High Country Baking: Pecan-caramel shortbread sticks feature winning combo of opposite flavors
High Country Baking
High altitudes 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 that make baking in the mountains successful.
Contrasting tastes and textures have wide appeal and these cookies are a good example. A tender, sandy, subtle-tasting shortbread is paired with sweet, rich, gooey caramel frosting and crunchy nuts for a winning combination of opposites. Cookie lovers of all ages sing their praises. Pair them with fruit, ice cream or custard for a pleasing dessert or nibble them on their own.
When I make this cookie at sea level I don’t include corn syrup as an ingredient in the frosting. I use it in our high, dry climate because when we combine hot melted butter and brown sugar some of this mixture often splashes on the side of the pot, quickly evaporates, reforms into sugar crystals, and turns the frosting grainy. The addition of a little corn syrup helps to prevent this high altitude baking mishap.
Pecan-caramel shortbread sticks
- Works at any elevation
- Yields 20 2-inch cookies
- ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour, spoon and level
- ¼ cup toasted pecans or pecan pieces
- 2 ½ tablespoons confections’ sugar
- Pinch salt
- ¼ cup unsalted butter, cold
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 teaspoon light corn syrup
- ¼ cup packed dark brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon heavy whipping cream
- 2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
- ¼ cup toasted pecans, chopped fine
- Make the sticks: Add the flour, pecans, sugar, and salt to the bowl of a food processor and pulse until the pecans are very finely chopped and the mixture is well blended. Cut the butter into small pieces, add them, and process until the dough holds together when you pinch it between your fingers. If it’s too dry, add another teaspoon of butter, process, and try again. Only add enough butter to make the dough hold together; any more could cause the cookies to spread when baked. Dump the dough out onto a sheet of waxed paper, knead it gently a few times and then form it into a rectangle ¼ of an inch thick and about 4 inches wide and 5 inches long. Cover and refrigerate it until very firm. While the dough chills preheat the oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the center position. Line a cookie sheet with non-stick aluminum foil or leave it ungreased.
- Remove the chilled dough from the refrigerator. Cut it into sticks about ½ inch wide and 2 inches long and carefully transfer them to the cookie sheet, spacing them at least a ½ inch apart. Place the cookie sheet, with the cookies on it, in the freezer for about 15 minutes, until the dough is firm; this will help prevent the cookies from spreading in the oven. Bake until set, 10-15 minutes. Remove to a rack to cool completely.
- Make the frosting: Cut the butter into 6-8 pieces and add them, with the corn syrup, to a small saucepan, preferably non-stick. Place on the stovetop, over low heat, until the butter melts, stirring occasionally. Stir in the brown sugar and bring to a low boil to dissolve the sugar. Return to low heat, stir in the cream and then whisk in the confectioners’ sugar, a tablespoon at a time. Continue to whisk until the mixture is smooth and remove the pan from the heat.
- Place the chopped pecans in a small bowl. Dip one end of each of the cooled shortbread sticks in the warm frosting and sprinkle chopped pecans over it. Set the frosted cookies on a rack or a sheet of waxed paper to cool and dry. Serve or store, well covered, for up to 4 days.
This recipe is a variation of one published in Cuisine Magazine. Vera Dawson is a high-elevation baking instructor and author of three high-altitude cookbooks (available at The Bookworm in Edwards and Next Page Bookstore in Frisco). She became a full-time Frisco resident in 1991 and has been developing and adjusting recipes so that they work at our altitude ever since. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More High Country Baking recipes
- Elevate your morning meal with these cherry pastry rounds:
- This chocolate-hazelnut squares recipe works at any elevation:
Wild blueberry cobbler a popular dessert:
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