Thursday, May 28, 2009

Graham cracker gooey bars

This is a recipe from the L.A. Times Culinary SOS column who got it from Julie Campoy of the bistro Julienne in San Marino, California, who got it from her mother Susan Campoy who got it from the Nantucket Open-House Cookbook by Sarah Leah Chase. No doubt there was some adaption along the line. At the last step in my kitchen they went from graham cracker chewy bars to gooey bars. I'm not quite sure if I undercooked them or if it was the humidity during this stormy weekend that caused the change. They went over quite well with the texture they had so I'm not going to call it a mistake, just a change that I'll need to experiment if I want to replicate.

3 cups graham cracker crumbs
[I like to crush crackers in a large bowl using the pestle from my mortar and pestle. That won't work well for most folks, but I've got a strange set with a big mushroom-shaped pestle that almost entirely fills the mortar. I doesn't actually work at all well which I probably should have guessed. When a design doesn't appear until 19,999 years into the 20,000 year history of a tool, there's probably a good reason. On the other hand, put the big pestle in a larger bowl and it works a treat for big batches of things that need to be crushed.]
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons flour

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl with an electric mixer, or in the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the graham cracker crumbs, butter, sugar and flour until moist and well-blended. Press the mixture firmly and evenly over the bottom of a 13-inch by 9-inch baking pan. Bake until the crust is golden brown, 10 to 15 minutes.

Topping and assembly
2 1/2 cups brown sugar
[I may have gone a little heavy on the sugar. I ran out of brown sugar with a cup left to go so I ran some white sugar and molasses through the food processor to make a substitute. I know that when I make powdered sugar that way the volume reduces a fair bit so I put in a cup and a quarter which, as I said, may have been a little much.]
4 extra-large eggs
[Ah, my eggs were just large. That's what caused the change in texture. I should have added one more.]
2/3 cup graham cracker crumbs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup pecans, chopped
[I crushed them instead by sealing them into a plastic bag, laying it out flat and whacking them with my crab hammer.]
1 prepared crust

Powdered sugar, if desired [I didn't desire. They're plenty sweet without.]

1. While the crust is baking, in a large bowl, whisk together the brown sugar and eggs to blend. Whisk in the graham cracker crumbs, vanilla, salt and baking powder until well-blended. Stir in the pecans.

2. Spread the mixture over the baked crust and return to the 350-degree oven until the filling is dark-golden on top and jiggles slightly when tapped, 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer the pan to a cooling rack and cool completely.

3. Sprinkle a light coating of sifted powdered sugar over the pan if desired, and cut into 24 bars. The bars can be made 1 day in advance. Wrap in plastic and keep at room temperature.

The first part of the experience is the sweet scent of graham and candied pecan wafting up from the pan even after it's completely cooled. And you can see the cut edges slowly oozing out. I don't think that's quite the texture it's supposed to have. I must have undercooked it a little; I couldn't test it for jiggliness when the top had puffed up so I just went by color and smell.

The pieces squish under the teeth, spreading into the mouth. The flavor of the brown sugar dominates, but it's colored by the pecan at first fading into the graham in the aftertaste and it's almost overwhelmingly rich from the butter and eggs. Even as the center spreads in the mouth, your teeth are crunching through both the bottom and top layers. The bottom's texture is a sugary crystalline crunch, not a cracker crunch. You get more of that from that top which crisped up nicely although it shattered when I cut out the squares. The soft inside is chunky with the larger pieces of pecan and gritty with the smaller shards. After the square has melted away, there's still a bit of nut to chew on and strong lingering flavors that demand strong black coffee, maybe an espresso, to cut through. Or maybe a glass of milk; that would work too. You could do a scoop of vanilla ice cream or some warm chunky stewed fruit, which would be nice, but these really don't need any more sweet no matter what other aspects are good contrasts.

Anyway, you can tell from my vaguely poetic attempts to describe them or even just from the picture that these are fabulous if you're up for a seriously intense dessert. Pretty easy to make, too. There are some pictures out there of the chewy version, but they don't look half as good. I'm tempted to blame the photography, though. Maybe I should make the recipe without my unintentional changes to see how it is that way.


Adam said...

I noticed recently that Graham Cracker Crumbs are available at most grocery stores and they are cheaper than the whole crackers.

billjac said...

I find that cheapness suspicious. Premade crumbs are a convenience; they ought to be charging more! If they're charging less, it's probably because it's graham sweepings off the factory floor. Which are probably fine.

I haven't seen graham cracker crumbs in the local supermarkets--probably because they have to stock all the Latin kitchen stuff and don't have room for it--but I'd probably buy whole crackers anyway just because they're much better to snack on.