Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Pecan Squares Americana

Pecan Squares Americana
Source: Maida Heatter's Book of Great Desserts (Andrews & McMeel Publishing, 1999 ed.), pg. 209. Also available in Maida Heatter's New Book of Great Desserts (Random House, 1993), page 332 and Maida Heatter's Cookies (Andrews & McMeel, 1997), page 100.

I'm just guessing but I would bet that pecan pie is one of the best-loved desserts ever. My mother loves it, Michael loves it and his aunt Berneice, who lives in Grenada, Mississippi, always requests it every year for Thanksgiving. I've already made the pecan pies and they are in the freezer. I wanted to do something different though and when I saw this recipe, I knew this was it.

This is one of Maida Heatter's signature recipes. It originated at the Americana Hotel in Miami Beach. She says that she teaches it in her classes because they are easy and everyone loves them. 

When I first read the directions for the pastry shell alone, I questioned this recipe being that easy. But, of course, she is right. It was not difficult at all and if you follow her step-by-step directions, I don't think you can go wrong.

Here is what you will need for the pastry shell, which is the bottom of the cookie:

8 oz. (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1/4 tsp. salt
Finely grated rind of 1 large lemon
3 cups sifted all-purpose flour

Butter a 15 1/2 x 10 1/2 inch jelly-roll pan and line it with aluminum foil so that the bottom of the pan and the sides are covered. (An easy way to do this is to turn the pan upside down and mold the foil over the pan creating a shell and then turn the pan back over and carefully place the foil inside). Do not butter the foil. Place the pan in the freezer while you prepare the dough.

Beat the butter until is smooth and add the sugar, mixing well. Beat in the egg, salt and lemon zest. Gradually add the flour until the mixture holds together (scrap down the bowl with a rubber spatula to be sure everything is incorporated).

This is the part that frightened me but there is nothing to it! Line the pan with the dough. Take rounded teaspoons of dough (a cookie scoop makes this very easy) and place them along the sides of the pan. Then add the remaining balls of dough throughout the pan placing them about 1/2 to 1 inch apart.

Now, press the balls of dough, beginning up the sides of the pan and then the bottom. Work out any thin spots and get it as even as you can.

Carefully prick the dough on the bottom of the pan at 1/2 inch intervals. Chill in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375. Bake for 20 minutes or until the edges are slightly colored and the bottom is pale but dry. Maida goes into a lot of detail about the dough slipping and/or puffing up. I kept an eye on it (as she instructed) but only noticed it puffing up in one area. If this happens, prick it with a fork and it should subside. If the dough slips down the edges (which it didn't do with me), press it back with your fingertips (just don't burn yourself!). Prepare the topping as the pastry cools.

Pecan Topping


8 oz. (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 cup plus 2 TBS dark brown sugar, firmly packed
1/4 cup heavy cream
20 oz. (5 cups) pecan halves or large pieces

In a heavy 3 quart saucepan over moderately high heat, cook the butter and honey, stirring occasionally, until the butter is melted. Add both sugars and stir to dissolve. Bring to a boil and let it boil for 2 minutes without stirring.

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the heavy cream and then the pecans. Wait 5 minutes. Place the pecans evenly over the crust with a slotted spoon. Drizzle the remaining mixture over the pecans. Even out the pecans to fill in any thin spots. It will appear that there isn't enough of the syrupy mixture but it will expand and fill in during baking.

Bake at 375 for 20-25 minutes. Cool to room temperature.

After it has completely cooled, cover with a large rack or another cookie sheet and turn it over. Carefully removed the pan and the foil. Cover again with a rack or cookie sheet and turn it back over. Chill in the refrigerator. After it has chilled, remove it from the refrigerator, transfer to a cutting board and use a long, sharp knife to cut it into squares (the size of the bars is strictly up to you!). Enjoy!


Carol said...

These--I'm gonna try. I love pecans! Carol

Heather said...

These were amazing! I have to admit that I ate more than my fair share of these at Thanksgiving. It was nice visiting with you and Michael.

Phillip Oliver said...

Thanks Heather! It was great seeing your family as well. Did you get any of the photos I took of you? If not, let me know and I will send them to you.

Anonymous said...

I've done these for years - my book fell apart, so thanks for this recipe! I also melt semisweet chocolate, fill a sandwich bag, cut a teeny triangle off a corner, and drizzle the cut bars. Looks great!

Phillip Oliver said...

That sounds like a great tip!

Larry Smith said...

I worked for a caterer who used this recipe and it is fabulous and addictive. I'm not a sweets person or really a pecan person but I crave these. Its been 20 years since I made them and I just looked up th recipe if that tells you anything. Don't skip the lemon zest in the crust. It makes all the difference!