Note from Chef Gwen: Linda Avery takes us for a spin through the newest cookbook from Rick Bayless. Read on, and then head to the kitchen to make the scrumptious chocolate pecan pie bars.
by Rick Bayless with Deann Groen Bayless
Facts: W.W. Norton, 350 pages, $35.00 (or Amazon at $21.95)
Photos: Over 140 pics of food, people, settings, fun
Give to: Rick Bayless fans, Mexican food lovers, a host in need of a party planner
Reviewed by Linda Avery:
Top Chef Master Rick Bayless has added another cookbook to his arsenal, Fiesta At Rick’s: Fabulous Food for Great Times with Friends – just released July 5th. This is a how-to guide for the best Mexican party you’d ever want to throw.
Don’t know where to start? Bayless suggests themes like a pozole party or a mole fiesta. He lays out “game plans” which begin about a week ahead of your party, and timelines (to make sure your plantains are perfectly ripened).
There is no disputing the fact that Rick Bayless brought Mexican food to a new level across the country over the past few decades. He has a talent for ramping up flavors with exquisite balance. I must say that this book is akin to having a Vulcan mind meld with him. He tells all.
Even the most accomplished host could pick up a pointer from the serving strategies. Decide your number of guests and choose from eight mouthwatering guacamoles like Tomato and Bacon, Mango or Toasted Pumpkin Seed (one of his suggested parties happens to be a Luxury Guacamole Bar Cocktail Party for 12).
If you don’t want to hire mariachis who might steal your show, you can rely on the playlists included for consideration – think Tito Puente, Bebel Gilberto, Lila Downs, and Buena Vista Social Club among others. And, he peppers the book with how-to guides for everything from “How to Have a Tequila Tasting” to “How to Build a Temporary Brick Fire Pit (Hornillo).”
And then there’s the food. In the words of the author “while there are dishes in this new book that don’t require a lot of time to make, a good number of them do involve forethought or dedication.”
If that’s intimidating, recruit a friend or two and cook together (probably best to have wine while cooking and save the tequila for prime time).
I don’t allow myself Mexican food very often because that “everything in moderation” rule flies out the window. This was an opportunity to let ‘er rip. Until now, flan was my go-to Mexican dessert recipe so I knew exactly what I wanted to test from this book: the chocolate pecan pie bars.
The golden rule of testing is to follow the recipe exactly, i.e., no substitutions, no halfsies. The result: this is a 5-star additively rich, delicious dessert and it is HUGE. Don’t hesitate to cut this recipe in half – I hope it freezes well.
From Fiesta At Rick’s: Fabulous Food for Great Times with Friends by Rick Bayless
Frontera Grill’s Chocolate Pecan Pie Bars
Makes thirty-two 2-inch bars
This recipe is a bar version of the Chocolate Pecan Pie that’s been the signature dessert at Frontera Grill for well over two decades. We’ve replaced that flaky crust with a sweet-salty-buttery pretzel crust that I think is perfect for these luscious bars. Come to think of it, with these bars being so gooey-rich you may want to cut the squares crosswise into triangles, so people can enjoy just a biteful at a time.
9 ounces (about 2 cups) pecan halves
One 9-ounce bag pretzel rods
1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, plus extra for buttering the pan
1/2 cup granulated sugar
8 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped into pieces not larger than 1/4 inch
3/4 cup (about 4 1/2 ounces) finely chopped Mexican chocolate (such as the widely available Ibarra brand)
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
6 large eggs
1 1/2 cups firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 1/2 cups corn syrup, preferably dark (or use a mixture of corn syrup and molasses, sorghum, Steen’s cane syrup or most any of the other rich-flavored syrups)
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract, preferably Mexican vanilla
Powdered sugar, for garnish
1. Toast the pecans and prepare the crumb crust. In a 325° oven, toast the pecans on a rimmed baking sheet until noticeably darker and toasty smelling, about 10 minutes. Let the pecans cool to lukewarm (but keep the oven heated), then coarsely chop them by hand — 1/4- to 1/2-inch pieces make luxurious-looking bars. Scrape into a large bowl.
2. Use a food processor to chop the pretzels into fairly fine crumbs. (You should have 2 cups of crumbs.) In a small saucepan over medium heat or in a microwave at 50% power, melt 2 sticks of the butter. Scrape into the processor, along with the 1/2 cup granulated sugar. Pulse until everything is combined.
3. Butter the bottoms and sides of two 8 x 8-inch baking pans. Cut a piece of parchment to fit the bottom of each pan, then press firmly in place. Butter the parchment paper. Divide the crumb mixture between the two pans and pat into an even layer covering the bottom completely.
4. Make the filling. To the pecans, add the two chocolates and the flour. Stir to combine, then divide evenly between the two pans. In the small saucepan or microwave at 50% power, melt the remaining 2 sticks of the butter. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the eggs, brown sugar, corn syrup or corn syrup mixture and vanilla, and beat at medium-low speed (if your mixer has a choice, use the flat beater). Slowly add the melted butter, mixing until the batter looks smooth. Divide the batter between the two pans, pouring it slowly and evenly over the surface to ensure even distribution of the chocolate and pecans through the batter.
5. Bake, cool and serve the bars. Slide the pans into the oven and bake for 45 to 55 minutes, until the center is almost firm. Let cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate until firm for easy cutting. Use a small knife to loosen the sides, then turn out. Cut into 2-inch squares. Keep your Chocolate Pecan Pie Bars stored in the refrigerator until just before serving. Transfer to a serving platter, dust with powdered sugar, carry to your guests and await the moans of pleasure.