High Country Baking: Pecan shortbread
High Country Baking
A classic, that’s what this little cookie is: timeless, memorable and unusually good. It is a perfect example of what a shortbread should be. Its crisp, tender, sandy texture and wonderful buttery flavor are elevated by brown sugar, pecans and a small, but oh so significant, amount of dark rum. The pecans add a delicious nuttiness that is complemented perfectly by the alcohol and the brown sugar. The resulting complexity of taste that this combination creates is close to addictive.
You’d think it would take some effort to create something this good. It’s almost embarrassing that it doesn’t. If you have a food processor, they’re in the oven in about 10 minutes. They’re really a no-brainer — just stick all the dry ingredients in the bowl and pulse, add the wet ingredients and process. Once made, they last for days, and they freeze beautifully.
The only thing to keep in mind is that, once baked, the shortbread needs to be cut into pieces while it is still warm. It’s crisp and fragile enough that it will shatter if you try to cut it when it’s cold. But all is not lost if you forget to do so. Just stick the shortbread back in a heated oven (325 degrees), warm it slightly, and then take it out and cut it.
Bake in a 9-by-9-inch shiny metal baking pan. This recipe works at any elevation.
- 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, spoon and level
- 1/2 cup pecans
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar, preferably superfine
- 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 10 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon dark rum
- 1 3/4 teaspoons vanilla
- 1/3 cup coarsely chopped pecans
- About 2 tablespoons turbinado or course granulated sugar
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees with a rack in the lower third of the oven. Line the baking pan with Reynolds Release no-stick aluminum foil or with regular aluminum foil, letting it extend several inches beyond the pan on two opposing sides to be used as handles when removing the shortbread from the pan. Grease any exposed parts of the pan and the regular aluminum foil with a baking spray that contains flour.
Put the flour, pecans, granulated and light brown sugars, and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse several times until the ingredients are well combined. Cut the butter into about 20 pieces and add them, along with the rum and vanilla. Process until the pecans are finely chopped and the dough is evenly moistened, forming large curds. There should be no dry ingredients in the bottom of the bowl; everything should be well combined and close to forming a smooth dough (though you should stop before it does).
Dump the dough in the prepared baking pan and, gently, smooth and level it. I do this with my hands, pressing through a piece of plastic wrap. Sprinkle the toppings evenly over the dough and softly press them into it so they won’t fall off when you remove and cut the shortbread. Place the pan in the oven and bake until the shortbread is set and browned lightly around the edges. This takes about 35-40 minutes in my oven.
Remove the pan from the oven and put it on a rack to cool. When the pan is still warm but no longer hot (after about 15 minutes), use the foil handles to carefully remove the shortbread from the pan. Before it cools completely, cut the shortbread into pieces with a long, sharp knife or a bench knife. Store the cookies in an airtight container at cool room temperature for a week or freeze them.
Editor’s note: This recipe is a variation of one from “The Good Cookie.”
Vera Dawson’s column “High Country Baking” publishes biweekly in the Summit Daily News. Dawson is a high-elevation baking instructor and author of three high-altitude cookbooks. Her recipes have been tested in her kitchen in Frisco, where she’s lived since 1991, and altered until they work at elevation. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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