Editor's note: Living in the Colorado high country is pure joy. Baking in it isn't. High altitude makes cookies spread in the pan, cakes fall, and few baked goods turn out as they do at sea level. This twice-monthly column presents recipes and tips to make baking in the mountains successful.
What's my perfect Christmas cookie? First and foremost, it has to be distinctive ... worthy of this magical holiday. After that, my demands are more practical: It must come together quickly; (I'm too busy at this time of year to spend hours making a cookie), have a long shelf life, travel well, and require ingredients that are easy to find.
I'm happy to say these bourbon-glazed pecan buttons meet those criteria. The cookie is a tender, buttery little bite of sweetness that's dressed up for the season with a glaze of bourbon and a sprinkle of nuts. It's fast and easy to make, with very few components, most of which may already be in your pantry, and it freezes well. I'm delighted with it.
There are a few things to keep in mind when making it: Its goodness is due to only a couple ingredients, so they must be at their best. Use high-quality unsalted butter (don't even think about a substitute), fresh pecans, and pure vanilla extract. Remove the cookies from the oven when they are just set and have colored only slightly around the edges and on the bottom; if they have colored on the tops and are firmly set, they're overdone and will be hard and less appealing. Remember that they're tender little things, so when you glaze them, handle them gently or they may crumble.
Bourbon-glazed pecan buttons
Makes 16; recipe can be doubled
1/2 cup of flour
1/2 cup of pecans
1/4 cup of confectioner's sugar
A pinch of salt
4 tablespoons of unsalted butter (half a stick)
3/4 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup of confectioner's sugar
1 tablespoon of bourbon
1-2 teaspoons of cream, milk, or more bourbon
1/3 cup of finely chopped toasted pecans
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees, with a rack in the center position. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil, preferably non-stick. Don't grease the pan or the cookies may spread.
To make the cookies in a food processor: Place the flour, pecans, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until the nuts are ground and the ingredients are thoroughly mixed. Cut the butter into small pieces and add it, with the vanilla, to the bowl. Process until the dough is uniformly moist and almost forms a ball. Remove from the processor and knead very gently until a smooth dough is formed.
To make the cookies with a mixer: Cut the butter into small pieces and set it aside to soften. Chop the pecans into very fine pieces and set them aside. Cream the softened butter, sugar, salt, and vanilla until light. Add the flour and the pecans and, using the lowest speed on your mixer or a silicone/rubber spatula, mix only until a smooth dough is formed.
Break off pieces of the dough and roll them into balls about one inch in diameter. Place the balls of dough on the prepared cookie sheet, spacing them about an inch and a half apart. Place the cookie sheet, with the cookies on it, in the freezer until the balls of dough are quite firm to the touch (this will minimize their spreading during baking), about five to seven minutes. Bake about ten minutes, then reverse the pan (so the back is in the front of the oven) and bake until the cookies are set and have a little color on their edges and bottoms, another eight to ten minutes more, though time will vary.
Remove the pan from the oven to a cooling rack. After about four or five minutes, take the cookies off the pan and place them on the rack to cool completely. When completely cool, make the glaze: Place the half cup of confectioner's sugar and the tablespoon of bourbon in a small bowl and whisk vigorously until the mixture is completely smooth. Give it a taste; if you want to soften the bourbon flavor, add a teaspoon of cream or milk and whisk again. Check the consistency (the glaze should be thin and quickly drip off your whisk) and, if needed, add either more cream/milk or more bourbon (your choice).
Dip the top of each cooled cookie in the glaze, hold the cookie over the bowl until any excess glaze drips back into it, then turn the cookie right-side up and sprinkle some of the chopped pecans over the glaze. If necessary, gently press the nuts into the glaze so they adhere to it. Set the cookies aside until the glaze firms up, then serve or store them at cool room temperature for a day or two or freeze them for up to a month.
Vera Dawson, a chef instructor with CMC's Culinary Institute, lives in Summit County, where she bakes almost every day. Her recipes have been tested in her home kitchen and, whenever necessary, altered until they work at our altitude. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.