Thursday, December 19, 2013

Original Old Fashioned Mud Hen Bars

A wonderful heirloom recipe dating back 100 years, this simple pecan cookie bar is topped with a brown sugar meringue layer, giving them a slightly crisp, cracked topping.

Original Old Fashioned Mud Hen Bars

You may never have heard of Mud Hen Bars before, or you may have seen them for first time in the last couple of years across the explosion of food blogs, but it's actually one of those recipes that's been around even longer than I have.

The oldest mention of them from my own personal cookbook collection, dates back to my 1950 copy of Charleston Receipts, but the one here, shared from the now out of print A Taste of Louisiana, claims to be more than 100 years old!

It seems that the background of how they came to be known as mud hen bars has gotten lost however, since nobody seems to know for sure why that name stuck. It could be because as cookie bars go, with their cracked and broken tops, they aren't much to look at. "Uglier than a mud hen" is an expression that is pretty self-explanatory, referring to a rather odd looking marsh coot, that looks a little like a duck, and feeds at the edge of marsh in the mud.

The recipes for mud hen bars that you'll find offered in a Google search these days are a more "modern" version, usually including a layer of chocolate chips and marshmallows, and often puts the pecans there too, rather than in the cookie crust, making them a little bit like our Mississippi Mud bars. I've seen a few recipes that include both in my Pioneer Telephone series of cookbooks Bell's Best from Mississippi and Calling All Cooks from Alabama dating back to the 70s and 80s.

The bars are soft, tender and already super rich and achingly sweet to me, although the sweetness of them tends to settle a bit with a day's rest. I didn't care to add any more sweetness to that with marshmallows and chocolate, plus I wanted to stay true to and plant a copy of a more original recipe for mud hen bars here on my website, which contains neither. While I'm not a heavy sweets eater at all, I do find them to be delicious and maybe even a tiny bit addictive. The Cajun took this pan to a meeting and everybody gobbled them up in record time, talking about how good they were, and proving that they are just perfect for the sweets lover.

Another great holiday heirloom recipe, these simple pecan bars have a slightly crisp, cracked surface, thanks to a brown sugar meringue topping, and are often a traditional Christmas cookie bar for many Southern families. I hope that you'll make them a tradition in your own family.

Here's how to make them.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 9 x 13 inch baking pan with aluminum foil, leaving a hangover on each end for handles. Butter or spray with non-stick spray and set aside. The Baker's Joy was right up front so that's what I grabbed. Makes sense!


Cream the butter; add sugar and cream mixture until well blended. Separate two of the eggs and set aside the whites. Add one whole egg and the two yolks to the butter mixture, blending in. Add the vanilla, milk, flour and pecans; mix.


Spread mixture into the prepared pan. An offset spatula is the best kitchen tool for jobs like this. Place into a preheated 350 degree F oven, baking for 10 minutes.


Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl, beat the reserved egg whites until foamy. Add a pinch of cream of tartar for more fluff if you have it, and continue beating until stiff.


Whisk the brown sugar to break up any lumps and fold in the beaten egg whites, spreading evenly across the top.


Bake at 350 degrees F for about 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool in pan completely.


Carefully lift from pan and cut into small squares. Serve plain, or topped with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.



Recipe: Old Fashioned Mud Hen Bars

©From the Kitchen of Deep South Dish
Prep time: 10 min |Cook time: 30 min | Yield: About 24 squares

Ingredients
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) of unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
  • 1 cup of granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs, separated
  • 1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons of half and half or milk
  • 1-1/2 cups of all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon of baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon of salt
  • 1-1/2 cups of chopped pecans
  • Pinch of cream of tartar, optional
  • 1 cup of light brown sugar, packed
Instructions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 9 x 13 inch baking pan with aluminum foil, leaving a hangover on each end for handles. Butter or spray with non-stick spray and set aside.

Cream the butter; add sugar and cream the mixture until well blended. Separate two of the eggs and set aside the whites. Add one whole egg and the two yolks to the butter mixture, blending in. Add the vanilla and milk. Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt and add to the butter mixture along with the pecans; gently mix to combine and spread into the prepared pan. Place into the oven and bake for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl, beat the reserved egg whites until foamy. Add a pinch of cream of tartar and continue beating until stiff. Whisk the brown sugar to break up any lumps and fold in the beaten egg whites until blended. Spread mixture evenly across the top of the cookie layer. Bake at 350 degrees F for another 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool completely in the pan, then lift from pan and cut into small squares. Serve plain, or topped with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.

Cook's Notes: Once cooled, let these air dry uncovered overnight before storing. This will keep them from becoming too soft and crumbly.

Variation: Sprinkle 1/2 cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips and 1 cup of mini marshmallows on top of the cookie dough; cover with the brown sugar meringue layer. Chopped dried fruit is also a nice addition - add those in with the pecans.

Source: http://deepsouthdish.com

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©Deep South Dish
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4 comments:

  1. I can't wait to try them like this! This, surely, is what the original recipe was intended to be!

    ReplyDelete
  2. I'm so glad I came across your recipe. I am pretty sure these were served at my church about a year ago minus the nuts and thought they were sublime! I remember the soft gooey center and the meringue topping. Thank you, thank you!!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Early 1970s, Alabama, my first introduction to Mud Hen by a sweet southern cook who gave me the recipe. Lost it, darn it. Searched my recipes and the internet for years to recover it. Finally found it in some odd place where I put it for "safe" keeping! This recipe is very similar to the one I recovered, and yes, it is divine.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm sure that's about the time that they became most popular, and then they sort of fell away for awhile until food bloggers came about! That's so funny that you finally found the original you had put away. I have a few recipes like that - hope to find them again someday!

      Delete

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