combination of flavors and textures is fantastic. I especially liked the way the slightly salty shortbread worked with the sweet-tart topping.

I experimented a bit with the shortbread, using a mixture of all-purpose, white whole wheat, and oat flour, which gave it a slightly complex, nutty flavor. I also scaled the recipe so that the bars would fit in a 9 x 13 inch pan, rather than a 10 1/2 x 15 1/2 (who has a pan that size with sides?). Sorry for the slightly odd measurements that resulted. But given how buttery and delicious these are, it's probably best for my waistline that I didn't make the full recipe...

One important note: Make sure you have all the ingredients ready before you start the caramel step. You don't want to end up panicking because the caramel is already boiling and the corn syrup lid is stuck closed and you haven't yet toasted the nuts or chopped the cranberries. Yeah..that happened. Andrew actually had to punch a hole through the top of the corn syrup jar for me. Just be organized and you'll avoid the stress!

Andrew and I are leaving for India in a week, and I probably won't be able to post again until we return in December. Have a happy Thanksgiving!

Cranberry pecan caramel bars
Adapted from The Gourmet Cookbook 
Makes 24 bars

For base
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup white whole wheat flour
1/4 cup oat flour
(Alternatively, you can just use 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour)
1/4 cup plus 2 tbs packed light brown sugar
3/8 tsp salt
9 tbs cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

For topping
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups white sugar
3 tbs light corn syrup (I used dark and it was fine)
3/8 tsp salt
1 heaping cup fresh or frozen (not thawed) cranberries, coarsely chopped
3/4 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/4 cup pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped

For decorating
1 1/2 ounces good bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened), finely chopped (I used semisweet chocolate chips)

Special equipment: candy thermometer

Make the base
Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 deg F. Line a 9 x 13 pan (with sides) with foil, leaving a 2-inch overhang on the short sides of the pan. Butter the sides but not the bottom of the foil-lined pan.

Combine flour, brown sugar, and salt in a food processor and pulse to blend. Add cubed butter and pulse until mixture forms small, pea-sized lumps. Spread into prepared pan, and press with a metal spatula to form an even layer.

Bake in preheated oven until golden and firm to the touch, about 15-17 minutes (this took  a few minutes longer for me) and then move pan to a rack.

Make topping
After base is done, melt butter in a 2 quart saucepan over moderate heat. Stir in sugar, corn syrup, and salt and bring to a boil. Cook, stirring occasionally, until caramel registers 245 deg F on a candy thermometer. Stir in cranberries and return to a boil. Cook until mixture returns to 245 deg F. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla, then stir in pecans until nuts are well coated with caramel.

Working quickly, spread caramel topping evenly over base. Cool completely.

When topping is completely cool, use foil to lift bars out of the pan onto a cutting board. Cut into 24 bars.

Decorate bars
Melt half of chocolate in a double boiler, or a metal bowl set over a pot of barely simmering water, stirring until smooth. (Alternatively, you can melt half of the chocolate in the microwave, using 50% power in 30-second intervals, stirring between intervals). Remove from heat and mix in remaining chocolate, stirring until smooth. Transfer chocolate to a heavy-duty Ziploc bag. Close bag and then cut off a tiny piece at one corner to form a small hole. Pipe chocolate decoratively (or haphazardly, in my case) over bars. Let bars stand at room temperature until chocolate sets (this took about 2 hours for me).

Bars can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week (with wax or parchment paper between layers). They also seem to freeze well.

1 comment:

  1. I will miss your blog but have a fantastic time in india! Be sure to lose Andrew in a crowded market one day and make him take public transportation home. I think that is an essential part of the experience.


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