This perfect healthier pecan bar replaces the traditional corn syrup and refined sugars with maple syrup.
In creating this recipe, I wanted to keep the balance of sweet, gooey, crunchy and nutty of a traditional pecan bar and not compromise on the flavor or texture. Substituting maple syrup for the corn syrup and refined white sugar cut the overall sugar in half. Sugar does provide structure, it holds onto to water and helps to leaven baked goods. When removing the refined sugar and replacing with maple syrup, some small adjustments need to be made to ensure your bars are texturally sound and taste delicious.
The Maple Pecan Bar has 2 components, the shortbread crust and the pecan filling.
SHORTBREAD CRUST: To make a delicious crumbly, flaky shortbread crust without white sugar requires adding water to the crust and par baking it before adding the pecan mixture. Using a food processor with a blade attachment will bring the dough together into a ball rather quickly.
The butter should be very cold. Place the flour, salt, and baking powder in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse about 5 times until combined. Add the butter, maple syrup and water and pulse about 10-15 times until the mixture comes together and small balls of dough are formed. If the dough is too dry and not coming together, add a few drops of water through the funnel and pulse a few more times. If you have time, place the flour and butter in the freezer for 20 minutes. If you have space in the freezer, you could also chill the food processor blade and bowl.
When making the dough, be sure that you do not over-process the ingredients. The dough should feel soft and should stick together when you squeeze a little of it between your fingers, but should not feel wet. The batter will still be a bit crumbly. It can be squeezed together by hand and then pressed into the base of the prepared baking pan. Use a piece of parchment or the bottom of a lightly floured, dry measuring cup to press the dough into an even layer.
If you are making the dough by hand, you may find it is easiest to cream together the butter and maple syrup first by hand, with a pastry cutter or using 2 forks, then sift over the flour, salt and baking powder and mix with a wooden spoon until the dough comes together and can be patted into a ball. It may take a bit of time and effort to get to this stage.
A trick you can use if making the dough by hand is to freeze the amount of butter you need in one large piece, then use a box grater to grate the butter into the flour. The butter is in small pieces and needs little handling to mix into the flour.
PECAN WALNUT FILLING: In many traditional pecan recipes for bars and pies, the pecans are placed on the crust and the liquid is then poured over the pecans. This doesn’t work well when using maple syrup in place of sugar. To make sure the bars stays together when baked, combine the pecans and walnuts with the liquid mixture and pour the entire mixture over the crust.
PREPARING THE PAN: For ease of removal and to reduce the chance of breaking the bars, line a baking pan with parchment paper that is larger than the pan. This will create a sling with a few extra inches of paper hanging over the sides. Be sure to lightly spray the parchment paper before adding the crust.
MAKE IT VEGAN:
Replace the unsalted butter with a non-dairy butter. The non-dairy alternatives typically contain salt, so if substituting for the unsalted butter in the recipe, do not add any additional salt.
Replace the egg with a flax egg or JUST Egg.
To make a flax egg, mix one tablespoon ground flaxseed meal with three tablespoons of water. Stir to combine and refrigerate for about 10 minutes until it thickens.
To replace with JUST Eggs, 3 tablespoon of the liquid equals one egg.
MAKE IT GLUTEN FREE: Replace the all-purpose flour with a gluten free baking flour or almond flour. If the gluten free flour already has baking powder, do not add any additional to the recipe.
USE A COMBINATION OF NUTS: Feel free to use a combination of pecan and walnuts. Toast, cool and chop the nuts before adding them to the maple syrup mixture so the result is not soggy. Toasting also brings out the nutty flavor of the nuts. It is better to toast the nuts whole and then chop once cooled.
TOASTING PECANS AND WALNUTS IN THE OVEN:
Preheat oven to 325ºF.
Place pecan halves and walnuts in a single layer on a baking sheet.
Toast them in the oven for 7-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until golden brown.
Healthier Maple Pecan Bars
- Food processor fitted with blade attachment
- 8x8 inch baking pan
- parchment paper
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- ½ tsp salt
- ¼ tsp baking powder
- 8 tbs unsalted butter cut into 1/2-inch pieces and chilled
- 2 tbs pure maple syrup
- 1 tbs water
pecan walnut filling
- ½ cup pure maple syrup
- 4 tbs unsalted butter melted and cooled
- 1 large egg
- 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
- ¼ tsp salt
- 1 cup pecans toasted, cooled and coarsely chopped
- ¾ cup walnuts toasted, cooled and coarsely chopped
prepare the crust
- Preheat oven to 350º F
- Create a sling for an 8x8 inch baking pan with parchment paper. The parchment paper should hang a few inches over the two opposite sides of the pan. Spray lightly with oil and set aside.
- Pulse the flour, salt and baking powder in the chilled bowl of a food processor fitted with a blade attachment about 5 times until combined.
- Add butter, maple syrup and water and pulse about 10-15 times until small balls of dough are formed. If the dough is not coming together, add a few drops of water through the funnel and pulse a few more times.
- Place mixture in prepared pan and press down to create an even layer. Use a piece of parchment or the bottom of a dry measuring cup that has been dusted with flour to evenly spread the dough into the pan.
- Bake in the center of the oven for 20-25 minutes until golden brown, rotating pan halfway through baking.
prepare the filling
- While crust is baking, whisk together the maple syrup, melted butter, egg, vanilla and salt in a medium bowl until well combined.
- Stir in toasted pecans and walnuts. It is okay to omit the walnuts and make entirely a pecan bar.
- Pour filling over top of hot crust and evenly spread mixture.
- Return to oven and bake for 20-25 minutes until mixture is bubbling. Rotate pan halfway through baking.
- Let bars cool completely in pan for about 1 hour. To remove, lift with sling and place on cutting board. Cut into 16 bars.