Pecan shortbread cookies a buttery treat
VAIL CO, Colorado
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.
“This is my favorite cookie,” declared a friend with a well-known sweet tooth after devouring a few of these Pecan Shortbreads. This man has been nibbling sweets on a daily basis for more than 30 years, so his proclamation got my attention.
While I’m not ready to crown it king of my cookie collection, I share his admiration for this little gem, it’s unusually good. It has all of the qualities that we love in a shortbread: a crisp, tender, sandy texture and a wonderful buttery flavor. What elevates it beyond the others? The brown sugar, the pecans, and the small, but oh, so significant amount of dark rum. The pecans add a wonderful nuttiness that is complemented perfectly by the alcohol and the brown sugar. The resulting complexity of taste that this combination creates is close to addictive.
You’d think it would take some effort to create something as praiseworthy as these cookies; it’s almost embarrassing that it doesn’t. If you have a food processor, they’re in the oven in about 10 minutes. They’re really a no-brainer … just stick all the dry ingredients in the bowl and pulse; add the wet ingredients and process. And, once made, they last for a long time and they freeze beautifully.
The only thing to keep in mind is that, once baked, the shortbread needs to be cut into pieces while it is still warm. It’s crisp and fragile enough that it will shatter if you try to cut it when it’s cold. But, all is not lost if you forget to do so. Just stick the shortbread back in a heated oven (325 degrees), warm it slightly, then take it out and cut it.
(Bake in a 9-by-9-inch metal baking pan.)
11⁄4 cups of all purpose flour
1⁄2 cup of pecans
1⁄4 cup of granulated sugar
1⁄4 cup of light brown sugar, packed
1⁄4 teaspoon of salt
10 tablespoons of unsalted butter
1 tablespoon of dark rum
13⁄4 teaspoons of vanilla
1⁄3 cup of coarsely chopped pecans
About 2 tablespoons of turbanado or course granulated sugar
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees, and place a rack in the lower third of the oven. Line the metal baking pan with Reynold’s Release no-stick aluminum foil or with regular aluminum foil, letting it extend several inches beyond the pan on two opposing sides to be used as handles when removing the shortbread from the pan. If you’re using regular foil, grease or butter it lightly.
Put the flour, the pecans, the granulated and light brown sugars, and the salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse several times until the ingredients are well combined. Cut the butter into about twenty pieces and add them, along with the rum and the vanilla, to the work bowl of the processor. Process until the dough is evenly moistened and forms large curds. There should be no dry ingredients in the bottom of the bowl; everything should be well combined and close to forming a smooth dough (though you should stop before it does).
Dump the dough in the prepared baking pan and, gently, smooth and level it. I do this with my hands, pressing through a piece of plastic wrap. Sprinkle the toppings evenly over the dough and softly press them into it so that they won’t fall off when you remove and cut the shortbread. Place the pan in the oven and bake until the shortbread is set and browned lightly around the edges. This takes about 35-40 minutes in my oven.
Remove the pan from the oven and put it on a rack to cool. When the pan is still warm but no longer hot, (after about 15 minutes), use the foil handles to carefully remove the shortbread from the pan. Before it cools completely, cut the shortbread into pieces with a long, sharp knife or a bench knife; it cuts much more easily while still a bit soft. Store the cookies in an airtight container at cool room temperature for a week or freeze them.
This recipe is a variation of one in “The Good Cookie.”
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 email@example.com.