Friday, May 6, 2011

"Pecan Sandies"

I was in the mood the other day for Pecan Sandies...those little round pecan shortbread cookies from my childhood...the kind made by the Keebler elves. Rather than going out and buying some to satisfy my craving, I decided I would make them for myself. As I looked around for a recipe, I discovered that there are a lot of recipes out there...apparently I'm not the only one who loves this cookie.  Most of them are rather uninspired variations of Pecan Shortbread. Not that this is surprising.  A Pecan Sandie is, after all, a type of pecan shortbread cookie.  But it has a particular taste and texture all its own.  None of the recipes I happened across inspired me with confidence that the author had figured out what it was that made a Pecan Sandie different.  After trying one of the more promising of the recipes, and being rather dissatisfied with the result, it became obvious that I would have to come up with my own version of a Pecan Sandie--if for no other reason than to discover through my own taste testing what it was that set a Pecan Sandie apart.  

As I worked on my recipe, I felt a bit like Goldilocks...this one was too crunchy, that one too tender, another had the wrong shape, and another was too dry.... Goldilocks only had to try three beds. I made five batches of "Pecan Sandies" before I arrived at the one that I felt I could pronounce "just right."

It will probably not come as a surprise that the recipe I ended up with is basically a variation of my own favorite shortbread. To get to a pecan cookie, I simply substituted pecans for a third of the flour. The next change I made was to substitute a combination of light brown sugar and powdered sugar for the granulated sugar in my original shortbread recipe. The brown sugar contributes a faint butterscotch note that is characteristic of a Pecan Sandie (much like the effect it has on the flavor of Butter Pecan Ice Cream). The powdered sugar makes for a tender and slightly crumbly texture. Finally, to fully achieve the familiar flavor I was looking for, I increased the salt a bit and added a generous amount of vanilla.

Besides my Scottish Shortbread recipe, I want to mention a couple of other recipes that I pulled from to get to my final result. The first recipe that I tried was from Martha Stewart's Everyday Food. This recipe pops up all over the blogosphere and seems to be universally acknowledged to be "as good as, or better than" the original Pecan Sandie. I disagree with this.  I think the recipe contains too much sugar to really qualify as shortbread.  The recipe does make a tasty little cookie, but the higher quantity of sugar, combined with the fact that all of the sugar is brown sugar, results in a cookie that is too dark and too crunchy to be a Pecan Sandie.  I also thought the recipe had a little too much vanilla.  But making this cookie helped me to hone in on how significant brown sugar and vanilla are to obtaining the right flavor.  

The second recipe was Maria Helm Sinskey's Pecan Shortbread Finger recipe from The Vineyard Kitchen. This is an excellent cookie in its own right.  Slender and elegant, it is perfect on a cookie platter or as an accompaniment to pot de crème (which is how she serves it). I make this cookie frequently. Her recipe uses all powdered sugar and has a wonderfully tender crunch. It also uses more salt than one would expect. The flavor with this higher amount of salt is, not surprisingly, fuller. When you taste these cookies, they do taste slightly salty. But since nuts are good with salt, the salt doesn't seem out of place.

I knew the minute I took a bite from the first cookie of my fifth batch that I had achieved success. But if there had been any question, the reaction of others would have confirmed it. I frequently heard the comment "That looks just like a Pecan Sandie!...and it tastes like a Pecan Sandie!" And my mother, who had obligingly served as my taste tester for each successive batch, tasted one from the final batch, looked up and said "That's a good cookie...I want that recipe."

Pecan Sandies

1 stick unsalted butter (4 oz.)
1/3 c. powdered sugar (30 g)
2 T. light brown sugar (25 g)
1 t. vanilla
3/8 t. salt
1 c. plus 2 T. all-purpose flour (130 g)
1/2 c. toasted pecans, chopped medium fine (2 oz.)

Briefly cream the butter and sugars—just until smooth, not until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and salt and stir in. Add the flour and pecans and stir to form a stiff dough.

Scoop the dough using a level 2 teaspoon sized scoop.

Roll into balls and place on a parchment-lined baking sheets (making sure the balls are evenly spaced).

Flatten with the bottom of a glass dipped in flour.

Transfer the baking sheet to a preheated 325° oven and bake until the cookies are just set and barely golden on the edges—about 15 minutes.

Cool the cookies for one minute on the sheets before transferring to wire racks to cool completely.   Store cookies air-tight. Makes about 24 cookies.


Katrina said...

I don't know how I missed this post, but the cookies look great. I love pecan sandies.

Charlaine said...

The last few days I've baked up about 7 copy cat recipes of the "Keebler Pecan Sandies" and nothing came close. One tasted like nothing but flour- Yuck. Finding this recipe I figured I'd try one more. Not exactly the Pecan Sandies I remember before they changed the company recipe but these are nearly there. This is a really good cookie. Husband likes a crispy cookie and had high praises for this one.(he had sampled all the failures) I did dip my glass in powdered sugar instead of the flour as suggested. No other changes at all.
Wondering if I can double or triple the recipe without compromising it.
These are really good, so any one reading -do give them a try.

Paige said...

Hi Charlaine. Thanks for trying the recipe and then leaving a comment...I'm so glad you liked these!

I think you should be able to double or triple this recipe without any difficulty...just use the weights instead of the volumes.

Dipping the glass in powdered sugar is a great idea...I will try it next time I make these.

Thanks again!

ANDREW J. Di LiDDO, JR. said...

Paige: I stumbled upon this post about Pecan Sandies as I am trying to make an Ice Cream Sandwich cookie for ice cream sandwiches and found your shortbread recipe. Keebler Pecan Sandies are one of my favorite cookies. I don't know if I am getting old or bigger but it just seems the commercial cookie packages are getting smaller, the price is going up, and you need a microscope to find a pecan! Makes sense to make my own so I actually know that some pecans went into them!

Paige said...

You'll have to let me know what you think if you try these!

stella bakes said...

Thank you for sharing this recipe it's awesome! instead of baking the dough right away, i made it into a log, froze it, and sliced it. they turned out great :)

Paige said...

I'm so pleased to know you tried these and liked them. And really happy to hear they worked as a slice and bake! Thanks for letting me know.

Anonymous said...

This recipe looks like a winner to me. Thanks for experimenting so I don't have to. I'm going to make these for Christmas. But I'm going to replace 2T of flour with cornstarch for a more crumbly texture. And add 1t of almond extract to infuse more nutty flavor.

Paige said...

You'll have to let me know how they turn out!

Anonymous said...

When I tried using the corn starch the dough was too crummy to work with and 1 t of almond extract is too much. Then I made another batch tripling your exact recipe. EXCEPT: I added 1 Butterfinger bar (it didn't really add anything special). I added one egg, this did help, making the dough more workable. But the best thing I did was toasting the pecans on the stove top on low heat with butter and a pinch of salt. The texture and taste are much better than toasting in the oven. Thanks again, and I guess I did want to experiment a little, lol.

Paige said...

Thanks for letting me know about your experiments....toasting the nuts in butter sounds delicious. If you haven't seen it, you should check out my butter pecan ice cream post....I cook the pecans in browned butter for's very good.