Pecan Bars: A Prelude to Thanksgiving (And Tribute to Pat Benatar)

Thanksgiving.  It's coming.  I'm doing most of the cooking this year.  And I just got off the phone with my mother.

Most everyone that cooks has a bête noire in the kitchen.  I can talk turkey all day long.  Cranberry sauce?  Bring it, New England.  Dinner doesn’t scare me.  But pie?  Pie terrifies.  This is the first year I’m attempting it.  The pie conversation with my mother went something like this:

Me: “I’m making the pie crust tonight.”
Mom: “That’s nice, honey.”
Me: “I was psyching myself up for it on my walk home.”
Me: “I was humming “Eye of the Tiger.””
Mom: “How about “Hit Me With Your Best Shot?””  “I saw Pat Benatar this summer.” “So I can say that.”

This was the pie pep talk I precisely needed to have.  We’ll see how it all goes down.  But for now: fire away.

For those that want to forgo the whole potential pie disaster—or for those that simply don’t get jazzed by Rocky Balboa or Pat Benatar—these bars are a lovely substitute for pecan pie.  I was lucky enough to attend a Cook’s Illustrated cocktail party a few weeks ago.  They served wonderful broiled shrimp with coriander and lemon, Spanish tortilla with garlic mayo, chocolate pots de crème, and what looked to be fairly innocent pecan bars. 

The bars are simply beyond. They have a slightly salty edge with a dose of bourbon that helps to prevent them from being too sweet, as can happen with pecan pie.  Cook's Illustrated was gracious enough to share their recipe with me.  And for this, I will be forever thankful.  Since making them, they’ve inspired a few OMGs, some cursing about having to wear spandex, and a vague kidnapping threat.

So consider making the bars as a prelude to Thanksgiving.  Or as pie backup.  Just in case.  Regardless of how the pie turns out, it’s nice knowing that these little numbers are ready for action.  As for the pie?  Put up your dukes, let’s get down to it.

Pecan Bars


1 cup all purpose flour
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped
1 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp baking powder
6 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces and chilled

1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup light corn syrup (I used brown rice syrup)
4 tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 tbsp bourbon
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 large egg
About 1.5 cups whole pecans 


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Liberally butter an 8 inch square pan.  Pulse flour, sugar, chopped pecans, salt, and baking powder in a food processor for about 5 pulses; sprinkle butter on top and pulse about 8 more pulses, until the mixture looks like course cornmeal.  Pour the mixture into your buttered baking pan and press it down evenly with the back of a measuring cup.  Bake until the crust begins to brown and you start to smell it, about 20-24 minutes.

Meanwhile, for the filling combine the brown sugar, corn syrup, melted butter, bourbon, vanilla and salt in a large bowl to dissolve the sugar; whisk in the egg.  When the crust is done, pour filling over crust; sprinkle with pecans and bake until the pecans start to brown (about 25-30 minutes) rotating the pan half way through.

Let the bars cool completely before cutting and serving.  

Makes about 16 bars

-Cook's recommends laying foil down (and greasing the foil) to help remove the bars when the time comes.  Lazily, I just buttered the pan and hoped for the best.  While the first bar was a little tricky to remove, my bars came out just fine.  And so I'd say the foil is up to you.

-I had the brown rice syrup leftover from an ice cream project I'll blissfully be sharing in a few weeks. I used the Lundberg brand because I'm not a huge fan of corn syrup as a general rule.  Baker's choice.

-In the interest of full disclosure, I didn't have a square pan and so I used a round one and just cut squares out of it.  It was absolutely fine (and this allowed for bar scrapes).

-Many thanks to Cook's Illustrated.  And a happy Thanksgiving to all.


  1. Oh boy. What is it about pie that is so scary? I have a pie phobia too. My partner recently informed me that if I make him a pie, he'll completely support me if I decide to go baking school. Huge deal, right? I STILL HAVEN'T MADE THE PIE. Apparently, that's scary than returning to school at age 40.

    Good luck! Tell us how it turns out!

  2. I'm not one for pecan pie (give me pecan sticky rolls any day), but these look really good.

    You can work your way up to pie. Start with freeform crostata, which doesn't have to look pretty. Or something with a shortcrust base, which doesn't have the rolling/shrinking worry to it. :)

  3. GORGEOUS! Good luck with your Thanksgiving pies!

  4. Holy bejeebers. I haven't even tasted them yet and I'm hooked. Recipe printed and ready to make today!

    It's the crust that's scary. The insides are nothing. Just consider how cheap a couple cups of flour, some butter and a bit of salt is. Totally worth practice pies. The family will love them no matter what and you can just keep testing various crust recipes until you find one that works for you. Start with Martha Stewart's fancy dancy named one because it's made in the food processor. It's still not my favorite thing to do, but I'm much better at it now. :)

  5. I love pecan pie (and pecan bars) and I love Pat Benatar. I kinda wanna belt out Love is a Battlefield right now haha. Happy Thanksgiving!

  6. Haha glad to hear I'm not alone out there. As of 1am this morning the pie had been made. And now the waiting begins. I hope you all have a lovely holiday and that they only pie diasasters you encounter come from eating too many slices!

  7. These bars look incredible! I've made pie before, but only once from making the crust from scratch! I would like to attempt that again soon.

    Happy Thanksgiving to you! xo

  8. i don't think pecan pie can hold a candle to a pecan pie bar, truth be told. for me, pie is a battlefield. :)

  9. it's a good thing my husband isn't looking at the computer screen right now otherwise he would demand I make these now!

  10. Those bars look perfect! Much prefer them to a pie. Copied the recipe already!

  11. I totally agree...give me a pecan bar any day over the pie. Great recipe!