Sunday, September 19, 2010

salty-sweet butter pecan cookies

These cookies are somewhat of a mystery. I shouldn't like them: they have nuts, and butterscotch chips, which I generally hate, and they're made with half/half butter/shortening. And yet... oh my.

Salty. Sweet. Buttery. Nutty. Crunchy. Chewy. Sometimes the whole is more than the sum of its parts. Holy cow, these are good. They're from King Arthur, so perhaps I should have known. Resident baker PJ Hamel even ranked them tied for first as her favorite cookies.

Here they are with some demerara shortbread I made for a party my mother-in-law threw.

Just look at this pecan...

I didn't love the raw cookie dough (please - I had to taste it!). I don't usually like cookie dough made with shortening, but in this case, I think it was the butter rum flavor that turned me off. The flavor either cooked out or just worked well in the cookie itself, as I didn't notice it in the baked cookie, but in the future I might just use extra vanilla instead. I happened to have some of this special extract in my cabinet, but I'm not sure it's worth a trip to a specialty store to find it.

Because I can't leave well enough alone, I used this recipe as a variation on chocolate chip cookies, subbing out the butterscotch chips for chocolate and leaving out the butter rum flavor entirely. You know what? They really weren't as good. A commenter on the KA blog noted that they were good with toffee chips, so that might be worth a try. It is absolutely worth making these as written, and the only drawback is that the dough is best if left to rest in the fridge for 24 hours. Who has that kind of time? Get started now!

Salty-Sweet Butter Pecan Cookies
Makes about 4 dozen 3" cookies

1 1/3 cups (5 ounces) pecan halves
2/3 cup (4 5/8 ounces) light brown sugar, firmly packed
2/3 cup (4 5/8 ounces) granulated sugar
1 stick butter
1/2 cup (3 1/4 ounces) vegetable shortening
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon espresso powder (include this! it enhances the flavor and absolutely doesn't make the cookies taste like coffee)
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon butterscotch, vanilla-butternut, or butter-rum flavor (or omit and increase vanilla to 1 tablespoon)
1 teaspoon vinegar, cider or white
1 large egg
2 cups (8 1/2 ounces) flour
1 1/3 cups (8 ounces) butterscotch chips
1/3 cup (2 3/8 ounces) granulated sugar mixed with 1 to 1 1/4 teaspoons table salt (not kosher salt, which is too coarse for this), for topping*

*If you're making smaller (teaspoon cookie scoop-sized) cookies, increase the coating to 1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) granulated sugar mixed with 1 3/4 to 2 teaspoons salt.

Place the pecans in a single layer in a pan, and toast till they've darkened a bit and smell toasty, about 5-8 minutes. You can do this in the toaster oven if you want, but set the timer! You will start to smell them toasting. (If you don't set the timer, you will start to smell them burning, and then you'll have to start again.) Set them aside to cool.

In a large bowl, combine the sugars, butter, shortening, salt, espresso powder, baking soda, vanilla, flavor, and vinegar, beating until smooth and creamy. Beat in the egg, again beating until smooth. Scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl, and then mix in the flour. Gently stir in the chips and toasted nuts. You don't want to break up the nuts, so just use a rubber spatula and go easy.

Cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least 4 to 5 hours; preferably overnight. Cookie dough refrigerated for 3 1/2 to 4 hours will spread moderately; chilled overnight, it will spread much less.

When you're ready to bake, preheat the oven to 375F. Mix the 1/3 cup sugar and salt for the coating in a bowl. Scoop 1 1/4" or 1 1/2" balls of dough and roll them in the sugar/salt mixture to coat. Transfer these to cookie sheets lined with a silpat or parchment leaving 2" between them on all sides; they'll spread quite a bit.

Bake the cookies for 9 to 11 minutes — less time for smaller cookies, more for larger ones. Their edges will be chestnut brown and their tops a lighter golden brown. (You may need to add 30 seconds to 1 minute to those baking times for dough that's been refrigerated, but it's most important just to keep an eye on them and see what your oven does. They're done when they're done. I like to let them get a little deeper brown than I usually do with cookies, but you still don't want them overdone.) Remove them from the oven, and cool on the pan till they've set enough to move without breaking, then move to a cooling rack to cool completely.

As with many drop cookies, the baked cookies do very nicely in the freezer, but let them come back to room temperature before you eat them so you can best enjoy the flavors and textures.

Print this recipe.


George Wolf said...

Butter Pecan Cookies is the best snack I had when I visited my sister in Easley, SC last Holiday. Though I don't like nuts that much, I still enjoyed 'em. I've been searching for the different recipes for these cookies for our family party next month. Good thing my dentist allowed me to have sweets again after my treatment.

jami said...

@George - I almost NEVER like nuts in cookies, but these are really good, and the salty-sweet combo can't be beat.

George Wolf said...

I'll take your word for it. Thanks, Jami!