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)

To Bathe in Sugar

Have you ever been to a Mexican wedding? I haven’t, but if I did, I’d sure hope to see these cookies.

I’m not sure why, but small round balls of nutty dough rolled in confectioners’ sugar seem to be all the rage at weddings, or at least that’s what their name says. Do they even have these cookies at weddings?

When I was a kid, my favorite cookies were stocked high on the top shelf of Food Lion, near the graham crackers and the Fig Newtons. The packaging was simple, but eye-catching at the same time. It was bright Barbie pink, and unlike a lot of cookies on the shelves that came in plastic trays (Oreo and Chips A’hoy!, I’m talking at you!), these were stored in a paper bag, although now I’m pretty certain they’ve switched to a tall box.

They were also messy – they must have been bathed in a ginormous vat of powdered sugar, maybe three or four times just to make sure there was enough sticking to the cookie. You took one out of the bag and the cookie’s sugar coating went all over the place – like the flour in the jar that you always seem to get everywhere, despite your slow, purposeful movements of the cup into the bowl. These cookies were nearly impossible to eat on the sneak, and for that reason I usually just ate the whole bag at once in an effort to only get into trouble for sneaking cookies one time.

To be honest, I’m not quite sure why there are so many different types of these cookies from all different countries. The name I grew up eating was Danish Wedding Cookies, the recipe I adapted from here was called Mexican Wedding Cookies, and there are also Swedish and Italian versions, probably Argentinian and Fijian too, for all I know. The recipes all seem pretty much the same, so why can’t we just call them “Wedding Cookies”? And why are they called Wedding Cookies anyway? Like I said, I’ve never seen them at a wedding… but maybe I’ve just been to the wrong nuptial ceremonies.

Regardless of what you decide to call them, I can’t believe I’m confessing that this is the first time I’ve ever made them. Furthermore, I haven’t purchased a pink bag or box of these cookies in years, probably even more than a decade ago, which makes me really feel ancient right about now. I’ll also confess this: now that I have made them, I can pretty much guarantee these are the easiest cookies ever to throw together. Christmas cookie swap, anyone?

Danish weddings? Mexican weddings? What the hell ever. I’m just gonna call them Wedding Cookies, and leave all the countries out of it. I don’t really care where they come from, to be honest. I just know that I should have saved a handful of them instead of taking them all to work last week. But no worries – I’m sure there are many more a cookie to be had in the next few weeks.

Happy Holidays!

Wedding Cookies
Adapted from Lottie + Doof; makes ~50 cookies

time commitment: under an hour (most inactive – baking and cooling)

printable version

ingredients
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temp
1/2 c confectioners’ sugar, plus more for rolling
3 T maple syrup
1 t vanilla extract
1/4 t salt
zest of half an orange
1/2 t chipotle chile powder
2 c all purpose flour
1 1/2 c g pecans

instructions
preheat oven to 350 F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

in the bowl of a mixer, combine butter and sugar and mix until combined and creamy. add maple syrup, vanilla, salt, orange zest, and chile powder and mix until combined. add flour and pecans and mix until fully incorporated.

roll cookies into 1-inch balls and place about 1 inch apart on baking sheets. bake ~14 minutes, remove and let cool completely. toss in confectioners’ sugar to coat completely.