Pecan Pie Bars are a longstanding Thanksgiving breakfast tradition in my family. When I was younger, we ate a normal breakfast just like any other day, skipped lunch, and then had an early turkey dinner. But what always ended up happening, is that everyone wanted to try at least a few bites of each dessert, but nobody ever saved enough room.
So we decided to move some of the pie to breakfast time along with some scrambled eggs. I can’t even begin to tell you how good pecan pie is with coffee first thing on a holiday morning, but I’ll bet you can imagine it.
After pie for breakfast, the first order of business is to get some exercise outdoors to work up an adequate appetite for dinner. Then after dinner, if you happen to have room, it’s time for more pie. But if you overdid it on turkey (like I always do), it’s no big deal because you already had pie for breakfast.
However the last few years have been sadly lacking in the pecan pie department since we’ve been eating gluten free. This year I knew I had to figure out a new version of pecan pie though because it’s just been too long without.
I decided to go with more of a shortbread crust for these bars, and I love the shortbread texture even more than regular pie crust! The crust for this recipe comes together with just a bowl and spatula, no need for a mixer. I tried this crust several different ways, but in the end the crust had an egg added to it won out for the best texture.
Once the dough for the crust is thoroughly mixed, pat it as evenly as possible into the baking pan…
… and bake until it’s golden brown with small cracks in it. While the crust is baking, you make the filling on the stove top in a double boiler. I learned the technique of heating up the filling to 130ºF from Cooks Illustrated, and it makes all the difference in the filling. By heating it up on the stove first, the filling bakes more quickly than it normally would which is good news for the crispy crust, and the smoothest filling I’ve ever had.
I’ve never made pecan pie the completely traditional way with corn syrup, instead I’ve always used pure maple syrup, and everyone always wants to know what my secret is. I’ve used both Grade A amber and Grade B, and both are great, but you’ll definitely have more maple flavor with the Grade B syrup.
Tip: It really helps to buy maple syrup in bulk because it’s much more affordable. I usually buy mine from Costco where it’s a fraction of the cost it would be in a regular grocery store.
And of course we needed at least one photo where you can see the perfectly silky filling I was talking about, with those gorgeous caramelized pecans sitting perched on top.
We’re changing things up a bit on Thanksgiving this year, and we’re going winter camping in Glacier National Park. Last year it was -10ºF on Thanksgiving Day, but I’m hoping it’ll be slightly warmer than that. I’m going to make a big batch of these bars to take along on the trip, and if all goes well we’ll be enjoying Pecan Pie Bars while watching the sunrise, (from the warmth of my sleeping bag with a cup of coffee I might add).
Recipe Note: Pecan Pie is not a low sugar dessert by any means, but it is one of my favorite holiday treats, and this version is made without any refined sugar at all which is a nice bonus.
- 2 cups fine almond flour
- ½ cup tapioca starch
- 1 stick salted butter, 8 Tablespoons, or 4 ounces, melted
- 1 egg
- 6 Tablespoons salted butter, 3 ounces
- 1 cup coconut sugar
- ¾ cup maple syrup
- 3 eggs
- 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
- 2 cups toasted pecan pieces, see notes
- 7 whole pecan halves for decorating the top
- Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
- Mix together all the ingredients for the shortbread crust until a fairly stiff dough forms. Pat the crust as evenly as you can into a 9"x13" baking dish, making a rim around the edges between ½"-3/4" to hold the in the filling. Bake the crust until light golden brown with cracks starting to form in the crust, about 15 minutes. Remove the crust from the oven and lower the temperature to 300ºF
- While the crust is baking, make the filling by combining the butter, coconut sugar, maple syrup, and eggs together in a double boiler. Whisk constantly until the temperature of the filing registers 130ºF on a thermometer (see notes). Then remove the filling from the heat source, and whisk in the vanilla extract and pecan pieces.
- When the crust is done, pour the hot filling over the hot crust, arranging a few whole pecans on the top if desired. Then bake the pecan pie bars until lightly puffed in the middle, about 15-20 minutes. The second baking time will vary according to how hot both the crust and filling are when you put the bars into the oven. The way to tell if pecan pie is done is when it's puffed in the middle, but still jiggles like jello would.
- Cool the bars at least one hour to let the flavor to really set, and then serve with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream, Homemade Coconut Ice Cream, The Ultimate Whipped Cream, or Coconut Whipped Cream.
You can make the filling without a thermometer, but you have to be really careful not to get the filling too hot, or it will scramble the eggs in the filling, which ruins it. I have made it without a thermometer before, and I just remove it from the heat when it starts to feel hotter than warm, but not so hot as to scorch your finger.
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