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I like to play this game where I imagine what I would have done if I had been born in a different time or place. For example, if I had been born in medieval times, would I still be so interested in food? Would I have sat at the table, complaining that someone had under-seasoned the boar or overcooked the mutton pie?
And if I had been born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in the 1950s, what would I have contributed to the Junior League Cookbook? I've been considering this one a lot because my friend E.J., who's from the South, gifted me a spiral-bound copy of River Road Recipes, and I'm totally obsessed with reading it. The collection includes recipes that are adorably retro (Shrimp Balls with Gravy, Cheese Mold, Deviled Ham Dip, Ozark Pudding) and it's fascinating when used as a primary source document. It really gives the reader a glimpse into a passed time and place.
Obviously, the dessert section of the book is my favorite. And I've come to decide that my alter ego is one Mrs. J. Burton LeBlanc. She contributed a recipe for Caramel Squares which, upon baking, proved to be just up my alley.
Before I continue I'll point out that most cookbooks include brownies and bars under the chapter devoted to "cookies," so this week I'm widening my own cookie loop, just a little, to include these cookie-ish Caramel Pecan Squares.
Mrs. LeBlanc's recipe starts out by making a caramel (though she doesn't call it that), which is mixed into an otherwise standard dough. As sometimes happens with old cookbooks, there was no instruction on when to add the nuts, or even a mention as to what kind I should use. I chose pecans (obvious choice, as there was caramel at play) and decided to sprinkle them in a heavy layer over the top of the squares instead of mixing them into the dough.
The dough bakes up as thin as a cookie, though the pecans add a little height. The base is deeply flavored with caramel and the pecans get nice and toasty—a bite floods your mouth with the flavor of praline. I also love the textural contrast of these squares: the base is soft and cookie-like, while the nuts are small and crunchy.
If I had lived in Baton Rogue in the 1950s, I think I definitely would have claimed this recipe for the Junior League book. (Sorry J.)
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