Potato Chips, fruity and hard candies, twirly sugar sticks, chewy caramels, salty pretzels and raw nuts were not my childhood friends. Among the most offending taste were raw nuts. The taste of peanuts are what I image wood to taste like, but I love peanut butter. And, I will never understand people’s obsession with salted sunflower seeds as they spit speckled shells onto subway train floors. Then there’s the pecans. They’re a different nut.
It was Uncle Johnny who introduced me to the sweet taste of pecans. During the summer and Thanksgiving holidays, my family and I would drive a few hours to Uncle Johnny and Aunt Ann’s house in New Jersey. After one of Aunt Ann’s grand dinners, Uncle Johnny would take me for a walk through the woods that surrounded their house in a sparsely populated neighborhood. I really don’t remember our conversations, because I may have been too young to carry one. Maybe it was meant to be a quiet walk taken at sunset. What I do remember were the pecans in their smooth shells as he cracked each one to share with me.
You would think pecan pie is my favorite dessert. It isn’t. Blame the too sweet gelatinous middle part. When making these pecan bars, I wanted a buttery crust that holds a semi-soft and solid sweet nutty filling. The toasted pecans — used in both the crust and filling — are charred dark brown. For the filling, maple syrup replaces corn syrup (don’t confuse it with the unhealthy High Fructose Corn Syrup), and coconut oil is used instead of melted butter. Instead of brown sugar, coconut sugar is used to reduce the sweetness. Meanwhile, the crust is equal parts white and wheat flour with a down home, comfort taste of real butter.
These are pecan bars that my inner child adores. A quick salty bite. A firm, sweet and nutty flavor from toasted pecans. A whole-wheat and buttery crust. If my Uncle Johnny were alive today, I would’ve loved walking around the neighborhood sharing a few Pecan Bars with him. Did I mention, the basement of their New Jersey house was a bar? Dad told me there used to be wild parties down there. It’s also why these pecan bars also have a hint of dark rum, too.
I now appreciate a few other raw nuts as snacks, but my true love is actually for their earthy flavor and crunchy texture that enhances savory and sweet recipes. As for hard candies and potato chips, they continue to be my least favorite snacks. As for now, these memorable sweet pecan bars and I are best friends forever.