Monday, February 1, 2010

Pecan Shortbread

When I was a kid, I hated shortbread and butter cookies. Loathed them. I thought they were dry and crumbly and basically tasteless. And I had an old aunt or uncle or neighbor who always used to send us those blue tins of Royal Dansk cookies around Christmas time. My parents were probably happy to have more cookies to themselves, but I was disappointed not to have something better.

Then one day my tastes completely changed. I don't remember where or why, but I had a little nibble of shortbread and was hooked. And now I can't get enough. I think we should eat more shortbread and butter cookies. All the time!

People forget that shortbread is so amazingly simple to make. And it doesn't take any strange ingredients. I can almost guarantee that I will always have butter, sugar, flour and nuts somewhere in my probably do too. My assortment of nuts may vary (I always have loads of walnuts (thanks to the neighbor's walnut tree), usually have some almonds, and rarely have pecans), but you can always substitute a nut for another.

These shortbread cookies are light and buttery, slightly chewy in the center, and slightly crunchy on the outside. And the hint of nutmeg is exquisite. You probably shouldn't eat very many of these (being that they're all butter and sugar), but I don't know how you can resist.

Pecan Shortbread
Recipe from The Essential Baker*
Pictures by Caroline

10 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 cup pecans, coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
  1. In a large mixing bowl, beat butter on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the white and brown sugar and beat until thoroughly blended, about 2 minutes. Add pecans and vanilla and mix until combined.
  2. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, salt and nutmeg. Add to butter mixture in 3-stages, blending well after each addition.
  3. Transfer the dough to a baking sheet. Press the dough evenly into the pan and the corners.** Using a sharp knife, score the shortbread into 1 x 2 inch rectangles. Use a fork to pierce each rectangle in 2 places on the diagonal (this is purely decorational). Chill for 2 hours.
  4. Heat oven to 300 degrees F. Use a sharp knife to cut through the scored pieces of shortbread and place them on a baking sheet, leaving 1 inch of space between each one. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until the shortbread is set and very lightly colored. Cool completely on wire racks.
*with directions slightly simplified and slightly reworded
**A double batch of dough just about filled a large baking sheet (about 18 inches). If you don't have a large baking sheet or you do, but only make a single batch, don't worry. The important thing is to press the dough into a nice rectangle, with clean, crisp edges, whether that means you press the dough into the side of the cookie sheet or cut it with a knife, it doesn't matter. It's your choice.

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