Vanilla Essence and Shortbread with Gooey Pecans
This is how it happens:
Martine and I post every Tuesday and Thursday. There was no complicated matrix behind the decision and no advisors who weighed in on the best day to write. No stars aligned for the days of the week. We just figured we should each pick a day and stick to it. So Tuesday became Martine’s day and Thursday became mine. Unless, of course, one of us happens to throw a surprise 40th birthday party for their husband the night before their posting day and they miss deadline… but that’s another story.
And we sometimes, but don’t always, talk about what we are going to do on our designated day. We might have an idea what the other is going to cook but we are sometimes also surprised by the other’s posting. For instance, and I’ll admit this to you now, I missed the six months that Martine moved to Germany until I read her recipe for shredded pork leg. I have no idea how. I have no idea where I was living or why she and I didn’t discuss it. How did I not know? Did we REALLY not speak for 6 months? What about the lead up? Where in the world was I? Anyway, sometimes the posts catch us off guard. Like that one.
But sometimes we do know what the other is going to post. This week, for instance, I knew that she had been reading Chef John Besh’s book Cooking from the Heart and that she wanted to make a recipe from it. She knew that I had just opened my Besh Box (www.beshbox.com) so she knew I was excited about that. So that is how we proclaimed it Besh Week.
The inaugural Besh Box (if you don’t know what that is look here) contained, among other super treats, two very plump vanilla beans and a 1 lb bag of Inglewood Pecans. Very exciting when you are in baking season and you keep a stash of butter at room temperature at all times. I was mulling over my options when I came across Linda Lomelino’s gorgeous Instagram photographs of homemade vanilla essence. (I admit I had NO idea you could make vanilla essence. I thought it was mined.) That immediately inspired me to turn my vanilla beans into a killer cocktail ingredient for the spring.
And after that decision the pecans still needed a home. Since I had a lot of butter that needed to be used I decided to try a take on Ina Garten’s Pecan Bars. I actually combined two of her recipes for my adaptation — The Contessa makes the very, very best raspberry bars and I prefer the shortbread crust she uses on that to the shortbread she uses for her pecan bars. So that’s one of the differences. The other is that I added a splash of orange juice to the gooey pecan mixture to add a little more depth.
I’ll give you an update on the vanilla in two months. The pecan bars…well…they lasted about 2 minutes so I think that’s a pretty good indicator.
- 2 vanilla beans
- dark rum
- Cut the vanilla bean in half, lengthwise.
- Place one and a half bean (so 3 halves) into a glass container. Fill with vodka.
- Place a half of a vanilla bean into a small glass container. Fill with dark rum.
- Put aside somewhere and don't touch it for 2 months.
- 4 sticks (453 grams) unsalted butter at room temperature
- 1 1/2 cup (300g) sugar
- 1 teaspoon (5ml) vanilla extract
- 4 1/2 cups (462g) all purpose flour
- 1/4 teaspoon (pinch) salt
- 4 sticks (453g) unsalted butter
- 1 cup (236 ml) honey
- 3 cups (600g) light brown sugar, lightly packed
- 1 teaspoon (5ml) grated lemon zest
- 1 teaspoon (5ml) grated orange or lime zest
- 1/4 cup (60ml) heavy cream
- 2 lbs (900g) pecans, some chopped, some whole
- Beat the butter and sugar in a standing mixer for about 3 minutes, until very light. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat for another 30 seconds, scraping down the sides of the mixer. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together, then add to the butter mixture slowly with the mixer on slow.
- Press the dough into an 18x12x1 inch baking pan creating a lip or an edge around the outer section. It is okay if the dough is super sticky at this point.
- Bake for 15 minutes (crust should not brown), remove from oven and let cool.
- Combine butter, honey, brown sugar and zests in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat until the butter is melted, stirring frequently. Once butter is melted, raise the heat to high and bring to a boil for 3 minutes. Then remove from heat, add the heavy cream and stir.
- Add the pecans, mix well.
- Pour pecan mixture evenly over the crust.
- Bake for 25-30 minutes until the pecan mixture sets. Remove from oven and allow to set -- preferably over night.
- This recipe makes an enormous portion! Great for holidays.