Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Meet You at the [Pecan] Bar!

Hey there people! For today's adventure we enter the mythical world of bars. I had to make a shareable dessert for a coworker's going away party. I originally was thinking cookies but I just did that so time to think outside the box. Well, kind of still a box because I landed on bars. I started out thinking I'd make caramel pecan turtle bars but I didn't have any heavy cream and I legitimately hadn't been to the supermarket since the last time I baked. Oh well, pecan bars it is! This recipe comes from the good ol' American Test Kitchen Baking book. If I'm not mistaken, I've never made a bad recipe from that book. I'm sure if I'm incorrect, someone will correct me but it's a generally dependable way to go. Onward!

Step 1: Foil sling the pan with the still magical tin foil method. Then I greased the pan with some PAM. Then I fell asleep. Oops.

So now I appear to have upped the difficulty level. I now had to complete a baking project by noon while actively participating in conference calls. No problem, right? Ok, back to step 1. Oh wait, that step is still already done! I'm so ahead of the game. Next step is to toast a bunch of pecans. I needed some for the crust and some for the filling, just like making a pecan pie. So into the oven went the pecans. I was supposed to be shaking the pan every few minutes but I was on a call so let's face it: that just didn't happen. However, I was watching the clock closely so started working on everything else while they toasted. Fortunately, America's Test Kitchen always has my limited time in mind so I was directed to melt the butter for the filling while the pecans were toasting to allow the butter time to cool. How clever.

Time to start on the crust. I decided to actually use my food processor for once instead of cutting in the butter by hand. So I tossed in the flour, brown sugar, salt, and baking powder and then sat around waiting for the pecans to finish toasting. And I'm waiting. And I'm waiting. C'mon, pecans, I'm working with a tight deadline here! Ok, they're done. Tossed those in too and pulsed "about 5 pulses" which seemed oddly specific. Especially considering the next direction was to toss in the chilled butter and pulse for "about 8 pulses." Is there that big a difference between 5 and 8 pulses? Is there someone at America's Test Kitchen testing 6 and 9 pulses and then doing a taste test comparison? These are questions that I need answers to!

Press the crust firmly into the prepared pan with your fingers and bake for 20-24 minutes. Sheesh, seems like a long time considering the filling will have to bake too. Starting to get nervous about the time. Oh well, I guess I can make the filling while I wait. Good thing the calls this particular morning were more "listening" meetings than "participation" meetings. Only downside is that when you're actively listening to meetings while baking, you tend to have to check the measurements 5 or 6 times because you keep forgetting what the actual measurements are. So putting together the filling took a while. But it was pretty easy. Just whisk together some brown sugar, corn syrup, melted butter, vanilla, salt, egg, and bourbon. Hey, why is so much of the bourbon gone? I barely had enough for the recipe!

By now, the crust was done and I poured in the filling, sprinkled the rest of the pecans on the top, and stuck it back in the oven. For 25-30 minutes. For those keeping track, I've already been baking this for about an hour. I was supposed to let it bake until there were cracks on the top but it was browning and a toothpick came out clean so I declared them done. Ok, so remove from oven and let cool in pan for TWO HOURS??? I really should read recipes before I start them. So, this is only a minor problem. If I let them cool for two hours, then I'll have approximately five minutes to cut them and get to the party. Hmm. Negotiating with myself, I opted to try cutting them after about an hour and a half. I have a foil sling, how bad could it be?

So I'm waiting. And I'm waiting. And, dear God, these things smell amazing. I am literally salivating in my living room smelling these from the kitchen. I keep going back to check on them to see if they're cool yet (they're not) and every time I walk into the kitchen, I salivate a little bit more. Still waiting.

Ok, enough time has passed! Well, not really, but I'm starting to feel the time pressure. So I lift the foil sling out of the pan, put it on a cutting board, and try to get the foil off. The operative word being "try". As I started to peel the foil off the sides, I could see the middle of the bars straining and cracking. Which means it's about to become a collapsed mess. My clue should have been that the center was still warm to the touch. Dammit, back into the pan to hold its shape and cool longer.

Now I'm getting really fidgety. I gave it an extra 20 minutes to cool (for those keeping track, I've now been dealing with these things for about three hours) and tried again. This time I was extra super gentle trying to peel off the foil. Pecan bars are sticky, didja know? Finally, the bars were free from their foil prison. Ooooh, and a little bit got stuck on the foil that I can just peel off and taste and - DEAR GOD, THESE ARE AMAZING! It was freakin' heavenly. These are so good that my immediate reaction was "Screw the party, I'm keeping all of these to eat by myself and I'm telling no one, not even my husband, about these and when he comes home and asks what smelled so good in the kitchen I'll just tell him 'nothing, the dog ate it!' [We don't have a dog.]" But that would be a bit extreme, right? Yeah, that's what I thought too. But I really wanted to.

Resigned to the fact that I would have to share, I started cutting up the phenomenal bars into bite-size pieces. Oh, did I mention that this recipe only makes an 8 inch pan worth of bars? Yeah, so it didn't look like very much to bring to a party. The recipe was supposed to yield 16 bars. That was clearly nonsense. I cut them into about 64 pieces. For mathy math geniuses, that's about 1 inch square pieces. Just small enough to pop into your mouth in one bite. I brought 61 of those to the party. Three of them might have just fallen into my mouth while I was plating them. Not sure how that happened. But here are the pretty little beauties before and after cutting:

More pictures than usual but they're just so beautiful! And yes, I did eat everything that fell on that cutting board. Clearly, these little bites of heaven were gone in no time further solidifying my reputation as a super awesome statistician baker!

A Disney Moment: Wreck-It Ralph

Loved it. I'm really really really torn on the rankings in this group. Mostly because I watched them so far apart and we're in one of those new Disney Renaissances. So I'm going with a gut ranking for now and might rewatch this and the other three before my next blog post. I'm going to go ahead and call this one 1/5.

Here's why: the details. In this era of Disney films they are paying so much attention to the world-building. This is true of Big Hero 6 and Zootopia as well but there was something so charming about diving back into all of these old video games. I'm not even a big gamer so a lot of the references were completely lost on me but I feel like I see something new on each viewing.

And the story is the other thing that knocks this into first place for me. The story is more moving than I would expect. When Ralph smashes the car, it's legitimately heartbreaking. But otherwise, the story is just a lot of fun. A generally well-done film overall. And I find myself turning it on when it's on TV so that's another point in its favor.