I am probably not a typical holiday baker. I never go overboard with the number of cookies I make, limiting myself to about five varieties. But the cookies that share space on my old, French tiered wire rack are what I consider the best in my cookie arsenal. And I rarely bake these sweet treats at any other time of the year, making them all the more anticipated and special.
This holiday season, however, I am auditioning a new contender -- Pecan Shortbread. I love the simplicity of shortbread; consisting of basically three ingredients -- butter, sugar, and flour. The addition of nuts, citrus, chocolate, vanilla or espresso are ways to alter the flavor of these simple cookies. When so few ingredients are required, you really do taste the quality. Purchase the best European-style (high-fat) butter available (from grass-fed cows). You'll notice it; the same with the chocolate you use.
Shortbread is also an easy slice and bake cookie. The dough for these Pecan Shortbread Cookies is rolled and brushed with egg yolk, then coated in turbinado sugar before slicing. If desired, the dough can be rolled flat and cut into shapes. I would still suggest brushing the surface with egg yolk and sprinkling sugar on top to give you that sweet little crunch.
• 3/4 cup pecans, coarsely chopped
• 1 1/4 sticks (10 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
• 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
• 1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, seeds scraped
• 1/2 teaspoon pure, vanilla extract
• 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
• 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
• 1 large egg yolk, lightly beaten
• 5 tablespoons (plus) turbinado sugar
1. Preheat oven to 350˚F. Spread chopped pecans in a baking pan and toast for about 6 minutes. Let cool.
2. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with paddle, beat the butter with the confectioners' sugar, vanilla bean and seeds, vanilla extract and salt at medium speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the flour in 3 batches, beating at low speed until just incorporated. Discard the vanilla bean. Stir in the pecans.
3. Transfer the dough to a work surface and roll into a 1 1/2-inch-thick log. Wrap log in plastic and refrigerated for at least an hour.
4. Line 2 large rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper. Spread turbinado sugar on a platter. Brush log with the egg yolk and roll in the sugar. I will sprinkle with more sugar to get a good, solid coating. Slice the log (I like to use heavy thread for a clean cut) into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Transfer cookies to the prepared baking sheets, spacing them 1-inch apart.
5. Bake cookies for about 20 minutes, until edges are golden, rotating the baking sheets from top to bottom and front to back halfway through baking. Transfer to a wire rack and cool.
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