Low Carb Caramel Pecan Toasted Coconut Shortbread Bars

My mother was a June Cleaver and my younger sister a Martha Stewart, and together these forces of feminine formidability ushered me into adulthood as less-than-confident when it came to my baking, cooking, and entertaining skills. As an angsty teen, I wrote a journal entry which declared superlatively that I was more afraid of pleasing a future spouse in the kitchen than I was afraid of pleasing a future spouse in bed, because although the anthem for both might have been “practice makes perfect,” inelegant practice was infinitely more tolerable, and longer endured, in one case as opposed to the other.

As an introvert –an ISFJ at that – and a planner, whose love language is Microsoft Excel, I started a preemptive battle plan in the form of a comprehensive spreadsheet, titled, “Meal Planning: Year One.” Throughout my early 20s, I squirreled away every decent-looking recipe I found, and in time brought forth a complicated meal plan which paired breakfasts with complimentary lunches, dinners, and desserts, all in a sort of acceptability matrix; hot, complicated, time-consuming lunches were paired with easy, bright, vegetal dinners; or vice-versa; sweet breakfasts were never opposite rich desserts; weekends were regarded as open season for leftovers. The first year’s spreadsheet turned into a second, and a third, and so on, until I had an assemblage of thousands of recipes in careful succession, just waiting for an occasion when I would be called upon to cook an inaugural meal for a lawfully wedded spouse. Saved on a flash drive attached to my car keys, my spreadsheet became tantamount to a security object. I was organized and prepared!

Upon my eventual marriage, however, my poor spreadsheet never came into use. It might as well have been a neglected DARPA project, because for all of the investment of time and all of the zeal which went into its preparation, “Meal Planning: Years One Through Five,” was rendered inapplicable because:

  • The angsty teenaged Nicole had not anticipated that after all, when you love to do something, the talent to do it sometimes comes naturally. As it turns out, I did not need a lot of practice to be a good cook – when dinnertime approached I transmogrified happily into an instinctual creature, throwing things together in pinches and pints, shopping the ads for sales and somehow knowing exactly what meal belonged to each day.
  • My particular spouse admired all of my food offerings, without exception, and never saw my early attempts as practice, but as perfection. (Whether or not my journal should have predicted that I would possess equal instinctual talent in other areas, I cannot testify: you’ll have to ask my husband.) In a world where I had always been my own greatest critic, I was completely blindsided to be married to my greatest cheerleader. The first hundred, or maybe thousand, meals I made for him (and at least two meals per week to this day), were accompanied by an interrogation, always beginning with, “What’s wrong with it?” (“Nothing?”) “But what should be done differently?” (“Nothing?”) “Well, is it too salty?” (“I don’t think so?”) “Babe! You’re being difficult here – I’m trying to ask for constructive feedback!” (“I don’t know what to say. It’s delicious? I wouldn’t change anything? You’re the chef—you know it tastes good.”)
  • Meal planning itself accounted for nearly half of my joy in the kitchen, and I had no will to give it up. Perusing Pinterest is the introvert’s recharge, and something about savoring the research process – matching meals with moods, comparing fifteen similar recipes into a hybrid and ultimately following the composite only loosely—made cooking all the more relaxing. Michael has asked me at least two hundred and fifty six thousand times, “Why are you meal planning? I thought you were just doing that a few days ago? I thought you had 16,540 pins on your meal boards on Pinterest?”

Most importantly, the spreadsheet was never in regular use because:

  • In the days of its creation, I could eat whatever I wanted without gaining an ounce, including elaborate stacks of pancakes with homemade syrup and brown-sugar charred bacon; elegant freshly-baked goat cheese focaccias with pasta for lunch; comforting orzo with lemon zest and breaded spinach-stuffed chicken for dinner; and barely-baked cookie sundaes piled with ice creams and sundry toppings. I could plow through every item on that spreadsheet, a veritable Very Very Hungry Caterpillar, effortlessly and without any consequence. Not so much these days – in pre-middle-age, with a baby and a desk job. My PCOS, and sluggish metabolism, and generally uncooperative body type conspire together against me, and if I ate all of the gorgeous and beautiful things on my spreadsheet, I would weigh as much as my car.

I’ve been trying to outsmart my adversarial body, by cooking low-carb, and when I do, I can tell that I am more focused, sprightly, and confident. Unfortunately, I am also “hangry” nearly all of the time, and when my coworkers bring donuts and cookies to the office, and when I am alone on the weekend and I just want some dang fettuccine alfredo, it is almost impossible to maintain my composure. All of my meal ideas seem to forsake me and I often approach dinnertime in a complete flusterment, wrestling between the desire to make beautiful, comforting food – and the desire to be healthy and to reunite myself with my girlish figure.

This week I restarted the spreadsheet, ten years after its inception, with a tab after “Year Five,” that reads, “Low-Carb.”

So much has changed about my life in those ten years: I have a husband, a baby, a career, a new hometown. But in the end, I guess I am still the same girl who once whipped together a five-year meal plan to assuage her own fears of marriage and adulthood, and who is comforted by plans and consistency and Microsoft Excel and the quiet rejuvenation of looking ahead.

The first recipe in my new spreadsheet tab is this one. These low carb treats make me feel like I can actually survive life without ice-cream and donuts. I made some modifications to several online recipes to come up with something that suited my dessert interests; they are just 1 net carb each, and taste convincingly of soft caramel sauce and shortbread crust. The base is buttery and soft; the filling appears loose when made but hardens quickly in the fridge; the pecans and coconut are toasty and rich. I know that I’ll repeat this recipe again and again!

