Vail Valley treat: Pecan shortbread cookies for your Valentine
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.
Sweet, delicate, tender cookies, with a sandy texture and a mild nutty taste … these pecan shortbreads make a lovely valentine. Serve them alone or as an accompaniment to raspberry sorbet or chocolate mousse and you’re sure to please the ones you love.
Shortbread purists will prefer the cookies unembellished. But, a coating or drizzle of chocolate is a nice addition. I like to make the cookies with heart-shaped cutters of varying sizes and offer them with and without the chocolate topping; the different sizes and adornments create a pretty contrast.
The cookie is a classic so don’t limit your use of the recipe to Valentine’s Day. Use any cookie cutter you choose and make them all year round.
The shortbread can be stored, airtight, for up to a week at cool room temperature and frozen for a month or so.
Makes about 4 dozen two inch cookies
1 1/2 cups of all purpose flour
1/4 cup of cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1/2 cup of granulated sugar, plus more for sprinkling on cookies
12 tablespoons of cold unsalted butter (one and a half sticks)
3/4 teaspoons of vanilla
1 cup of pecans
Optional Chocolate Glaze
2 ounces of semisweet or bittersweet chocolate (I use Hershey’s Special Dark Chocolate, found in the candy section of the grocery store)
1 teaspoon of Canola or other mild vegetable oil.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the center position. Line your baking sheets with parchment paper or aluminum foil or use ungreased pans.
Place the flour, cornstarch, salt and half cup of granulated sugar in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse to combine. Cut the cold butter into half-inch pieces and add it, along with the vanilla, to the bowl of the processor. Pulse until there are no visible pieces of butter and the mixture takes on a mealy texture. Add the pecans and process until they are finely chopped and the dough forms large, moist curds. Stop before the dough is smooth or forms a ball.
Dump the dough onto a sheet of waxed paper and gently knead it into a disk about six inches in diameter. Refrigerate it for at least half an hour, until it is firm enough to roll easily. Working with half of the dough at a time, roll it out until it is one-fourth of an inch thick (I place it between two sheets of waxed paper to roll it). Using heart shaped cookie cutter(s), cut out the cookies and transfer them to the cookie sheet(s), placing them about three-quarters of an inch apart. Sprinkle the top of each cookie with granulated sugar. Place the cookies, on the baking sheet, in the freezer for about 5 minutes, until they are quite firm (this will help prevent spreading while they bake). Bake until they are set and just start to color. This takes about 20 minutes in my oven. Remove the cookies from the oven let them sit on the baking sheet for several minutes, then transfer them to a rack to cool completely.
Gather the dough scraps into a disc, refrigerate it until it is firm enough to roll and repeat the process described in step three.
Optional: Glaze the cookies: Chop the chocolate into very small pieces, place it in a microwave-safe container, and melt it in the microwave at a low temperature. (I use #4, in a range from 1-10, for one minute bursts, stirring after each minute in the microwave, until the chocolate is almost entirely melted. I remove it at this point and stir until it is smooth and all lumps are gone.). Add the teaspoon of oil, stir to combine thoroughly, and let the mixture cool and thicken slightly. To drizzle cookies with chocolate: Dip the prongs of a fork in the melted chocolate mixture and move it back and forth quickly above the cooled cookies. To cover a cookie in chocolate: Support the cooled cookie on a fork, top side down, dip it into the chocolate only until the top of the cookie is fully submerged (the bottom of the cookie should remain free of chocolate). Lift the cookie, still on the fork, out of the chocolate, tap the fork on the side of the bowl to remove excess chocolate, and then flip the cookie onto a sheet of waxed paper so the chocolate side is up.
Let the cookies rest until the chocolate is set. You may place them in the refrigerator to speed up this process.
This recipe is inspired by one in “Williams- Sonoma’s Cookies and Biscotti.”
Vera Dawson 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 Dawson with your comments about this column and/or your baking questions at veradawson1@gmail.