Orange Blossom-Sesame Nut Bars

These aren't your average nut bars.

These layered nut bars have a tender orange blossom-scented shortbread crust.

Use a good quality orange blossom water, such as Cortas or Mymouné, for a well-balanced flavor and subtle fragrance. The crust is topped with a buttery and chewy caramel that’s studded with a nutty mixture of salted cashews, pistachios and almonds. For the best flavor, choose a thick, good-quality honey and pull out your candy thermometer in order to achieve the best texture.

A few tips:

  • Splurge on a good jar of honey, such as a raw honey or a specialty honey from a local honey purveyor.
  • When cooking caramel to temperature, be sure to read through the entire recipe and have all of your ingredients measured out and ready to go before starting. Sugar cooks fast!
  • Check out your local Middle Eastern markets to find nuts for this recipe, such as vibrant Iranian pistachios.

Orange Blossom-Sesame Nut Bars

Yields | 24 bars |

Orange Blossom Shortbread Crust

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • ¾ cup powdered sugar
  • ¼ tsp kosher salt
  • 1½ sticks (6 ounces) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 tsp orange blossom water

Sesame-Nut Caramel

  • 2 Tbsp toasted sesame seeds
  • ¼ tsp kosher salt
  • 1½ cups salted cashews
  • 1 cup salted roasted pistachios
  • 1 cup whole almonds
  • 2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • 1½ cups packed light brown sugar
  • ½ cup honey
  • 4 Tbsp heavy cream
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

| Preparation – Orange Blossom Shortbread Crust | Preheat oven to 400°F. Line a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with parchment paper.

In a food processor, combine flour, powdered sugar and salt. Pulse several times to blend well. Scatter cold butter pieces over top of dry ingredients and pulse until butter is coarsely cut in, about the size of peas. In a small bowl, lightly whisk together egg yolks and orange blossom water, then drizzle over top of dough. Pulse for several seconds at a time until dough comes together, forming clumps, and holds when pressed together with fingers.

Transfer dough into prepared baking pan. Using your fingers, spread and press dough evenly over the entire bottom of the pan. Using a fork, prick dough all over. Cover dough with a second piece of parchment paper and pour dried beans or rice on top to weigh down. Place baking pan onto a baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes. Carefully, remove parchment paper and weights and then return to oven to continue baking for 4 to 5 minutes or until crust edges are golden brown. Remove from oven and set on rack to cool.

| Preparation – Sesame-Nut Caramel | Reduce oven temperature to 350°F. In a medium bowl, combine toasted sesame seeds, salt, cashews, pistachios and almonds. Set aside.

In a saucepan over low heat, melt butter. Add both sugars and honey; whisk to combine. Increase heat to medium and, whisking constantly, bring mixture to a boil. Cook caramel to 240°F on a candy thermometer (this will only take about 1 minute once it begins to boil), remove from heat and immediately whisk in heavy cream and vanilla extract. Add in sesame-nut mixture and whisk to combine until nuts are evenly coated with caramel.

Pour sesame-nut caramel on top of baked crust in an even layer, using a whisk to lightly spread out nuts. Place baking pan back in oven and bake for 27 minutes; caramel should be bubbling across entire surface and still fluid when done. Set on rack to cool completely.

| To Serve | Using the sides of the parchment paper, lift bars out of the pan. Peel off parchment paper and set on a cutting board. Using a large chef’s knife, trim off edges to remove any hard caramel, then cut into 24 two-inch squares. Store bars in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

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Teresa Floyd is a Kansas City-based food writer, editor for the online food publication feedfeed and contributing monthly columnist for Feast Magazine’s Sugar Rush. Find her current creations on Now, Forager, a pastry blog featuring seasonal desserts.

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