I have always loved holiday baking. As a girl, I spent many December evenings in Aunt Hen’s kitchen. After school I would walk up to her house and dig through her vast collection of cookbooks and holiday publications in search of the best recipes for Christmas cookies and candies. Aunt Hen would make a list of the recipes we wanted to try on the white writing tablet she always kept near her dining table. Once the list was made and she had collected the ingredients we would spend our evenings baking.
Aunt Hen tended toward traditional recipes with butterscotch chips or candied fruit and coconut. I tended toward new recipes with chocolate or nuts and spices. Together we mixed the ingredients, tended the oven and sometimes added decorations. Aunt Bet would often join us for conversation and coffee breaks and would help pack the finished product in big Christmas tins. Later we arranged plates of the cookies and candy we had made together to give as gifts to family and friends.
I still love to make and bake during the Christmas season. These days I am alone in the kitchen but some of the recipes I use, Peanut Butter Fudge, Chocolate Crinkles and Scandinavian Almond Cookies for example, haven’t changed since those baking marathons with Aunt Hen. Other recipes have been discovered or updated over the years. I still enjoy finding new ways to create holiday favorites.
This year I tried a new recipe for Pecan Bars. Though I have already posted a recipe for Pecan Pie Bites that is quite delicious I found this recipe from Better Homes and Gardens appealing because of its simplicity. The crust does not need to be rolled out, no candy thermometer or parchment paper is required and the addition of lemon zest to the crust layer sounded refreshing.
The finished cookie did not disappoint. It baked as described, was easy to remove from the pan and cut into pretty pieces. The finished recipe makes 54 cookies, (enough for a crowd) and, best of all, they taste wonderful!
From Better Homes and Gardens "Christmas Cookies" Issue, 1994
½ cup butter, at room temperature
½ cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon lemon zest
½ teaspoon vanilla
1¼ cups all-purpose flour
Directions for Filling:
1/3 cup butter
½ cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup honey
3 Tablespoons granulated sugar
1¾ cups coarsely chopped pecans
¼ cup whipping cream
Directions for Crust:
Preheat oven to 350F.
In a large mixing bowl, with an electric mixer, beat ½ cup butter at medium speed until smooth. Add ½ cup sugar, lemon peel, and vanilla, beating until combined. Beat in as much flour as possible with the mixer. Stir in any remaining flour with a wooden spoon.
Press dough into the bottom of a 13x9x2-inch baking pan. Bake at 350F for 15 minutes. Set aside on a wire rack to cool.
Reduce oven temperature to 325F.
Directions for Filling:
In a medium saucepan, combine 1/3 cup butter, brown sugar, honey, and 3 tablespoons granulated sugar. Cook over medium heat stirring until the mixture comes to a full boil. Remove pan from heat. Stir in pecans and whipping cream. Immediately pour the pecan mixture over crust, spreading evenly. Bake at 325F for 25 minutes.
Cut into bars, 6 x 9. Makes 54.