The Gut Buster

Eating good, healthy food is an admirable goal. It’s a really good goal.

Sometimes though, it’s just. so. dang. hard. Ya feel me?

Exhibit A: three sticks of butter. When does that ever make sense? Well, a lot of times, that’s when. Just ask Joy the Baker, or Bon Appetit magazine, or Paula Deen, or my Aunt Faye. They’ll tell ya the truth about butter.

Exhibit B: bourbon and homemade vanilla extract? These make sense practically all the time, and I’m not even joking. They are much less problematic than those sticks o’ butter.

Exhibit C: pe-cans? coconut? These are problems, too. I grew up shelling pe-cans, eating ice cream full of pe-cans, pies loaded with them (and not just Thanksgiving day, either), and almost everything sweet is better with pe-cans.

Coconut? Well, I even like coconut in my hair, so I think I don’t need to say anything more here.

So let’s imagine a utopia where all of these things existed at one time. Let’s imagine that such a place was fat-free, calorie-free, and just as tasty. But truthfully, that isn’t the case, as we all know. Truthfully, some things are just meant to bust your gut.

These bars are those things. I can’t even begin to warn you about how ridiculous they are, how sweet and rich and heavy and butter-laden they are. How much they remind me of every Southern pe-can pie I’ve ever eaten, which is to say that they are a-freaking-mazing, each and every little gram of fat contained in them. Which, if you haven’t noticed, is probably a lot.

But some things are worth a splurge. Like maple cheesecake. Red velvet cake. Homemade Oreos (yep!). Rhubarb-Cornmeal tarts.  And now, these: ooey, gooey, buttery “bars” that taste just like your favorite Southern woman’s pe-can pie.

Go ahead, bust a gut. Or three.

Pecan Pie Bars
Adapted from The Pastry Queen; makes 2 1/2 dozen bars

time commitment: 2 hours (includes 1 hour cooling time)

printable version

ingredients
crust
1 1/2 c (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 c firmly packed brown sugar
4 c all purpose flour
1 t salt

filling
8 large eggs
6 c firmly packed brown sugar
1/4 c bourbon
6 T unsalted butter, melted
2 T vanilla extract
1 c all purpose flour
1 t salt
2 c unsweetened flaked coconut
2 c pecan halves

instructions
Preheat oven to 350 F.

Using a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter in a large bowl on medium speed (about 1 minute). Add the sugar and beat about 1 minute, until fluffy. Add the flour and salt; mix on low speed until evenly incorporated but still crumbly. Press the mixture evenly over the bottom of the prepared pan (I used a 9×13″ pan and used about 2/3 of the mix, but the recipe itself calls for 12×17″ pan but I didn’t have one that big. You could probably divide the mixture between two 8×8″ pans as well and just adjust the baking times accordingly and watch more carefully). Bake the crust for 15 to 20 minutes, until it has darkened to a deep golden brown. Leave the oven at 350.

Meanwhile, prepare the filling. Whisk the eggs and sugar in a large bowl until blended. Stir in the bourbon, butter, vanilla, flour, and salt, then the coconut and pecans. Once the crust is parbaked, pour the filling over the crust, spreading evenly. Bake until set, 25 to 30 minutes (mine baked longer, like 40 minutes, since I poured all of the mix into a smaller pan, resulting in less “surface area” to bake). Cool thoroughly, at least 1 hour. Once cool flip over on wax paper to cut into 3-inch squares or diamonds. (Yields about 2 1/2 dozen bars)

Way Overdue

I don’t pretend to pay too much attention to what goes on around here. Oblivious? Well, no. But truthfully, I more or less talk about whatever recipe is on my mind without so much as a thought about whether it’s been pasta overload or slim pickin’s in the sweet category, or you know, more of that.

But for once, I actually did do that. Think, I mean. And this resulted: we are way overdue to talk about macaroons.

Not to be confused with the adorable macaron, these here morsels of goodness are feisty while the French similarly-spelled-but-that’s-it treats are graceful. Macarons are intimidating, what with their folding and piping and turning on and off of the oven; macaroons can be made in one’s sleep, or while intoxicated, or both. Macarons are a tease, but macaroons are, well, easy.

I can’t imagine a macaroon without shredded coconut, but I can envision exactly 10,148 ways of flavoring macarons.

Of course, macaroons aren’t meant for the days when you’re feeling creative, and they certainly aren’t meant for the days when you want to spend hours in the kitchen concocting your best dessert production yet. What they’re meant for are the other times – the most of the times, days filled with other obligations and pantries containing only a few random ingredients.

Let’s face it: we all like a few challenges in life, but at the end of the day, these little things, treats that are always way overdue, these are the ones we appreciate the most, aren’t they?

Coconut Macaroons w/ Chocolate Drizzle
adapted loosely from Epicurious; makes  ~2 dozen

time commitment: 1 hour, including cooling time

printable version

ingredients
2 egg whites
2 T sugar
1/2 t vanilla extract
kosher salt
1 1/2 c sweetened flaked coconut
1 c dark or semi-sweet chocolate chips

instructions
put oven rack in middle position and preheat to 300 F. line baking sheet with parchment paper.

stir together egg white, sugar, vanilla, and a pinch of salt until combined, then stir in coconut. divide mixture into small mounds, dropping onto baking sheet about 2 inches apart from one another.

bake until tops are pale golden in spots, ~15 minutes, then carefully lift parchment and macaroons and place on baking rack to cool completely (they will harden more at this point), about 15 minutes.

meanwhile, dump chocolate chips into a microwavable bowl. zap in microwave on 50% power in 30 second intervals, stirring between each zap, until chocolate chips are melted and smooth. dip a fork into the melted chocolate and wave it over the macaroons, so as to sling the chocolate onto them. coat until you’re happy, and let the chocolate dry over the macaroons before eating. (Alternatively, you could dip these in chocolate in place of or in addition to drizzling chocolate. Just sayin’.)