Those of you who’ve read a bit of my blog will notice I like “go to” recipes. Years ago I’d tried a “new recipe” at Christmas Eve – pasta with a cream sauce and chestnuts from a favored magazine source. It was horridly bland in the most unpalatable way. That was the first and last time I served a recipe I hadn’t tried first (yes, everyone does learn this lesson and luckily 1. It was a side dish and 2. They were very close friends, so they didn’t write off having dinner with me in the future). It had looked so good in the magazine. Lesson learned, I have and continue to build my arsenal of recipes I want to repeat. These are the recipes I share, the food I serve guests or add to baskets as gifts.
Enter Barefoot Contessa Pecan Shortbread Cookies. You’ll find that although traditional shortbread is flour, sugar and butter plus flavorings, recipes and variations abound. Some use superfine sugar, some confectioner’s sugar and others plain ol sugar. Some add cream cheese (is it even then a shortbread or should it be called a sugar cookie? I’m not the food police, although these musings cross my mind). Flavorings run the gamut of extracts, citrus rind, nuts, cocoa, dried fruits and more. You can dip in chocolate, drizzle icing or serve with neither – plain being oh so perfect with a cup of tea. Rolling the dough instructions can be very thin or thick (Martha’s shortbread hearts say 1/16 to 1/8 inch thick, Ina’s recipe on Food network ½ and Ina’s recipe at Martha’s site ¼). I like the thicker style and it’s nice to know you don’t have to be perfect in rolling them out – just cut them all the same size and watch your cooking time. Oven temps also vary. Originally, I’d planned to use a shortbread mold I have (I have this ‘thing’ for bakeware). I’ve used the recipe from Brown Bag Cookie Art in the past, based on the consideration that it’s in their best interests to have a super recipe so you bake shortbread often and therefore want to use more and more of their molds. I liked their plain shortbread cookie (requires confectioner’s sugar) but the mold didn’t capture the detail as much as I liked. I’d browsed the web and found a blog showing pics of that blogger’s cookies from the tart size molds noticing that, although she professed to making cookies in these molds all the time, hers also didn’t capture the mold detail. It’s something I’ll pursue later (refrigeration I hear is the key plus pressing the hell out of it when you put it in the mold). Given the crunch of holidays, I decided I’d use Wilton’s mini multi cutter (looks like it’s supposed to cut three oblong brownies from one pressing) to give myself a standard shape.
I wanted a classic shortbread recipe when searching what to settle on. The Brown Bag Art recipe was good, but I knew there was something a bit better out there. Searched Food Network, Martha and various web sources. Narrowed my search at Martha Stewart to “published prior to 2004” as those are the recipes her empire was founded on. I sometimes think with the proliferation of recipe mags and shows and blogs there are those who run out of really good ideas and just throw together more combinations of spice or more and varied ingredients into standard recipes – sometimes it may work for a flavor palette that builds, but the majority of the time I find I prefer the simpler, cleaner taste without tumbling too many strong flavors together. (I do like Indian food, but if I had it more than a few times/week I’d be craving something like steamed broccoli with butter and a dash of salt only).
Found the recipe published in the magazine in 1992, before Ina had a following more than her store and she was a guest on Martha’s show. The notation “These cookies were always the first thing to sell out at the Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten’s gourmet store in East Hampton, New York” sold me. The interesting bit is that Martha’s site just has a 2 by pure almond extract – so I added 2 teaspoons. In checking a similar recipe on food network, Ina adds the equivalent of ½ teaspoon (Food Network recipe is this doubled without the sugar sprinkled on just before baking). I really like the strong almond extract flavor. I like it when the cookies are still slightly warm from the oven and that sweet almond taste is very strong and I love it a day later when the almond taste has mellowed but still comes through in the cookie’s flavor.Makes about 1 1/2 dozen 1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour Pinch of salt 2 1/4 ounces pecan halves, toasted ½ to 2 teaspoons pure almond extract (depending on your tastes, I’ll always go full 2 teaspoons)
- Cream together butter, 1/2 cup sugar, and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, until mixture is light in color, 3 to 4 minutes.
- Add flour, salt, pecans, and almond extract, and mix until combined and the pecans start to break up.
- Wrap dough in plastic wrap, and place in the refrigerator at least 1 hour or overnight. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to a 1/4-inch thickness. Using 2 1/2-inch diameter fluted cookie cutters, cut cookies, and place on parchment-lined baking sheet. Return to refrigerator 1 hour more.
- Heat oven to 325 degrees. Sprinkle cookies with remaining 2 tablespoons sugar, and bake until lightly browned, 15 to 20 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack, and let cool.
I like to cook them just until you can see very light browning at the edge. For molds, this is a must. For shaped, some folks demand they’re taken from the oven before any coloration from baking, others, like me, go with the slight toasting color. I wrapped these simply using the paper liner that is used to separate the foil cupcake liners (just press the opposite sides with your finger and you have a perfect oblong) and holiday treat bags. These aren’t going in the mail and the light bags can easily be placed around your food basket without crushing items beneath.
Read more at Marthastewart.com: Pecan Shortbread Cookies – Martha Stewart Recipes
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This post is being resurrected for Ina’s Garden over at 21st Century Housewife (shortbread is good for Indian Summer afternoons as well as holiday baking!) and participated in the following linky parties: