I never cared for pecan pies when I was a kid. I found that most of them had fillings that were too sweet and too gooey, overwhelming both the nuts and the crust of the pie. Actually, I still find a lot of pecan pies to be this way, which is why I prefer to make my own. With a homemade pecan pie, I get a much better balance of the nuts and the rest of the filling, and I can use sweeteners that add flavor, such as honey and maple syrup, instead of just sweetness, like commonly used corn syrup does. Pecan pies encouraged me to branch out and use other types of nuts more often in pies and tarts, like these Walnut Maple Bars.
These bars are a bit of a takeoff on pecan pie. In fact, they would be a great stand in for pecan pie at a holiday party, pleasing pie lovers in the flavor department and bakers for their easy preparation! They have a shortbread cookie crust and a topping packed with walnuts and maple syrup. The topping is similar to that of a pecan pie, but with a fairly high nut to filling ratio that leaves every bar with a generous amount of nuts, a buttery crust and lot of flavor. Walnuts work very well in these bars because they have a buttery flavor to them that other nuts don’t have. They still offer a bit of a crunch, but they blend in with the rest of the topping very well. In fact, I’ll throw in that they’re high in fiber and Omega-3s just because that is the justification I used to go for seconds after I had my first piece!
I added a little bit of cinnamon to the shortbread crust to give it a little more character. I used Grade B maple syrup in these bars because it has a stronger flavor than Grade A, but any flavor of maple syrup will work well. The vanilla adds a nice highlight to the flavor and the small amount of butter in the filling ensures that it stays tender, in addition to bringing out that buttery note from the walnuts. I used untoasted nuts, but toasted would work equally well in this recipe, as would a blend of pecans and walnuts if you want to mix things up.
Walnut Maple Bars with Shortbread Crust
Cinnamon Shortbread Crust
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
6 tbsp butter, chilled and cut into 4-6 pieces
Walnut Maple Topping
2 cups coarsely chopped walnuts
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup maple syrup
2 large eggs
2 tbsp butter, melted and cooled
1 tbsp all purpose flour
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350F. Line a 9×9-inch square pan with aluminum foil.
In the bowl of a food processor, combine all of the crust ingredients. Pulse several times until a coarse, sandy mixture forms. Pour into prepared baking dish and press into an even layer.
Bake for 13-15 minutes, until crust is very lightly browned around the edges.
Spread walnuts in an even layer over the still-warm crust (crust does not need to cool before filling).
In a medium bowl, make the rest of the topping. Whisk together sugar, maple syrup, eggs and melted butter until very smooth. Add in flour vanilla and whisk until well combined. Pour over walnuts and put the baking pan back in the oven.
Bake for about 30 minutes, or until tart is set and topping is golden brown.
Cool bars completely in the pan, then use the aluminum foil to easily lift them out before slicing.
Makes 20 bars.