The evolution of a recipe

When I’m looking for a recipe, I’ll go through 20 different cookbooks, comparing and contrasting ingredients and techniques. Then, many times, I’ll improvise based on what I’ve learned. That’s with cooking. But  not with baking. Cooking is a pinch of this and a dab of that. Baking is precise. I’m not precise so I have to follow directions.

I went through the process today when I looked for a recipe for pecan pie bars. I found what looked like a great recipe in Charleston Receipts Repeats, the bible of Southern home cooking produced by the Charleston Junior League. If you don’t have a copy, get one. Then a little later on I found essentially the same recipe in Paula Deen’s The Lady and Sons, Too cookbook, one of the first she wrote. Now, don’t get your panties in a wad. I’m not saying Paula stole that recipe. She improved on it and made it her own.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Paula read Charleston Receipts Repeats. Charleston is just up the road from Savannah. The books were written 14 years apart, with Charleston’s coming first. But here are the differences. The Charleston recipe calls for dark corn syrup; Paula’s calls for light. The Charleston recipe calls for one cup of chopped pecans and Paula’s calls for two. Other than those two differences, the recipes are exactly the same. Here’s the thing. My English teacher in college taught me that there hasn’t been an original story written in the last 400 years. Everything is a variation on a theme. It’s the same with recipes.

So what did I do? Even though I don’t vary from baking recipes, I felt safe doing it here.  I split the difference. I went with dark corn syrup because dark is always better than light. But I went with two cups of chopped pecans instead of one. More is always the correct choice, don’t you think? Well, the results were delicious.

pecan pie squares

Here’s Paula’s recipe.

Pecan Pie Squares

1 box yellow cake mix
1/2 cup (1 stick) melted butter
4 eggs
1 1/2 cups light corn syrup
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350. Prepare a 13×9 pan. Mix cake mix, butter and 1 egg for the crust. Measure out 2/3 cup of this mixture and save it for the topping. Pat remaining mixture into the bottom of the pan and bake for 15 minutes. Stir together the reserved crust mixture, remaining 3 eggs, corn syrup, sugar and vanilla and then the pecans. Pour over the baked crust. Increase oven heat to 375 and bake for 30 minutes or until the cake is set. Let cool and cut into bars.

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