My wonderful grandfather (he of the excellent cherry pie and etouffee) is turning 95 today. Such an occasion calls for an epic cake, but with the record-breaking heat waves we’ve been having lately, I didn’t think I could send anything resembling a cake through the U.S. mail. Not that I could normally, but the heat is my excuse this time.
Pecan sandies seemed like the perfect cake substitute, not only because they are unlikely to melt but also because I have inherited my love of pecans from my grandfather.
I wanted to make pecan sandies just like his, because his are perfect. Unfortunately, it turns out I don’t have his recipe or at least could not find it after a reasonable amount of searching time. In order to maintain the surprise element of these cookies, I had to search for a new recipe.
After much poking around on the internet, I settled on using the Smitten Kitchen recipe as my base. However, I wanted cookies with sizable pecan chunks in them, not just cookies flavored with ground pecans – delicious as those would be, they just weren’t what I was looking for. I also wanted round cookies instead of square ones because, well, I did. And when I put in chunks of pecans, rolling the dough into a log to slice into round cookies was next to impossible – the pecan chunks made it hard to roll the dough evenly without it cracking along pecan-created fault lines. So, I improvised, and I rolled the dough into individual balls. Then, after the first batch (that didn’t fall on the floor) came out very shortbready and delicious but not quite what I had in mind, I decided to roll the dough balls in sugar. It worked like a charm – the sugar made the cookies soft and puffy. I was one happy camper.
My only regret was not making a double batch so that I could keep some for myself without feeling guilty, but I was more than satisfied with the cookies I ate while taste testing. Don’t laugh, taste testing is a critical part of baking. ahem.
This recipe makes approximately 3 – 4 dozen medium-sized cookies, depending on the size of little dough balls you make. It also depends on whether you drop a cookie sheet full of these as you’re pulling it out of the oven. Yeah, I definitely ate some burning hot cookie crumbs off my kitchen floor last week. No shame. Okay, maybe a little.
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
- 1 1/2 scant cups pecans, divided
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
- 2/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- granulated sugar, for rolling the dough balls in
You can toast the pecans in the oven at 350 degrees for 10 to 13 minutes, stirring occasionally, as Deb recommends. I, however, am lazy, so I toast the pecans on the stovetop because it works just as well. Put a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Toss 1/2 cup of pecans in the pan and cook, stirring regularly, for about 4 – 7 minutes, or until the pecans turn dark and make your kitchen smell like heaven. Remove from heat and pour onto a paper towel or plate. Let cool for a few minutes, then grind the toasted pecans in a food processor with 1/2 cup of the flour. Add more flour if your pecans are not getting finely ground.
Mix the dry ingredients in a medium bowl, including the ground pecans but not the other, remaining pecans. Set aside.
In the large bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar until creamy and smooth (but not fluffy). Add the vanilla and beat until completely mixed (this will take longer than you’re used to because of how much vanilla is in there). Add half of the dry ingredients mixture and mix until combined; repeat with the rest of the dry ingredients. Break the remaining pecans into small pieces, add them into the dough, and stir.
Wrap the dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours. 15 minutes before you would like to start baking the cookies, remove the dough from the fridge and set it on the counter to thaw a bit. You may not need to do this, but my fridge has been all about freezing stuff lately and I’m scared to turn down the temperature any more than I have.
Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Fill the bottom of a small bowl with granulated sugar. Tear off small chunks of the cookie dough and roll into balls 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Roll in the dough, then flatten slightly in between your hands – the dough should be a thick disk, not a flat disk like you’d make with roll out cookie dough. Transfer to the cookie sheet.
Bake the cookies for 10 to 12 minutes. Do not let the cookies brown.
Cool completely. Maybe steal a bite while you’re transferring the cookies to wire racks. Er, it broke. Oops!
Once completely cooled, store in an air-tight container or in paper bags.