Growing up in Canada, the arrival of fall was always a cause for celebration. As the cool, crisp winds gently ushered in the new season, I would eagerly anticipate the familiar comforts that autumn brought with it: cozy sweaters, hearty comfort food, and the irresistible scent of freshly baked treats wafting through the air.
This pecan and caramel shortbread bar recipe captures the very essence of fall. It reminds me of a nostalgic quintessential Canadian treat known as Turtles—a sweet and delicious chocolate made with pecans, caramel and chocolate.
Inspired by the delectable flavours of Turtle chocolates and my absolute affection for all things shortbread, this recipe is nothing short of extraordinary. It elevates the familiar tastes of Turtles and the comforting embrace of buttery shortbread to create something truly exceptional.
This indulgent buttery, crumbly shortbread base topped with a warm, gooey caramel mixture is simply incredible. Then to elevate the recipe a luxurious drizzle of chocolate, a playful nod to the iconic Turtles chocolates that have captivated the hearts of Canadians for generations.
With every delightful bite, you’ll embark on a journey that combines the warmth of nostalgia with the thrill of discovery. These bars encapsulate the essence of Canadian fall and the enduring allure of Turtles chocolates, making them a timeless treat that transcends generations.
Basic Ingredients for Pecan and Caramel Shortbread Bars
All-purpose Flour: Provides structure to the shortbread crust, giving it a firm yet tender texture.
Cornstarch: Softens the harsh proteins of flour, making the shortbread more delicate and tender.
Caster Sugar: Adds sweetness and contributes to the tender texture of the crust. Caster sugar is finer than granulated sugar, which helps it blend more smoothly.
Salt : Enhances the flavors of the other ingredients.
Cold Unsalted Butter: Gives the shortbread its rich flavor and flaky texture. Using cold butter ensures that the shortbread is crumbly and tender.
Unsalted Butter: Provides a rich base for the caramel filling.
Light Brown Sugar: Adds sweetness and a molasses flavor to the caramel, contributing to its color and depth of flavor.
Honey: Sweetens the caramel and adds a unique flavor while also contributing to the texture of the filling.
Vanilla Extract: Enhances the overall flavor profile of the caramel and crust.
Salt: Balances the sweetness of the caramel.
Heavy Cream: Adds richness and a smooth texture to the caramel.
Pecans: Provide a nutty flavor and crunchy texture, contrasting nicely with the soft caramel and tender shortbread.
Semisweet Chocolate Chips (½ cup): Adds a rich, chocolatey finish that complements the caramel and pecan flavors.
All-purpose Flour: Gluten-free flour blend for a gluten-free version.
Cornstarch: Arrowroot powder can be a substitute.
Caster Sugar: Granulated sugar can be used, though it might change the texture slightly.
Pecans: Walnuts or almonds can be used for a different nutty flavor.
Semisweet Chocolate Chips: Dark or milk chocolate can be used depending on preference.
Preparation Tips for Pecan and Caramel Shortbread Bars
Tips to prepare the crust:
- Room Temperature Butter: This makes it easier to cream with sugar, which is essential for a tender and well-blended shortbread. Cut the butter into squares to ensure it mixes evenly.
- Sift Dry Ingredients: Sift the all-purpose flour and cornstarch together. This ensures a uniform mixture and helps to aerate the flour, resulting in a lighter crust.
- Creaming Butter and Sugar: Start by creaming the room-temperature butter and caster sugar together. This process incorporates air into the mixture, making the crust light and fluffy. Beat them until the mixture is light in colour and fluffy in texture.
- Gentle Mixing: After creaming the butter and sugar, gently fold in the dry ingredients (flour, cornstarch, and salt). Do this in stages to ensure even mixing without overworking the dough. Over-mixing can lead to a tough crust.
- Pressing the Dough: Once your dough is ready, press it evenly into the bottom of your prepared baking pan. You can use the back of a spoon, a spatula, or even your hands. Make sure it’s evenly spread so it bakes uniformly.
- Chill the Dough: Before baking, consider chilling the pressed dough in the fridge for about 15-20 minutes. This helps the butter to firm up again, which can lead to a more tender and flaky crust after baking.
