I cook often and bake rarely. So when I first posted about the NYT article on food and life which featured a beef stew and maple shortbread bars, I wholly expected myself to make only the beef stew and not ever get around to the shortbread bars.
Life and a thing called Mothers' Day intervened and I have since made the shortbread bars twice but have yet to make the beef stew - although I have high hopes that there will be pockets of free time in June for that recipe.
The shortbread bar recipe yields a buttery and ridiculously sweet dessert reminiscent of pecan pie but is unfortunately expensive to make in Singapore. Much of the cost comes from just two ingredients: maple syrup and pecans. Maple syrup is easily found in supermarkets (do not be fooled by the deceptively named maple flavoured syrup - it is not the same and will not taste the same) but I had to hunt for the pecans in specialty nut shops. Both turned out to be costly which is why this is not a recipe that will be in regular rotation in my house. If it hadn't been for mothers' day and a mother who loves pecan pie, I really might not have baked this a second time.
The upside is that this is a criminally easy recipe. Only the shortbread base requires a little work. My tip for those baking this in hot weather is to first cut the chilled butter into little cubes then freeze it for about ten minutes. Then instead of cutting the butter into the flour and sugar - a process I find near impossible in the tropics - simply place the lot into the bowl of a food process and process until the mixture resembles fine crumbs.
The recipe yields bars that taste somewhat like pecan pie - but my pecan pie loving mother was not fooled. 'Why does it look like that?' was her suspicious response to my offering. I had to explain that the pecans were there, just chopped up and that this wasn't really pecan pie but was very similar. Still she liked it and ate it which is a miracle since my mother is known to be the Pickiest Eater Alive.
I have also reduced the brown sugar by a third in the recipe below. Mr Grey and I were foolish enough to put in the entire amount called for the first time we baked this and the result was so tooth-achingly sweet, we couldn't bear to eat it. Diabetes inducing, a friend called it.
(The recipe was originally named Maple Shortbread Bars but good grief, if I'm going to shell out that much money for pecans then pecans are going into the name too.)
MAPLE PECAN SHORTBREAD BARS
Time: 55 minutes
For the crust:
2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, chilled
For the filling:
1 cup packed brown sugar
2/3 cup real maple syrup
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon maple extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups chopped pecans.
1. 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. If making this in the hot weather, see note above. Press into bottom and half an inch up the sides of a 9- by 13-inch baking pan. Bake 15 minutes, or until edges begin to brown. Cool on rack.
2. 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.
Yield: 39 bars.
Note: I omitted the maple extract, it being an ingredient that just could not be found in Singapore.