food, family, celebrations

Coconut Chocolate Pecan Bars + Nikki's Birthday

 These beauties are among my favorite bar cookies.  And since bar cookies are among my favorite things, that's really saying something.

This is what would happen if a pecan pie met the icing from a German chocolate cake and had a chocolatey shortbread baby. 

I've been making these for about fifteen years now (not this exact batch... that would probably be some kind of record) and I've continued to tweak them along the way.  While the original source is fantastic, I've made what I think are some crucial changes that really push these over the top.

The first of my own additions is to toast both the pecans and coconut first.  I almost always toast nuts before adding them to cookies, as it really enhances the flavor.  Adding the coconut to the tray for the last five minutes and roasting it just until the tips are beginning to turn golden does wonderful things to the texture of these bars, which can be quite sticky and soft without the crispy contrast this provides.

The bars begin with a shortbread crust, as almost all tasty bars do.  My additions are salt, a completely necessary counterpart to sweetness, and vanilla because, well, it's yummy.  Although I favor a mixer for ease, these bars can be mixed entirely by hand.  

The crumbly mixture is pressed into a well-greased pan.  I use a quarter sheet pan, which holds the same amount as the prescribed 9x13 and yields more uniform pieces.  Cutting a piece of parchment to fit the pan with just a little overhang on the short sides will make your life much easier.  When the edges of the shortbread are just beginning to color, the crust is removed from the oven and topped with a deliciously gooey mixture, to which I've added instant espresso powder for depth of flavor and flaky sea salt for amazingness.

It's best to let the bars cool completely before cutting them if you want clean edges.  But if what you want is a warm Coconut Chocolate Pecan Bar and right now, I'm not going to stop you.  You can see that we couldn't wait entirely.

After cooling, (what's left of) the bars can be loosened at the edges, then lifted from the pan by your parchment paper sling.  I like to trim the edges because I'm fond of tidiness (does anyone else remember this?) but that doesn't mean the edges go to waste.  It means I can snack on them all day without ever having committed to eating a whole bar, right?

Between layers of parchment in an airtight container, the bars will keep at room temperature for three days.  However, they freeze quite well and will last that way for a month or more.  And, incidentally, straight from the freezer is my favorite way to eat these.

Coconut Chocolate Pecan Bars

adapted from Chocolate by Nick Malgieri

makes thirty 2-inch squares

Crust

  • 1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour

Topping

  • 7 oz. shredded sweetened coconut
  • 8 oz. pecans, chopped
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon instant espresso or coffee powder
  • 12 oz. bittersweet chocolate chips or chunks
  • 1-2 teaspoons flaky sea salt

Preheat the oven to 350 with both racks in the middle.  For the crust, combine the butter, sugar, salt and vanilla and stir to combine.  Add the flour and stir to create a crumbly mixture.  Grease and line with parchment (overhanging on the short sides) a quarter sheet pan or 9x13 baking dish.  Press the mixture evenly into the pan, using a little flour on your hands if necessary.  Bake for 15 minutes or until crust is beginning to color around the edges.

Meanwhile, spread pecans on a sheet pan and toast 5 minutes.  Add the coconut to the pan and toast five minutes more.  Allow to cool completely.

For the topping, combine eggs, sugars, baking powder, and espresso powder and stir well.  Add cooled nuts and coconut and chocolate chips and stir to combine.  Pour the mixture over the crust and spread evenly.  Sprinkle the top with flaky sea salt.  Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until golden and set.  Cool on a rack before removing from pan to a cutting board and cutting into squares.

On another Note

Today is my sister-in-law's birthday.  I just had to do a dessert post today because Nikki loves dessert.

There are many things I love about Nikki.  I love that she adores my daughter.

I love that she has an awesome, off-beat sense of humor.  

photo credit Bryan Aulick

photo credit Bryan Aulick

I love her taste in movies and music.  I love that she loves to dance as much as the rest of us.  I love our mutual fondness for gift-wrapping.  What do I love most about her?  

photo credit Bryan Aulick

photo credit Bryan Aulick

She makes my little brother really happy.

Happy birthday, Nikki!