Kitchn Love Letters

The Pie Bar I’ve Been Making for Years (They Travel Beautifully!)

updated Nov 26, 2019
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Credit: Faith Durand / Kitchn
Maple Pecan Pie Bars, about to go into the oven.

Every year, the Great Thanksgiving Pilgrimage commences and with it the inevitable questions: What can I cook ahead and take with me? What doesn’t require refrigeration? What will make it past the cold electronic eyes of the TSA airport scanner?

But these questions have quieter concerns behind them: How can I travel across the state or country to a relative’s home and still feel like my own person, bringing a unique contribution to the feast? How do I prove I am a good cook in my own right? Can I not only eat, but contribute and feel like I’ve earned my spot at the table? Well, fellow traveler, I have the perfect Thanksgiving travel recipe for you.

This recipe flies, drives, and carries well. It’s a knock-their-socks-off recipe that is always welcome, and I know all of this because I packed it in a suitcase and flew with it just last week.

Credit: Leela Cyd

My ultimate Thanksgiving travel recipe is these maple pecan pie bars. It’s one of my all-time favorite Thanksgiving desserts. Now, I don’t typically travel for Thanksgiving, but last week I flew to our offices in New York from my home in Ohio, and I realized my trip overlapped with Officesgiving — an occasion I typically envy via Slack pictures but never get to participate in. Obviously I had to contribute! But I needed a recipe that I could make and carry on the plane.

This recipe was immediately on my mind: I’ve made it many times. It is just the most absolutely delicious dish, with all the qualities of a great pecan pie (buttery, salty crust, and gooey pecan topping with a splash of maple), but an even better ratio of crust to topping. I love that these bars have a press-in crust that calls for melted butter; it’s so easy. The maple syrup melds in a lovely sugary streak with that buttery, cookie-like crust. After a short refrigeration, the bars cut beautifully into little squares that disappear fast.

Pie bars like these are always a great contribution to Thanksgiving. They aren’t trying to replace the all-hallowed pumpkin pie, but people often crave another dessert. These provide that. There’s always room for one more dessert without your mother-in-law or uncle feeling like you’re replacing a sacred side dish of Thanksgiving tradition.

But this recipe also has the qualities of something that travels well: The bars are dense and not fragile. They have that sticky topping that helps hold it all together. They don’t have to be refrigerated but they can be refrigerated, or even frozen. They can be made ahead and need no warming or final finishing before serving. (Just cut and devour.)

How to Pack Pie Bars for Travel

For their cross-country trip, I baked up a batch of the bars and let them cool overnight. To pack them for travel, I left them right in the pan. I wrapped the pan in plastic wrap with the wrap touching the surface of the bars. Then I placed a small book inside the pan, on top of the bars. (A little cutting board or serving board could work as well.) This helps keep the bars from falling out if flipped upside down in a suitcase. Then I wrapped the entire thing in plastic again, and in foil, and I slipped it inside a tote bag.

This went right into my suitcase. It traveled beautifully. I put them in the fridge after I arrived just to help them really firm up and reseal any breakage in the crust from traveling. (Overall I think these bars benefit from a good chill at some point.)

The proof was in the potluck: These bars absolutely flew off the table, and I can’t take credit, as it’s not my recipe! But I can brag about it; it’s just the most delicious recipe and I adore it. In fact, I have two more pans of these in the oven right now for my own Thanksgiving. Whether they travel near or far, these pie bars are always welcome.

Get the Recipe for Maple Pecan Pie Bars

The best Thanksgiving travel recipe: Maple Pecan Pie Bars

What about you? Do you have a favorite travel recipe, for Thanksgiving or the winter holidays, or any time?