Time for cookies, shortbread cookies full of pecans, laced with flecks of vanilla bean, and, for a final touch, rolled in a generous coating of raw sugar. They'll make a nice addition to your cookie repertoire, not to mention impress your family (friends, neighbors, or whoever you gift goodies to) with their toasty flavor. I almost made a sort of similar but mostly different type of shortbread, the only similarity being the pecans--things veer off from there with spices and a dousing of powdered sugar--but the vanilla bean in these cookies grabbed my attention, and it turned into a winner. Maybe next year I'll make that other one. It looked promising enough.
For the Christmas baking this year, I've also made biscotti, my ginger cookies (which I'll save for another post some other year . . . maybe), and dabbled a bit in meringue making, which I'm not sure that I'll do again, in addition to the shortbread. I was excited about the meringues at first, because they looked so pretty in the magazine and were spiked with peppermint, but once made my initial reaction was . . . meh. They just didn't do anything for me. If I'm going to make candy, I guess I'm more into the caramel or toffee or peppermint bark type of stuff. Or chocolate truffles. Or even marshmallows. Meringues? Maybe if it's a macaroon.
But back to the cookie baking- if possible, it's nice to have a variety on hand, and shortbread always seems a traditional as well as a welcome addition to the cookie line up each December, and I've found another reliable and soon to be favored recipe to hang on to for future holidays. Shortbread, as I'm sure most of you know, is a mild tasting but rich cookie, with most of the flavor and richness coming from a lot of butter, and this version has an extra dimension with vanilla bean and vanilla extract, lending a subtle backdrop for the toasty pecans. The sugar edging mostly serves as a decorative element and also to add a little extra crunch. It's shortbread that's been amplified in kind of an understated way. There's nothing really showy about these cookies, but they're sure to be a crowd pleaser.
The dough is really crumbly, but once it's mixed, shaped, and chilled, it sticks together just fine and you won't have any problems slicing off rounds. You can mix the dough in a stand mixer, but I always use a bowl and wooden spoon.
Pecan Shortbread Cookies
Adapted from The Craft of Baking
¾ cup pecans, toasted, roughly chopped
10 Tbsp. (1¼ sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
½ cup confectioners' sugar
½ vanilla bean, split lengthwise, seeds scraped out, bean and seeds reserved
½ tsp. vanilla extract
½ tsp. kosher salt
1½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 large egg yolk, lightly beaten
Coarse sugar, such as Demerara or Turbinado
In a large bowl, beat together the butter, sugar, vanilla bean and seeds,
vanilla extract, and salt until no visible chunks of butter remain. Add the
flour in three additions, mixing well before adding the next. Stir in the
pecans, then remove the vanilla bean halves. The dough will be very crumbly at this point and it helps to use your hands
to shape it a bit while still in the bowl.
Turn out dough onto a lightly
floured surface and shape into a log about 1½ inches in diameter. Wrap it in
parchment paper or plastic wrap, making sure to cover the ends completely, and
refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour or overnight.
Preheat oven to 350° F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Let the dough stand at room temperature until soft enough to slice, about 5
Place enough coarse sugar to coat the log in a large rimmed baking sheet.
Using a pastry brush, brush the dough with the egg yolk, then roll it in the sugar to coat it evenly,
pressing the sugar into the dough if need be. Slice the dough into ½-inch-thick
rounds. Place the rounds about 1 inch apart on the prepared baking sheet. Bake,
rotating the sheet halfway through, until the cookies are lightly golden and
fragrant, 20 - 25 minutes. Transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely.
Makes about 30 cookies