Sunday, March 29, 2015

Sweet & Soy Pecan Chocolate Pie Bars

Salt! Oh goodness I love salt.

And sweet! Jeez I don't know which one I love most.

Just imagine life without salt. Not worth living, if you ask me.

Ask any reputable chef what is the secret behind being a great cook and I'll bet the answer is knowing how to season your food. Do not be afraid of salt. Don't overdo it either. I'm sure you understand - it's a balance. But really, don't be afraid!

If I had to cook without salt for a day, I'd get by but I would not be happy.

I'd manage with a few plain steamed veggies - like green beans and broccoli sans salt. Fruit would still be OK, although in Thailand they eat pineapple with salt and chili. Maybe they wouldn't cope as easily...

But any type of pasta dish would be horrific. It would taste like styrofoam. And tomato sauce would be overwhelmingly bland. Italians everywhere would cringe. Steak wouldn't be worth the dollars any more...

And cheese! Cheese would not exist. There it is! The biggest tragedy of all time - the non-existence of cheese. Not. Worth. Living.

This isn't the first time I've ranted about the importance of salt. I once forgot to put salt in my brownie batter. Here's what happened after that.

Salt comes in many forms too. One of those is soy sauce. It's a beautiful thing and not really used in baking but I'm gonna give it to you!

If there's anything that can make pecan pie taste better, it is salt to temper all that sweetness. Soy sauce does that even better. It enhances the flavour. It makes you wanna keep eating it. And you will... as I did...

Do not line the pan with parchment paper because the base doesn't stick to it - that's parchment doing its job. But, that means the crust will shrink and come away from the sides leaving space for the filling to seep down and make the base soggy.

Just lightly grease it or line it with foil. Also, pour the filling on while the base is hot - do not let it cool down too much. That will help.

The filling for this and any pecan pie recipe is basically a custard. It is a very, very sweet custard set by eggs but without milk and sometimes without cream.

You'll always find some sort of liquid sugar syrup - corn syrup, maple or golden. In this case I've used a combination of light corn syrup, brown sugar and molasses to give that earthy sweetness and robustness.

The interesting thing is that the purpose of adding soy sauce is two-fold. Not only does it add well-rounded saltiness to balance out that sweet, but it lends a bit of tang that comes from the fermentation process to really punch up the flavour.

Then there's dark chocolate and toasted pecans to add awesome to awesome.

Try it. I swear to salt you'll love it.

Sweet & Soy Chocolate Pecan Pie Bars
Makes 16 bars

For the base:
1 cup (142g) all-purpose flour
2 tbsp (25g) sugar
¼ tsp salt
7 tbsp (100g) cold unsalted butter

For the filling:
2 tbsp (28g) unsalted butter, melted
½ cup (110g) packed light brown sugar
¼ cup (60ml) light corn syrup
1 tbsp (15ml) fancy molasses
2 large eggs
1 ½ tsp soy sauce (I use Kikkoman, not low sodium)
½ tsp vanilla
1 cup (120g) toasted pecans, coarsely chopped
2oz (56g) bittersweet chocolate chunks

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line an 8x8-inch baking pan with foil. (Do not use parchment because as the base cools it will shrink away from the sides and the filling will seep through to the bottom and make a soggy crust.)

For the crust, combine flour, sugar and salt in a medium bowl. Add the cold butter and rub it in with your fingers until the mixture is combined, but crumbly. Dump the mixture into the prepared baking pan and use your fingers to press the crust evenly across the bottom. Bake until lightly browned, 15 to 18 minutes. Remove from the oven, but leave the oven on.

Meanwhile, make the filling as the crust bakes. Whisk together melted butter, brown sugar, corn syrup, molasses, eggs, soy sauce and vanilla extract in a medium bowl until thoroughly blended and smooth. Stir in chopped pecans. Pour the mixture over the warm baked crust, distributing the pecan pieces evenly. Scatter chocolate chunks over top and gently poke them into the filling.

Bake until just set, about 20 minutes. Let cool completely in the baking pan and refrigerate for 1 hour before slicing into squares or bars. The bars will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.

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