- Pre-Baking (Blind Baking): Pre-bake the crust until it’s just beginning to turn golden around the edges. This process, known as blind baking, ensures that your crust is partially cooked before adding the filling, preventing it from becoming soggy.
- Cool Before Adding Filling: Let the crust cool for a few minutes after pre-baking and before adding the pecan filling. This helps to set the crust and further prevents it from becoming soggy.
Tips to prepare the Caramel Filling:
- Use a Heavy-Bottomed Saucepan: This is important to distribute heat evenly and prevent the caramel from burning.
- Melt the Butter Gently: Start with melting the butter over medium heat. Avoid high heat as it can burn the butter.
- Combine Ingredients Carefully: After the butter has melted, stir in the light brown sugar, honey, heavy cream, vanilla extract, and a pinch of salt. Ensure the sugar is completely dissolved into the mixture.
- Constant Stirring: Once all the ingredients are combined, it’s essential to stir the mixture constantly. This prevents the sugar from crystallising and ensures an even, smooth texture.
- Watch the Heat: Let the mixture come to a gentle boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Too high heat can cause the caramel to burn, while too low won’t allow it to thicken properly.
- Simmer to the Right Consistency: Simmer for about 2-3 minutes, but keep an eye on the consistency. The caramel should be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon but still pourable.
- Add Pecans at the Right Time: Add the chopped pecans after the caramel has reached the desired consistency. Stir well to ensure the pecans are evenly coated with the caramel.
- Pouring the Filling: Gently pour the caramel and pecan mixture over the pre-baked shortbread base. Spread it out evenly with a spatula, being careful not to disturb the shortbread layer.
- Baking the Filling: Bake it in the preheated oven until the topping bubbles and turns golden brown. This will help the caramel set and infuse the flavours into the pecans.
- Cooling is Crucial: Allow the pecan shortbread bars to cool in the pan for about 10-15 minutes, then lift them out onto a wire rack to cool completely. This step is crucial as it lets the caramel filling set properly.
- Chocolate Drizzle (Optional): If you’re adding the chocolate drizzle, ensure the bars are completely cool so the chocolate sets on top without melting into the caramel.
Serving Tips for Pecan and Caramel Shortbread Bars
- Serve the bars at room temperature or slightly chilled.
- Pair with a cup of coffee or tea for a delightful snack.
- Store the bars in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days, or refrigerate for up to a week.
- For longer storage, they can be frozen for up to 3 months. Thaw at room temperature before serving.
Pecan and Caramel Shortbread Bar
- 2 cup all-purpose flour
- ½ cup cornstarch
- 1 cup caster sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into squares
- 1 cup unsalted butter
- 1 cup packed light brown sugar
- ½ cup honey
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- pinch salt
- 4 tbsp heavy cream
- 4 cups pecans, roughly chopped
- Preheat the oven to 180°C. Line 9×9-inch square baking pan with parchment paper, leaving extra paper on the sides to help lift the bars out later.
- In a mixing bowl, cream together the softened butter and caster sugar until the mixture turns light and fluffy. Add the all-purpose flour, cornstarch and salt to the bowl and mix until you have a crumbly dough.Press the shortbread dough evenly into the bottom of your prepared baking pan. You can use your hands or the back of a spoon to do this.
- Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the shortbread has a light golden colour around the edges. Once done, take it out ofthe oven and let it cool while you work on the pecan topping.
- In a saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Stir in the brown sugar, honey, heavy cream, vanilla extract, and salt. Let the mixture come to a gentle boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the chopped pecans to the caramel mixture and mix well.
- Pour the pecan topping evenly over the baked shortbread base, using a spatula to spread it out. Return the pan to the oven and bake for an additional 20-25 minutes, until the topping bubbles and becomes golden brown.
- Allow the pecan shortbread bars to cool in the pan for about 10-15 minutes. Then, use the parchment paper overhangs to lift them out of the pan and onto a wire rack. Let them cool completely.
- If desired, melt the semisweet chocolate chips in a microwave for a couple of minutes, mixing every 30 seconds. Add a teaspoon of coconut oil. Alternatively, melt chocolate using the double boiler method. Drizzle the melted chocolate over the cooled bars and place in the fridge.
- Once completely cooled, use a sharp knife to cut the bars into squares or rectangles.