These pecan squares were one more item I baked for the bake sale, but they’re not just any pecan squares. This recipe originated at the Americana Hotel in Miami Beach, it found its way to Maida Heatter so she could include it in her first dessert book, and it appears again in the recently released paperback edition of Maida Heatter's Cookies. This book presents a collection of cookie recipes that were previously included in some of her other books, and I received a review copy. I first learned about Maida Heatter years ago in an issue of Saveur in which she was named The Queen of Cake. This quote from that story explains why I instantly became a fan: “A stranger from the Miami area once looked Maida up in the phone book and called her for help with a recipe that she just couldn't make work. ‘I may have been crazy, but I invited her over to show her how to make it.’ (It turned out that the lady had been using margarine instead of butter and omitting the sugar, Maida recalls—still sounding a bit annoyed.)” I not only became a fan, but I realized she writes the kind of recipes you can definitely trust, so long as you actually follow the recipes. She really wants the reader to get things right, and the instructions for these pecan squares are a perfect example of that. She explains the how's and why's carefully, and I once again really enjoyed learning from her while baking.
In the intro to this recipe, she notes that someone who attended one of her classes suggested the use of foil to line the pan to make removing the squares simpler. So, that is step one. The pan was lined with foil, and she explains the best way to do that. Then, the pan was placed in the freezer because spreading the dough on a cold pan is easier, and the dough will cling to it. While the pan chilled, the dough was made by mixing butter until softened, and then sugar was added followed by an egg, salt, and lemon zest. Flour was slowly added until the dough was formed. Next were the instructions for spreading the dough in the chilled pan. It’s explained that the dough should reach all the way up the sides of the pan to contain the pecan filling. The dough was to be placed bit by bit around the sides of the pan and across the bottom and then pressed out to form smooth, even surfaces. The dough was pierced with a fork before it was chilled in the refrigerator while the oven preheated. More details were included for baking the dough to be sure it baked flat and didn’t bubble up in places. For instance, if it puffed, you were instructed to prick it with a cake tester and not to let the dough win the battle. The dough was then removed from the oven while the filling was made. For the filling, butter was melted with honey, and then granulated and dark brown sugars were added and cooked to dissolve. After it came to a boil, it was removed from the heat and cream and pecans were added. It sat for a few minutes before being spooned into the prepared crust, and then the pan went back into the oven for another 25 minutes. There are also careful instructions for turning the whole sheet of bars, once cool, out of the pan removing the foil, and turning the sheet back right side up. After it was back to right side up, it was chilled before being cut.
Yes, these were a lot of specifics for simple cookie squares, but I like that she offers all of those tips from her experience. The crust came out exactly right, the filling worked perfectly, and pan removal and cutting went just as it should have. The lemon zest in the crust was a nice addition to the buttery flavor as was the honey in the filling. These were like little pecan pies in cookie form. And, now I have several more cookie recipes from the book to look forward to, and I know they'll turn out great.