After living in England for almost 10 years, my first Christmas back in Canada caught me off guard. It’s a long, soap opera story but I found myself newly divorced, with a baby under one year and although we weren’t struggling with poverty by any means, I had neglected to budget for any Christmas presents. Having not so long ago been a DINK (that old phrase hardly heard these days, Dual Income No Kids) – this lack of funds was a bit of a shock.
Being resourceful, I decided to sell baking! Heck, I had tons of recipes I’d been making for years, first with my mum when I was a child and then on my own as an adult. Everyone seemed to love my squares in particular – could I make some money at it? Apparently yes! I sold it to my mum’s friends who were gracious. Then, I reached out to a few local restaurants and stores. Armed with samples, they bought! I’ve never really considered it entrepreneurial, more of a means to an end. I was thankful that it allowed me to stay at home with my little one while he was an infant. It certainly gave me a bit of breathing room but working it out; it was a terrible hourly wage!
I ended up going back to marketing and business after about a year and a half but I still sold baking for several years…probably four or five in all. At first I loved the process of sharing the love through food. That is entirely what is is for me when I bake for personal reasons. This love started to sour near the end though…baking became tedious and tiresome. I thought about buying the bottled lemon juice instead of squeezing it fresh, by hand. It was time to stop selling the baking.
It wasn’t long before I started baking again for just my family and friends. Christmas is the time I really go for it though. I do sometimes worry that my storage freezer won’t work properly because it’s just too full but I can’t help myself. I always want to recreate that wondrous feeling of bounty over the holidays.
So, now I will share one of the best sellers at my biggest customer (a local restaurant); caramel pecan squares. They are so fattening but so utterly mouthwatering. Sorry dieters!
Caramel Pecan Squares
Line a 9×13 pan with parchment. Let some sort of hang up so you can grab and remove the baking later. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees C.
1/2 cup (room temperature) butter
1/4 cup white sugar
1 cup all purpose flour
2/3 cup butter (can be cold)
2/3 cup brown sugar (I use the lighter coloured one)
1/2 bag (the 300g bag size) of milk or dark chocolate chips (use your favourite). Works out to about 1 cup.
1/2 bag of chopped pecans (the 100g bags)
Prepare the base first. Making shortbread by hand is a real chore, but I did it for years. Now I prefer my mixer. I usually put the butter in first and beat it just so it’s all mushed up. Then I scrape it down, and mix in the sugar. Again, scrape it down and add in the flour. Don’t over mix.
Once blended, give it a good stir with a strong spatula as some of the butter is always stuck to the bottom of the bowl. Make sure it is mixed thoroughly, then dump into the lined pan and spread it out evenly. I usually use the back of a large spoon for this job. Push it all down firmly using the back of the spoon (it will tend to stick to your hands), including around the edge. Then prick lightly with fork tines in an even pattern. Pop into the oven for about 15-20 minutes but watch it! You mustn’t overcook it. Take it out when just the edges are slightly browned.
When you pop the base in the oven, start the topping. In a stainless steel pan, melt the butter down over a medium heat (I use 6, half way point) and when it’s almost liquid, add the brown sugar. Stir with a large metal spoon until it is incorporated and bubbling. It needs to bubble but not too hard or the end result will be too crunchy. At this stage it’s best to turn the heat down (for me to around 3.5-4). Let it bubble for a few minutes. At this point I find the base is almost done. Honestly I’ve never really timed it but don’t let it go for more than 5 minutes bubbling. I’d recommend you take the sugar/butter off the heat and let it sit if you need to while the base bakes.
When the base is done, take it out of the oven and put it in a place that it won’t wibble or wobble. You don’t want the hot caramel to burn you. For goodness sake, don’t let anyone lick the caramel spoon. 🙂
If your caramel has somewhat separated (you can see some liquid butter), give it another quick stir and then pour it over the base. Spread evenly. Again, I use the back of a larger metal spoon (The one I use to serve salads is my favourite for this job). Pop it back in the oven for about 18-20 minutes until it is bubbling again.
When you bring it out, pour the chocolate and pecans evenly over the top – while it is hot. Then let it cool. I often do this at night, and leave it on the stove – then cut it in the morning.
When you cut it, remove the entire work of art from the pan using the parchment paper hang-over. Using a large, sharp knife make confident cuts. If you are unlucky, it will break a little on some cuts. It took me a few go’s back in the day to get the hang of it.
But hey, those you can sneak those broken pieces for yourself if you like! They still taste great.