1 1/4 cups pecan halves (or 3 1/4 cups pecan halves if making pecan butter)
2 cups quick-cooking oats (or old-fashioned oats, pulsed briefly in a food processor or blender to break them up)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (plus more to taste for pecan butter, optional)
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt (plus more to taste for pecan butter)
1 cup pecan butter (homemade or store-bought)
1/2 cup maple syrup or honey
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- Line a 9-inch square baker with one strip of parchment paper, cut to fit neatly across the base. The parchment paper will make it easy for you to slice the bars later.
- For maximum flavor, toast the pecans: In a medium skillet over medium heat, toast the pecans, stirring frequently (don’t let them burn!), until they are nice and fragrant, about 4 to 7 minutes. Transfer them to a cutting board to cool. Set aside 16 of your prettiest pecan halves for garnish, then chop the rest. Set aside.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the oats, cinnamon, and salt, and stir to blend. Set aside.
- If you’re making pecan butter for this recipe: pour 2 cups cooled, chopped pecan halves into food processor or blender. Then blend the pecans, pausing to scrape down the sides with a spatula often. The mixture will be crumbly at first, but will eventually blend into super-creamy goodness. You might have to stop and let the mixture/machine cool down for a bit just to be safe. Add a pinch of sea salt and a dash of cinnamon (if using). Blend again, taste, and add more salt or cinnamon if needed. Then add the maple syrup and vanilla to your food processor or blender and blend to combine. If using store-bought pecan butter: in a 2-cup liquid measuring cup, measure out 1 cup pecan butter. Top with ½ cup maple syrup or honey, followed by the vanilla extract. Whisk until well blended. (If you must, you can gently warm the liquid mixture in the microwave or on the stovetop.)
- Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients. Use a big spoon to mix them together until the two are evenly combined and no dry oats remain. Add the chopped pecans and stir until they are evenly dispersed. The drier the mixture, the more firm the bars will be, so stir in extra oats if the mixture seems wet. Conversely, if you used a thicker pecan butter, you might need to drizzle in another tablespoon of maple syrup or honey to help it all stick together.
- Transfer the mixture to the prepared square baker. Use your spoon to arrange the mixture fairly evenly in the baker. Cover the bottom of a flat, round surface (like a short, sturdy drinking glass) with a strip of parchment paper (see photo) and pack the mixture down as firmly and evenly as possible. Press the reserved pecan halves into the surface to create 4 even rows and 4 even columns.
- Cover the baker and refrigerate for at least one hour, or overnight. This gives the oats time to absorb moisture so the granola bars can set. When you’re ready to slice, lift the bars out of the baker by grabbing both ends of the parchment paper. Use a sharp chef’s knife to slice the mixture into 4 even rows and 4 even columns (these “bars” stick together better in a square shape).
- For portability, you can wrap individual bars in plastic wrap or parchment paper. Bars keep well for a couple of days at room temperature, but I recommend storing individually wrapped bars in a freezer-safe bag in the freezer for best flavor. They’ll keep for several months in the freezer.