Southern Belle Bars! The name alone just makes you think of spring, the South and a time that is rich with history and traditions.
Nothing seems more spring-like, elegant and fun to me than the Kentucky Derby. It’s on my bucket list to attend the Derby in my traditional hat, cheer for the horses during the big race and be part of one of the oldest traditions in the South. I figure if it’s good enough for the Queen of England, I can make room in my schedule! However, until I can actually be there, it’s just as much fun planning a Derby party at home. Our friends love the food, the fun and the thrill of the race! The horses run late in the afternoon, so I usually have plenty of time to prepare food and treats and enjoy the pre-race activities. Some of the items I like to make are Derby Day Chocolate Mint Thins, Cucumber & Swiss Bites and Chorizo Appetizer Flowers. However if you are looking to make a fun easy Southern-style traditional dessert, Southern Belle Bars are a favorite. Let me show you how easy they are to make.
First, make the crust. You may be tempted to take a shortcut and use a pre-made crust for this. Nope. Don’t do it. This Derby dessert is extra tasty thanks to the chopped pecans in the crust, and it is so easy to make! You’ll see.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Measure out 1 1/4 cups of flour and put it into a mixing bowl. Many of you may be tempted to add whole wheat flour to be healthier. I know who you are my friends! I’m here to tell you: This recipe is perfection, just like the Derby. Don’t mess with tradition! Use 1 1/4 cups of all-purpose flour!
Take a stick of softened butter (1/2 cup) and slice it into small pats to drop into the bowl. Wondering when to use salted rather than unsalted butter? You can use either one in this recipe, but I use salted because I always have it on hand.
Then add 1/4 cup sugar just like this.
The recipe says to mix at medium speed until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Great news everyone: Since my last post, I received a new hand mixer. No more mismatched beaters that you have to hold down into the bowl to keep them from popping out and spraying batter everywhere! R.I.P. old mixer. It will be missed because it usually added excitement to almost any recipe that required a mixer.
I started to use my great new mixer, but I realized that it was a little more effective to just use a fork to work the butter into the flour. Wow. Sometimes it’s just the simple things.
To make the crust so tasty in these bars, you add 1/4 cup of finely chopped pecans. Though the recipe says to coarsely chop them, I prefer them to be more finely chopped. Either way you can’t go wrong.
Grab an 8- or 9-inch square baking pan. No need to prepare the pan, you can just pour the mixture into the pan like this:
Then press the crust mixture firmly and evenly into the bottom of the pan. Don’t forget those corners!
Place into the oven to bake at 350˚F for 18 to 22 minutes or until very lightly golden around the edges. I found my crust was ready after baking for 21 minutes.
While you are waiting for the crust to bake, you can race through the next part of the recipe, the tasty filling!
The base for the filling is 3/4 cup of dark corn syrup. This is a Southern staple and an ingredient that doesn’t usually get much use in my house except for this time of year and to make a pecan pie at Thanksgiving!
Next add 1/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar.
Add 2 eggs to the filling mixture. I used the Land O Lakes® All-Natural Eggs like the recipe suggested. They’re always fresh and top quality. I just added them into the mixture unbeaten (much like some of the horses racing today!).
The next ingredient is a 1/2 teaspoon of salt.
My favorite baking ingredient comes next—just 1 teaspoon of vanilla. I love adding vanilla to a recipe. It smells like you are baking something awesome!
By this time, the crust in the oven is starting to smell incredible! The next ingredient is 3 tablespoons of all-purpose flour.
At this point, all your ingredients have been mixed in, except the pecans. The consistency of the filling will look like this:
After mixing well, stir in 3/4 cup of chopped pecans.
When your crust is ready, remove it from the oven. You can pour your filling mixture over the crust.
Spread the filling completely over the hot, partially baked crust.
Place your dessert back into the oven and bake for another 20 to 30 minutes, until your filling seems to be set. The simplest way to check is by inserting a knife into the bars. It should be clean when you take it out.
Set the pan aside and let it cool completely before cutting.
When you are ready to serve the Southern Belle Bars, push a knife around the edges to loosen and release them from the pan. Cut them into squares. I chose to make bite-sized bars. We usually have some other great finger foods and treats, and it’s more fun to do small portions and try a little bit of everything.
You can see how the layers come together. The crust is light and flaky, the middle is soft and savory and the top layer of pecans is crunchy and awesome! All the great features of an amazing Southern dessert!
With our Southern Belle Bars made, we are ready for our guests to arrive. We have had a Derby party for several years now and one thing is always the same: When our guests arrive, we know they’ll enjoy a plate full of Southern tradition! Happy Derby Day!