Pie To Go: Chocolate-Chip Nut Bars

Chocolate Chip Walnut Bars

Thanksgiving!  Parties!  Christmas Dinners!  New Year’s Day feasts!  Usually by this point in the year I have, oh, several hundred holiday dessert recipes bookmarked, but this year I’m feeling oddly uninpsired (although it’s still early yet– I might get get over it (I’ll probably get over it)).  Instead of finding a trendy ingredient or an elegantly over-complicated version of some show-stopping dessert, I can’t seem to get good old-fashioned pecan pie out of my mind.  The colder, darker evenings at this time of year always make me faintly nostalgic for the woodstove and warm blankets from my childhood house, and in turn I’m feeling nostalgic for one of the first grown-up desserts I ever had: pecan bourbon pie.  Pumpkin pie and cheesecake and other classic holiday desserts seem heavy and gloppy to me right now: I want a sliver something with a bit of crunch, something salty-sweet, maybe even something with a hint of booze to end my evening.

This year I’ll be in New York for Thanksgiving, celebrating with friends, so rather than make one large cake or pie, I decided to think about creating a travel-friendly, easily-shared version of the beloved classic.  This weekend I did a test-run, and as I had an oddly large stash of walnuts, I swapped in walnuts for the classic pecans.  I added chocolate chips, becuase DUH, and I swapped Irish whisky in for the bourbon, because that’s what I had in the liquor cabinet.  This recipe is pretty user friendly: I’ll provide the ingredients and amounts I used, but feel free to make it your own!  Don’t like walnuts or pecans?  Try hazelnuts or peanuts!  Don’t want chocolate cloying things up?  Leave out the chocolate chips!  Don’t like bourbon or whisky, or want something booze-free?  Add or leave out any kind of spirit you want!  We’ve all been there: you’ve been cooking for hours, and you’re on your last holiday recipe, and you realize you have to go to the grocery store yet AGAIN.  My mother, bless her, went the grocery store about two or three times in a single day last year.  It got to the point where I’d be cooking along, and she’d see me freeze and my face fall, and she’d reach for her wallet and coat.  Sorry Mom!  Hopefully you can wing these with ingredients you already have on hand and wind up with a caramelly-nutty-chocolatey-confectionary-style deliciousness served on a shortbread crust, no melting of sugar or chilling of pastry dough required.

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Chocolate-Chip Nut Bars
(adapted, barely, from Martha Stewart)

For the shortbread crust:

1 c. (2 sticks, 8 oz.) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 c. packed brown sugar (either light or dark will work)
1/2 tsp. salt
3 c. all-purpose flour
2 tbsp. Nocello, a walnut-flavored liqueur (this is SUPER optional; I just had some leftover from a previous baking project.  If you use it, add an additional tablespoon or two of flour.  PS- it’s CRAZY DELICIOUS; if you add it to hot chocolate or beat it into whipped butter and spread it on waffles or pancakes you will be a happy camper)

For the nut filling:

1/2 c. (1 stick, 4 oz.) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 c. packed brown sugar
1/4 c. plus 2 tbsp. honey
2 tbsp. granulated sugar
2 tbsp. heavy cream
1/4 tsp. salt
2 c. walnuts or pecan halves, toasted
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4 c. chocolate chips (optional)
3 tbsp. bourbon, Irish Whisky, or spirit of your choice (optional)
sea salt, for finishing (optional)

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For the crust:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.  Grease a 9 x 13″ baking pan.  Beat the butter and brown sugar together in an electric mixer on medium-high speed until well-mixed and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes.  Mix in the salt.  Add the flour one cup at a time, beating well after each addition, stopping the mixer every once in a while to scrape down the sides of the bowl.  The mixture should form a slightly crumbly dough.  Press the dough into the prepared pan and smooth evenly to about 1/4″ thick.  Prick the dough all over with a fork so that steam can escape.  Chill the dough for 20 minutes until firm, then bake in preheated oven for 18-20 minutes until golden brown.  Allow to cool completely at room temperature.

For the filling:

Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.  Combine the butter, brown sugar, honey, granulated sugar, and heavy cream in a medium saucepan.  Cook over medium-high heat, stirring until butter is melted and sugar dissolves, then bring to a boil.  Allow the mixture to boil for about 1 minute, stirring constantly, then remove from heat.  Stir in the salt, nuts, vanilla extract, and bourbon (if using).

Sprinkle the chocolate chips across the cooled crust, then pour the warm walnuts (or pecans) over the crust, spreading evenly.  Sprinkle with a pinch of grated sea salt, if desired.  Bake for 18-20 minutes, then allow to cool completely at room temperature before slicing (otherwise you will have an incredibly gooey mess).  Slice into bars and serve, possibly accompanied by ice cream?  That sounds right to me.

Chocolate Chip Nut Bars

*****

Fall and Winter tend to be my favorite seasons: I love the crisp chill in the air, I love the clothes, I love the feeling of wrapping up in a blanket, and I love it when the cats get cold and decide they need to snuggle me ALL THE TIME.  This year has seen some really lovely autumnal pieces, but I really like the unusual bronze colors I’ve seen this year.  The Eveden brands in particular seem to have really gotten into the spirit, with Freya’s glittering Ooh La La collection and Elomi’s gorgeous Imogen collection.  For our lingerie pairing, I present to you the Fan-Tastic set by Freya, just released this month.

Fan-Tastic plunge balcony bra and thong by Freya, available in sizes 28 D-GG, 30 D-H, 32-36 B-H, and 38 B-G.  Thong, Short, and Brief in sizes XS-XL.

Fan-Tastic plunge balcony bra and thong by Freya, available in sizes 28 D-GG, 30 D-H, 32-36 B-H, and 38 B-G. Thong, Short, and Brief in sizes XS-XL.

I love the unusual bronze/black stripes, paired with a whimsical fan print that almost looks like falling Autumn leaves.  I really kind of wish they’d committed more to the potential for silliness here, instead of making everything so relatively subdued.  Come on, to me, fans and bronze/black stripes SCREAM 19th century old-timey saloon hall.  I’d love to have some ruffles or oversized silk bows or woven ribbon or a suspender belt or something a little more playful, maybe even a longline bra or a basque.  Go full steampunk on us, Freya!

I also wish the campaign images from this season didn’t exclusively feature models who look at best like they’re bored and at worst like they’re stoned.  Or sick with the flu.  Lingerie is fun, you guys!

Freya Fantastic Campaign image

Seriously, she could not look more displeased with her underwear.

Nevertheless, it’s a nicely sophisticated color scheme for Freya, available in the same padded half cup and plunge balcony shapes as the popular “Patsy” style.   Fan-Tastic is available at Figleaves and Nordstrom.

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