My husband says that this is the best low carb dessert I have ever made….and I agree with him!

Low Carb Caramel Pecan Toasted Coconut Shortbread Bars

1g net carbs, GF, SF, LCHF, Atkins, ,ON A Keto, Low Carb, 18 servings

2.5 c. Superfine Almond Flour

1 stick (½ c.) plus 2 tbs. butter, melted

½ tsp. nutmeg

4 TBS sugar substitute (I used this sweetener ratio from Joy Filled Eats, purchased using the ingredients from Amazon on her affiliate links)

Preheat oven to 325*.

Mix dry ingredients first, then add melted butter. Line a 9×13 pan (or equivalent size) with a silicone baking mat, or parchment paper; bake 15 mins until golden.

Meanwhile, in a large, non-stick pan (the larger the pan, the faster it will cook), combine over medium heat:

1 ¾ sticks salted butter (reserve remaining ¼ stick of butter)

1 c. heavy cream

1.5 c. sugar substitute (link above to Joy Filled Eats ratio)

Stir occasionally, and let reduce at a medium boil, until the mixture is dark brown/golden. This will take a long time – be patient! It took me at least 15 minutes. I stirred fairly frequently with a silicone spatula.

When it’s dark and carmelley (shush your face, carmelly isn’t a word but it should be!) remove from the heat and immediately add:

1 TBS vanilla

¼ stick butter (previously reserved)

Stir until combined, then add:

1.5 c. each coconut and chopped pecans (toasted at 400 degrees for 4-6 mins, optional)

Pour over crust; sprinkle with ¾ c. lily’s chocolate chips (stevia-sweetened).

After 15 minutes or so, swirl in the chocolate chips to make chocolate swirls.

Cover and chill for a minimum of 12 hours, to allow the flavors to blend – if you eat prior to the 12 hours, you may feel a cooling effect from the sugar alcohols, so please resist the temptation to dig in early!

Cut into 36 squares.

Store in the refrigerator.

Nutrition Facts
Servings: 18
Per Serving
Calories 264
Total Fat 26.1g
Saturated Fat 14.7g
Trans Fat 0g
Cholesterol 60mg
Sodium 139mg
Potassium 18mg
Total Carb 15.8g
Dietary Fiber 0.8g
Sugars 0.4g
Carbs from Sugar Alcohols (Erythritol, Stevia, Xylitol blend): 14g
Net Carbs: 1
Protein 1.5g
Vitamin A 23% · Vitamin C 0%
Calcium 1% · Iron 1%

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15 Comments Add yours

  1. I don’t think it would work unfortunately. I’d likely look for a favorite coconut crust recipe and then put the topping on top. Good luck! Check back in and let us know how it worked!

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  2. Lori says:

    Really delicious though! And I just realized I didn’t put the chocolate chips on top…..I omitted those completely. So, that would make my numbers more different from yours.

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  3. Leanne Kenney says:

    These are SO good! It’s the first low carb dessert I’ve made that tastes like “real” dessert! If all of your recipes are nearly this good, I cannot wait to try them. My hubby is going to be so excited for his birthday dessert tonight. 🙂

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    1. So happy you enjoyed them!

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  4. Becca Jo Thomas says:

    Excited to try these. My only issue is…not easy to print the actual recipe without killing a tree 😦

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  5. Janice says:

    I think your macros are off. 2.5 cups of almond flour alone is 30 net carbs, plus the carbs in the nuts. Am i missing something?

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    1. I think that ingredients can vary. I put in my specific ingredients into the calculator several times and the numbers came out the same. 🙂

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  6. DeAna says:

    I made these dairy free using canned coconut cream in place of heavy cream. Also used 1 homemade blend sweetener of 1 cup erythritol and 1/4 tsp powdered stevia and used that cup for cup in your recipe sweetener. Deeeelicious! Thank you SO much for this recipe. I love that it is sugar free, gluten and dairy free. Also, my family loved it and couldn’t tell it didn’t have sugar! I’m always looking for recipes that taste awesome, are GF DF and SF and that others enjoy too!

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    1. Oh my, what a lovely idea! I had not thought of that!

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  7. So happy you enjoyed them!

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  8. sandy says:

    I just found your blog and am really enjoying your stories and recipes…I know you’re very very busy, but please….keep posting. Not only do I think you have a good book in you, but your recipes are special. Going to try the chicken chili this week!

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    1. So delighted to read your comment! Made my day!

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  9. Debra Riddell says:

    I tried this recipe and everyone absolutely loved it! I have a question concerning the sugar substitute blend. I thought I’d make a no bake cheesecake using your crust. I found a recipe calling for Swerve. Can I use the sugar substitute from this recipe to replace Swerve? Would you have a no bake cheesecake recipe? I’m upset excited about trying to recipes. Especially low glycemic since I am diabetic. Hubby & I like our desserts after dinner. Your recipe filled that sweet spot nicely!

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  10. It says 18 servings. Cut into 36 pieces, so 2 bars per serving?

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  11. M Herman says:

    These are a great dessert. Not good for gluten free, or good for low-carb; they are good in their own right. I brought these to a potluck and several people commented on how good they were. I left out the pecans (because there was no way in hell I was going back to the store) and the ratio of caramel to coconut was still pleasing. These are going to be even better when I make them with pecans.

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