Pecan squares

Less sweet than traditional pecan pie, these plant-based pecan squares are a healthy yet decadent dessert that you can make during the festive season. Great with a cup of coffee or tea, one square will satisfy a sweet tooth.

From topping to base, I made these squares as healthy as I possibly could without compromising the taste or texture. Take a look at the ingredients below.

There’s no corn syrup, no butter, no coconut oil, no shortening, no white flour and there’s very little white sugar in the recipe. To make the caramel filling that’s typically found in pecan pie, I used cashew cream, medjool dates, pure maple syrup, vanilla, a bit of cornstarch to thicken and of course lots of raw pecans.

We often hear how raw almonds, walnuts and pistachios are good for us. But did you know that raw pecans are just as good? Raw pecans are packed with heart-healthy fats, minerals, vitamins, fibre, protein and plant-compounds known as phytosterols. When consumed in moderation, they may help lower LDL or the “bad” cholesterol.

Pecan squares

One 9 inch (23 cm) square springform pan.

Ingredients

Base

  • 1½ cups rolled oats (no sugar/no salt added)
  • 1 cup ground hazelnuts
  • 1/3 cup light tasting oil such as canola, vegetable or grape seed oil
  • 2 tablespoons (tbsp) confectioners’ sugar
  • 3 tbsps pure apple sauce, unsweetened
  • 1/4 teaspoon (tsp) powdered cinnamon

Filling

  • 8 fresh medjool dates, pitted
  • 1½ cups (190 grams) raw pecans
  • 1 tbsp canola, grape seed or vegetable oil (for roasting the pecans)
  • 1 cup cashew cream *(see note)
  • 1/3 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 tbsps cornstarch

Topping

  • About 60 raw pecans
  • A small drizzle of maple syrup and 1 tsp of brown (or white) sugar

* Note: Fresh cashew cream can be made in less than 10 minutes. You only need raw cashews, water and a blender. It’s that simple. You can view the recipe here.

Procedure

Oven: 180°C / 350°F (standard oven)

Lightly grease the sides of the pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.

Soak the dates for a few minutes in a small bowl filled with hot water to soften them. Discard the water. Roughly chop the dates and set aside in a small bowl.

On stove-top, heat the 1 tbsp of oil in a skillet. When hot, reduce heat to medium and add the 1½ cups of pecans. Roast the pecans stirring them constantly for two minutes. This will bring out their flavour. When done, remove the pecans and roughly chop them in large chunks. Set aside in a small bowl.

In food processor, process the rolled oats until you obtain fine crumbs (it should not be powdery but slightly crumbly).

Processed oats mixed with ground hazelnuts.

In a bowl, hand mix with a fork the processed oats with the ground hazelnuts. Add the oil, sugar, apple sauce and cinnamon. Mix until well combined and the mixture is evenly moistened.

Transfer mixture to the pan and press it down evenly and firmly with clean fingers to the bottom to form a base. Partially bake in pre-heated oven for 7 minutes. Take out when done and set aside.

In a pot on stove-top on medium-high heat, heat up the cashew cream. Add the dates, maple syrup and vanilla. Bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 5-6 minutes uncovered stirring constantly with a wooden spoon or a potato masher. While stirring, bang or mash the dates so that they shrink and dissolve.

Remove mixture from heat and stir in the cornstarch (add a little at time or in 4 parts to avoid clumping).

Put the mixture back on the heated stove-top and add the chopped roasted pecans. Heat this up for 2 minutes stirring and turning constantly. It should get very thick and look like a smooth nutty caramel.

Transfer the mixture to the partially cooked base and spread evenly.

In a small bowl, add 60 pecans and drizzle a little maple syrup and brown sugar. Toss/stir the pecans to coat evenly. Arrange them in rows on top of the pecan-caramel mixture, lightly pressing them into the mixture.

Bake in pre-heated oven for 20 minutes. Allow to cool completely before serving. Store the squares in a covered container in fridge. You can enjoy as is or with a dollop of fresh cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

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Julie Zimmer

Julie has extensive experience in nursing practice and education in a wide range of fields from intensive/coronary care, to medical-surgical to community and public health. Julie has Bachelor Degrees in Psychology and Nursing, and a Master’s Degree in Community Health Nursing Education. She has taught in faculties of nursing and in various communities in Toronto, Canada and in Geneva, Switzerland, and is a consultant to the International Council of Nurses (ICN). Julie also has years of experience teaching English as a foreign language (EFL) in addition to coordinating an English department in a Swiss private school.

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