salted maple rosemary pecan squares

salted rosemary maple pecan squares

This recipe is a lower sugar version of pecan squares for my grandma, who says she loves pecans but really just loves pecans in the sugary form of pie or squares. Making these squares was a game of how low can you go? – with each batch I cut back some more (with some adjustment to other ingredients as needed) until I went a bit too far. To be clear, this is a lower sugar dessert, not exactly a low sugar dessert – there’s still 1/4 cup of brown sugar and 1/3 of a cup of maple syrup in these bars… but it provides a muted sweetness if you prefer less sweet desserts with plenty of focus on the pecans, salt and rosemary.

As with everything when you make significant cuts to sugar, you need to adjust your expectations – these bars have zero goo, so if you are the thick-and-gooey-pecan-bar sort of person, this is not the right recipe. The consistency of these bars have their own charm though! They’re crisp on top the first day, and sport a taffy-like chew in the middle. In my books, a texture worth the pleasantly subdued sweetness!

salted rosemary maple pecan squares
salted rosemary maple pecan squares
salted rosemary maple pecan squares
salted rosemary maple pecan squares
salted rosemary maple pecan squares
salted rosemary maple pecan squares
salted rosemary maple pecan squares

The first place the sugar went? The crust. When eating pecan bars, there are no opportunities to eat the crust on its own – it’s always in conjunction with the topping. With plenty of sweetness from the topping, I cut out the sugar from the crust and added enough salt to make it a salty/buttery counterpoint. I’ve also considered switching out the crumb crust for a creamed shortbread, but the crust actually has grown on me – the packed crumbs give the crust a bit of lightness.

The next thing I did was fiddle with the filling. I had some missteps here – the first time I tried halving the brown sugar without adjusting any of the other ingredients and I ended up with bars sopping with grease. It seems there’s a certain ratio of sugar to butter needed for a filling to be a cohesive mixture. The next time I made these bars (which only happened 4 years later… recipe development can be a rather prolonged process for me) I also cut down on the butter, which was much more successful. I’ve also been cooking the filling for longer to help concentrate the sugar.

Finally, I’ve also increased the presence of salt in these bars as a counterpoint to temper the sweetness – it doesn’t reduce the sugar, but does make it less achingly sweet. The rosemary infusion step, something I only added in the last couple of batches, gives the bars a woodsy savoury edge. I like it, but it’s very optional!

salted rosemary maple pecan squares

salted maple rosemary pecan squares

  • Servings: 16 squares
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Adapted from Williams-Sonoma (just because it was one of the first recipes to show up via search engine). See notes at end for other versions. Rosemary infusion method based on Ruby Tandoh’s rosemary pecan pie – it adds a subtle herbaceous woodiness that goes well with the pecans. But completely optional – I love the bars both with and without! These are lower sugar pecan bars that don’t have a “gooey” sugar layer – rather, they’re a bit chewy and mostly just packed pecans with a thin sugary glaze to hold it all together.

crust

  • 130g (1 cup) whole wheat flour
  • generous 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 86g (6 tbsp) cold butter
  • 2 tbsp of milk

filling

  • 43g (3 tbsp) butter
  • 100g (1/3 cup) maple syrup
  • 40g (¼ cup) brown sugar
  • two 4-inch sprig rosemary (leave out if you don’t want rosemary flavour)
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • ¼ cup heavy cream
  • 2 tbsp rum (or use more cream)
  • 200g (2 cups) coarsely chopped pecans

finishing

  • coarse or flaky salt for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 350F. Line an 8″ square pan with parchment paper (bottom and sides).

To make the crust, pulse the flour, salt and butter together in a food processor until fine crumbs form. Drizzle in the milk and pulse a few times to mix. The crust will look like powder and most certainly not like a dough, but when you pinch some together between your fingers, it should hold together. Press into bottom of prepared pan. Bake for 15 minutes until edges are starting to brown and middle is firm to touch. (It’s a strange looking crust, but once baked with the filling on top it does come together!).

After the crust is baked, prepare the filling. In a small saucepan, place the butter, maple syrup brown sugar and rosemary. Bring to a boil. Boil for for 5 minutes. Stir in the cream and rum until smooth. Bring to a boil again, take off the heat and allow the rosemary to steep for 5 minutes more. Pull out the rosemary, draining off any excess syrup, and then stir in pecans. Scoop the pecans over the baked crust and spread out into an even layer, then spoon the remaining syrup left in the saucepan evenly overtop. 

Bake for around 25-30 minutes or until the filling is set when you shake the pan. The original recipe describes the baking process very accurately – there will be large bubbles earlier on in the bake, and transition to small bubbles near the end. Sprinkle the bars with a pinch of coarse/flaky salt while still hot so it will stick to the topping. Let cool completely in the tin (the bottom crust is delicate until it cools). To remove, use a knife to loosen the two edges without parchment paper, and lift out the bars using the parchment paper sling. Cut into 16 squares (a large serrated knife helps ensure clean edges).

As far as storage, I find these bars are best dried out a bit to retain chewiness. As I live in a dry climate, that means leave the bars out for a while before putting them in an airtight container. Also in the spirit of this, I find it’s best to err on cooking the bars more, rather than less.

even lower sugar pecan bars: I’ve also tested this recipe with only 20g of brown sugar in the filling. It produces bars with a nice, muted sweetness. However, in the end the chewier consistency and glossier, deeper brown colour of the 40g sugar version won out. If you try a 20g brown sugar version, just be very careful about after you scoop the nuts out overtop of the crust: be sure to distribute the remaining syrup in the saucepan as evenly as you can over the entire surface area of the bars.

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