Several years ago, my Dad had a coworker at the pulp mill that had a pecan and blueberry farm. In late fall, he would sell his pecans to employees at the pulp mill. A couple of times, Dad ordered one or two of these huge paper bags filled with aromatic Georgia pecans. Although of the nuts were already ‘shelled’ mechanically, many of them still had parts of shells on them. It was my task to shell the rest of the pecans and put them in freezer Ziploc bags for storage. I looked forward to this task, mostly because they made a good snack while you were working. 😋
It is with fond memories of shelling Georgian pecans that I give you this scrumptious recipe for you to enjoy. These caramel pecan bars are extremely addicting, probably due to the high quantities of creamy homemade caramel sauce, fragrant toasted pecans, and buttery shortbread. As a handy tip, cut the bars into bite-size pieces instead of traditional bars. Then you can sneak lots of little “tastes” instead of one or two bars. 😊 Then, freeze the rest so you’re forced to save them for later.
The secret to these bars is that homemade caramel sauce. It’s extra work, but it makes these bars taste SO much better than if they’re made with store-bought caramel. It’s worth every extra minute! Check out my post here for the recipe. Just make sure the caramel is fully cooled and thickened before using in this recipe. If it’s too thick after chilling in the fridge, let it sit on the counter for 20-30 minutes, and it will soften.
This recipe makes a lot of bars, but that’s ok. They freeze wonderfully, and all of your pecan-loving family and friends will gladly help you consume them. If you want extra gooey bars, which taste a lot better, decrease the shortbread cooking time a little. For a crisper result, make sure the shortbread base is cooked enough before adding the topping. If you’d like to half the recipe, decrease the butter to maybe 3/4 of a cup instead of 1 cup.
Are you ready for a chewy gooey caramel pecan treat? I am!Print
Caramel pecan bars are rich, creamy, and full of toasted pecans. Use homemade caramel sauce for complete nutty deliciousness.
For the Shortbread Base
- 2 cups unsalted butter, softened
- 1 cup light brown sugar, packed
- 3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup cornstarch or arrowroot powder
For the Caramel Pecan Topping
- 3 cups pecan halves
- 1 1/2–2 cups homemade caramel sauce
Preparing the Pan & Nuts
- Preheat the oven to 350 F.
- Line the base and sides of a 9″x13″ pan with aluminum foil. This will help get the bars out in seconds and the clean up will be a breeze. Set the prepared pan aside.
- Spread the pecan halves evenly on a cookie sheet. Roast them at 350 F for 8-10 minutes until they smell and taste toasted, stirring them every 4 minutes. Please stay in the same room and watch them so they don’t burn.
Making the Shortbread Base
- Cream the butter and sugar together in the bowl of a stand mixer until well blended and fluffy.
- Whisk together the flour and cornstarch together in a medium bowl, then gradually mix it into the butter and sugar in 2 or 3 additions.
- Press the shortbread into the bottom of the prepared pan.
- Bake at 350 F for 30-40 minutes, until the base is set, lightly golden brown on top, and a darker golden brown around the edges. It will still be soft, but it will harden as it cools after the second bake.
Adding the Topping
- Place the pecans in a medium bowl and gradually add the caramel sauce until it reaches your desired ratio of nuts-to-sauce. More caramel will make the final bars more chewy and gooey.
- Spread the topping evenly over the shortbread and bake again for 12-15 minutes until the caramel is bubbling lightly around the edges but more furiously in the center.
- Let the pan cool on a wire rack for about 30 minutes.
- Lift the foil from the pan and place the bars on a cutting board. Cut the bars to your desired size with a sharp knife.
If you’d like the shortbread base to be thinner, reserve the extra shortbread dough. This shortbread dough is not shortbread cookie dough, it will spread when baked and not keep it’s shape. This is why it’s better to use up any extra dough in something that will contain it – like a small, foil-lined ramekin.
If you’re in a hurry, you can use a can of store-bought dulce de leche instead of homemade caramel sauce. It doesn’t taste nearly as good, but is a substitute in a pinch. A better caramel sauce substitute would be to melt a bag of unwrapped caramels with 1/2 cup of whipping cream in a saucepan, stir and cook for 10 minutes.