Orange Blossom Sesame Nut Bars

The October issue of Feast Magazine is out! That means this month’s Sugar Rush column is featuring a new recipe: Orange Blossom Sesame Nut Bars. Inspired by Middle Eastern flavors, these layered nut bars are fragrant and full of texture. Made with a tender orange blossom scented shortbread crust and topped with a chewy caramel that’s studded with a nutty mixture of salted cashews, pistachios, and almonds. They are beautifully fragrant, buttery, and nutty. Now that the fall season has begun, they’d pair perfectly with a warm cup of tea; morning, noon, or night. My hat’s off to you if you can stop snacking on them once you’ve enjoyed your first bar.

Helpful Tips for This Recipe

* Use a good quality orange blossom water, such as Cortas or Mymouné, for a well-balanced flavor and subtle fragrance.

*For the best flavor, choose a thick good quality honey. Splurge on a good jar, such as a raw honey or a specialty honey from your local honey purveyor.

*Check out your local Middle Eastern markets to find good nuts, like vibrant Iranian pistachios.

*Whenever 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!

Orange Blossom Sesame Nut Bars

Makes 24 bars

Orange Blossom Shortbread Crust

2 cups (265g) all-purpose flour
¾ cup (84g)  confectioners’ sugar
¼ teaspoon  kosher salt
¾ cup (170g) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
2  large egg yolks
1 teaspoon  orange blossom water

Sesame Nut Caramel

2 tablespoons  toasted sesame seeds
¼  teaspoon  kosher salt
1 ½ cups (227g) salted cashews
1 cup (142g)  salted roasted pistachios
1 cup (142g)  natural whole almonds
1 cup (227g)  unsalted butter
¼ cup (52g)  granulated sugar
1 ½ cups (303g)  packed light brown sugar
½ cup (114g)  good quality honey
4 tablespoons heavy cream
1 teaspoon  vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 400F. Line a 9×13-inch baking pan with parchment paper.

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

Transfer dough into the prepared baking pan. Using your fingers, spread and press dough evenly over the entire bottom of the pan. With a fork, prick the dough all over. Cover the 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 and dried beans/rice and then return to the oven to continue baking for another 4 – 5 minutes or until crust edges are golden brown. Remove from oven and set on rack to cool.

Lower oven temperature to 350F.

In a bowl, combine toasted sesame seeds, salt, cashews, pistachios, and almonds. Set aside.

In a saucepan, over low heat, melt the butter. Add both sugars and honey; whisk to combine. Increase to medium heat and, whisking constantly, bring mixture to a boil. Cook caramel to 240F 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. Add in the 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 the whisk to lightly spread out nuts. Place baking pan back into the oven (not on a baking sheet this time) and bake for 27 minutes; caramel should be bubbling across entire surface and still fluid when done. Carefully, remove from oven and set on rack to cool completely to allow caramel to fully set. Using the sides of the parchment, lift bars out of the pan. Peel off the parchment and set on a cutting board. With a large chef’s knife, trim off all the edges to remove any hard caramel, then cut into 24 two-inch squares. Store bars, in an airtight container, for up to 3 days.