There’s no question that people have a LOT of opinions when it comes to the Thanksgiving menu. Keep it classic, or put a new twist on tradition? (classic) Lighten up old favorites or go full on indulgence? (duh) Sweet potatoes with marshmallows or candied pecans? (both) I thought it would be fun to see if I could solve at least one family debate surrounding dessert, so I teamed up with our friends at McCormick to bake two favorite versions of pecan pie in just one pan so that everyone’s happy and I have fewer dishes to clean. These bars have a pie crust “barrier” that divides the Chocolate Bourbon side from the Salted Caramel side. Now the only hard part is figuring out how to choose between the two.
First off: I might never roll out a pie crust pastry again now that I’ve discovered this press-in shortbread crust. I’m not sure why, but making pie crust from scratch always intimidates me; even though it’s technically simple, there are a lot of variables that can go wrong. Not so with this shortbread crust! I actually eyeballed the ingredients on one of my test rounds, and even though it was a little too crumbly, I just got in there with my hands and pressed it together, and it still turned out super delicious. In other words, it’s almost impossible to mess up. It’s perfect if this is your first year on pie duty. And don’t be afraid of the abundance of butter here, people: Thanksgiving is not the time to skimp out, so don’t even think about making any swaps.
While the pre-baked crust is cooling, it’s time to make the “master” recipe of the salted caramel filling. You’ll actually be making a batch that’s big enough to fill the pan, so if you decide to skip the chocolate bourbon side and just go all the way with the salted caramel, no one will judge. We’re going to be taking it a step further here by reserving half the filling and adding a liberal dose of bourbon and chocolate chips. One baking rule my mom always taught me is to use more than the average amount of vanilla for the richest flavor, so I added a hefty dose of McCormick Pure Vanilla Extract that permeates both sides of the filling. Yum, yum, and yum.
I like to scatter the pecans over the bottom of the shortbread crust rather than mixing them into the filling so that you get an even distribution of crunchy toastiness in every bite. After adding the Salted Caramel filling to one side, the bourbon and McCormick Ground Cinnamon get mixed into the remaining filling and poured over the other half, along with a scattering of semisweet chocolate chips. The little crust wall that we made before pre-baking is the perfect tasty barrier to divide the two fillings in the pan.
I’ve got to say, this is one dessert that’ll get you major props at a potluck. The only problem is that all my taste tester friends wanted to try both sides of the pie bars, so cut the pieces small and let ’em sample. And don’t be surprised when both sides disappear fast.
So, what’s the verdict: are you team Chocolate Bourbon or team Salted Caramel? Let us know in the comments.
This post was created in partnership with McCormick. Scroll on for the recipe!
For press-in shortbread crust:
2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
For Salted Caramel & Chocolate Bourbon fillings:
4 tablespoons butter
1 cup light corn syrup
1 cup light brown sugar
5 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 teaspoons McCormick Pure Vanilla Extract
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 cups toasted pecan halves
1/2 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoon bourbon
1 teaspoon McCormick Ground Cinnamon
- Make press-in crust. Preheat oven to 350. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle, cream the butter with the sugars at medium speed for 2 minutes. With the mixer at low speed, beat in the flour and salt.
- Line a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with parchment paper, allowing 2 inches of overhang on the 2 long sides. Transfer the dough to the pan and press it over the bottom and 1 1/4 inches up the side all around. (You can cover the dough with plastic wrap and press with the bottom of a measuring cup.) Be sure the corners are not too thick. Use your fingers to press a “wall” into the center to divide the two flavors, then refrigerate until firm.
- Bake the crust for 35 minutes, until golden brown. Halfway through baking, use the back of a spoon to smooth the sides and corners of the crust, and use your fingers to reform the “wall” if it’s fallen a bit. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let the crust cool before filling.
- Make the "master" filling. Preheat the oven to 350°. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over moderate heat. Remove the saucepan from the heat and whisk in the corn syrup and brown sugar, then whisk in the eggs until thoroughly blended. Whisk in the vanilla extract and salt.
- Sprinkle pecans over bottom of prebaked crust. Pour half of filling into one side of crust.
- To the remainder of the filling in the saucepan, add bourbon and cinnamon, and stir to combine.
- Pour the remaining filling into the other side of the crust and sprinkle chocolate chips over, then bake for about 35 minutes until the filling is set. Transfer the pan to a rack and let cool completely. Cut into bars and serve.