Bourbon Pecan Cookies

For a very long time, I absolutely and utterly despised cookies with nuts. 

I knew a lot of people who found this baffling - fellow bakers especially - but it was a matter of personal taste. I've always been in the "ooey-gooey" cookie camp, so the textural interruption nuts created was offensive and unforgivable to me. Nuts were unnecessary, superfluous even - at least, that's what I thought before I tried these.

We made these cookies back in culinary school, and they're honestly one of the best things I learned there. This recipe is impeccably balanced - the blend of flavours and textures is sublime. The flavour profile is subtle, yet deep, with just enough sweetness to enhance the other ingredients; if I could sum these cookies up in one word, it would be "harmonious."

Patience and precision are the key to this bake. It's not especially difficult, but it's vital that you pay attention and don't rush with things like cooling and shaping. This recipe produces quite a lot of cookies, but the dough holds very well in the freezer - either as an uncut log, or as shaped cookies - so it's easy to store any extras you're not baking right away. These are my perfect winter cookie, enjoyed best at parties surrounded by friends and family, or on a chilly day with a cup of tea (or a hot toddy!) for dunking.

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Bourbon Pecan Cookies

  • 170 g raw pecans (1.5 level cups) *
  • 170 g unsalted butter (12 Tbsp. or 1.5 sticks)
  • 200 g sugar (1/2 cup + 1/3 cup + 1 Tbsp.)
  • 1 egg yolk 
  • 3/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract **
  • 2 Tbsp. bourbon ***
  • 230 g all-purpose flour (2 cups, minus one Tbsp.)

 

For decoration (optional)

  • 1 egg
  • pecan halves (raw)

 

Tips

* I used pecan halves for this measurement, so if you're working with whole pecans or pecan pieces you'll want to use a scale.

** If you're fancy (or rich) and have vanilla beans, substitute 1/2 a vanilla bean, split and scraped instead of the extract.

*** Use the highest quality bourbon you can, because it really makes a difference here in terms of flavour. If you're not a big bourbon drinker, I suggest going to a well stocked liquor store and  getting one of the mini-bottles; bigger stores tend to have more variety and nicer brands in the sample sizes.

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1. PREHEAT your oven to 300 degreed (f).

2. TOAST your pecans for about 5 minutes. The nuts should be aromatic and very lightly browned.  You may need more time, depending on the strength of your oven, but keep an eye on them! These burn easily, and if they're heavily toasted the cookies will taste bitter once baked.

3. COOL the nuts completely, then transfer to a food processor (or you can chop them by hand, but it'll suck). Go ahead and turn off your oven for now.

4. BLITZ the nuts in a food processor until the pecans reach the texture of breadcrumbs. You want these to be small and fine, but if you run the food processor too long you'll wind up with nut butter.

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5. CREAM together your butter and sugar in a large bowl until the mixture is light and fluffy.

6. ADD the ground pecans, egg yolk, salt, vanilla, and bourbon to the bowl and mix to combine. After creaming, you should avoid beating this batter any more than you have to - if too much air is whipped into the dough, it will be harder to shape and deflate while baking.

7. ADD the flour, and beat just until it's homogenous; I like to gently stir in some of the flour with the mixer's whisks before turning it on. Careful - if you over mix the dough once the flour is added you'll develop too much gluten, which will ruin the cookie's crumbly, shortbread-like texture. 

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8. DIVIDE the dough in half, placing each half on a large piece of parchment paper. (If you're a psycho like me and want to do this by weight, each half should weigh 404 grams)

9. SHAPE the dough into a rough log, approximately 8 inches long. Repeat with the other half of your dough.

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10. FOLD the parchment paper over your log. Using a straight-edged, flat object (a bench or bowl scraper is ideal, but a cookie sheet works well too) push the folded over parchment under your dough.

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11. PRESS your bench scraper into the parchment, working all along the log so the paper tightens into a cylinder. Continue to press and shape the log until the dough is approximately 10 inches long and even in thickness. Don't worry if the ends are a little rough, you'll trim those off later.

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12. CHILL your dough on a sheet pan in the refrigerator. Let it cool for at least 30 minutes, or until the dough is no longer soft. Raw dough will keep for several days in the fridge or up to a month in the freezer. (Just make sure the dough is well wrapped, first in parchment paper, then in plastic wrap - if freezing, allow to thaw before slicing.)

13. TRIM the ends of your dough logs.

14. SLICE your dough into 1/4 inch rounds, rolling the log after each cut to maintain the shape as best as possible. I recommend using a serrated knife, working in a sawing motion, so that the dough isn't compressed as much during cutting. Don't freak out if they look a little wonky after cutting! Ideally they'd all slice up into perfect rounds, but realistically that just won't happen - which brings us to our next step...

15. RESHAPE your sliced cookies into nice, neat circles. I like to use the sides of my pinky fingers to gently reshape the rounds, turning the cookies as I work. It's okay if they're a bit warm by this point, so long as they're not super sticky - they're harder to cut while warm, but easier to reshape as they're less prone to crumbling. (You can see below the difference between the initially cut cookies and after they've been shaped.)

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16. CHILL the sliced cookies on a parchment lined sheet pan (you can layer them on top of each other, so long as there's parchment in between the cookies) for another 30 minutes, or until they're no longer soft.

17. PREHEAT your oven to 350 degrees (f).

18. WHISK your extra egg until homogenous. Set aside with a pastry brush and the extra untoasted pecan halves. (If you're keeping your cookies plain, skip this step.)

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19. PLACE the chilled cookies on a parchment lined sheet pan, 1-2 inches apart. These cookies won't spread much, but you want a good amount of room around them for optimal air flow and even baking. 

20. BRUSH each cookie very lightly with egg wash (just enough to wet the surface, you don't want it dripping down the sides) and gently press a pecan half on top of each round.

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21. BAKE the cookies for 5 minutes, turn, then bake for 3-4 minutes more. You don't want a lot of colour on these cookies - they should be just barely brown on the edges.

22. COOL completely on a wire rack, and store in an air-tight container at room temperature for 3-5 days. The cookies will be crispier the first day they're baked, and will begin to soften after the first day or two. 

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ENJOY!

MSB