Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Pecan Shortbread Cookies

If you read my last post, you probably noticed the little pecan shortbread cookies in some of the pictures.  For some reason I have never posted the recipe for these cookies, even though they are a favorite.  As I nibbled on the cookies and thought about how delicious their slightly salty, slightly caramel-y crunch was alongside the mousse, I decided I needed to share the recipe.

The original recipe is from Maria Helm Sinskey’s book The Vineyard Kitchen.  As with most recipes that I make fairly regularly, this one is not exactly like the original…but it is very close.  I find that most of the recipes in this particular book work very well for me as written.  And Sinskey’s preferences and palate are similar to mine, so I have tried an unusually high number of them.  It is one of my favorite cookbooks and I highly recommend adding it to your cookbook library

It was my chef friend Nancy who first saw this book.  Knowing I would really like it, she gave me a copy.  It was also Nancy who first noticed the recipe for these cookies and made them for a dinner we were preparing when we worked together at The Culinary Center of Kansas City.  We both loved them and have both continued to make them over the years.  They are a great companion for all kinds of cool, creamy desserts--things like custard, flan, panna cotta, and ice cream.  I particularly like them with the butterscotch pot de crème I posted a few years ago.  I probably wouldn’t have made them on purpose to go with the mousse (I just so happened to have some in my freezer), but they were perfect.  They are also very good all by themselves…perhaps with a cup of coffee or tea….or even a glass of milk.

The original recipe for these cookies was for a smaller quantity of dough, baked in a smaller pan (a nine inch square).  Because we were making the cookies that first time for a very large group, Nancy multiplied the recipe by three and put it in a half sheet pan.  This turned out to be a fortuitous adjustment since these cookies—like all shortbread cookies—must be cut when they are warm.  Flipping even the original small square out of a deep baking pan without breaking the thin, tender cookie would have been difficult….flipping an entire half sheet without some collateral damage, almost impossible.  Instead, Nancy cut the cookie while it was still in the half sheet pan with the long edge of her bench scraper.  I thought this was brilliant…and even though I only make a quarter sheet pan-sized batch when I bake them now, I still employ this method. 

There is only one thing about this recipe that I have found to be a little bit difficult.  The baking time seems to be highly dependent on the peculiarities of your oven...and varies more than just a little bit from oven to oven.  I have no idea why this might be, other than that the sheet of cookies is quite thin.  Once it is cooked through and begins to turn golden, it can go from under-baked to burned in a flash.   If your baking pan has a dark finish (like mine) this problem is compounded.  I have baked these in my home oven—which tends to bake hot and fast, and has very strong bottom heat—and they have been done in 20 minutes.  Recently I baked them in a professional convection oven and they took at least twice that long (I can’t tell you exactly how long because I was doing other things and just keeping an eye on the cookies occasionally…).  While baking them for this post, I slid an insulated baking sheet onto the bottom rack of my oven to help mitigate the effects of the strong bottom heat and my dark pan, and the cookies took 35 minutes. 

The moral here seems to be that you should take a peek at the cookies at around 20 minutes…and then keep an eye on them.  They will most likely take somewhere in the range of 30 to 35 minutes.  When they are springy to the touch in the center, and golden at the edges, they are done.  After a minute or two, cut the cookies in the pan with the edge of your bench scraper.  Then, let them cool completely before removing them from the pan (simply slide a thin palette knife under the cookies and they will lift right out). 

After you have made them a time or two, you will have your system down pat and you will find that these are the easiest cookies imaginable to make.  Which is a good thing:  I’m pretty sure that if you like pecans…and shortbread…once you taste these cookies, you will want to make them again and again.

Pecan Shortbread Fingers

3/4 c. lightly toasted pecans (3 oz.)
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour (6 oz.)
3/4 t. kosher salt (or 1/2 t. table salt)
12 T. (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
3/4 c. powdered sugar (3 oz.)
3/4 t. pure vanilla extract

Place the pecans in the food processor along with the flour and salt and process until the pecans are very finely chopped. 

In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or with an electric hand mixer, cream the butter and confectioners’ sugar until smooth.  Beat in the vanilla.  Add the pecan-flour mixture and mix until the dough comes together in clumps. 

Press the dough (using lightly floured hands or a sheet of plastic wrap) into an ungreased (see note) quarter sheet (13x9) pan 

and prick all over with a fork.  

Bake for 25 to 35 minutes in a preheated 325° oven until the edges are golden.

Cool a moment or two, (the shortbread should still be warm) then cut into long, thin, rectangular “fingers” using the edge of a bench scraper.  I usually trim a small amount—less than a quarter inch—around the edges first.  (Not only does this give all of the cookies nice square edges, it produces a warm crunchy cookie snack for the baker….) 

I then cut into 36 fingers—3 cuts down the length of the pan and 12 across.  Allow the cookies to cool completely before removing from the pan. 

Makes 3 dozen

(Adapted from The Vineyard Kitchen by Maria Helm Sinskey)

Note:  I always line the pan with a sheet of parchment.  In order to keep the parchment from sliding around while I press the dough into the pan, I very lightly grease the bottom of the pan—and then leave the parchment itself ungreased.


affordable wedding photographer said...

I made this for a friend’s going away lunch. Everyone loved it. Thank you for the wonderful recipe!

Paige said...

You're welcome! I'm so pleased to hear you liked it. Thanks for letting me know!