Friday, November 4, 2011

Pecan Shortbread with a Spicy Kick

photo by Anthony Palatta
These cookies are crisp, buttery, and just a bit nutty in flavor, with a hint of nutmeg as well as a caramel flavor from the inclusion of brown sugar, which makes you think, "Hmm...  what is that?"  And then take another bite.

I recently read an article in Cook's Illustrated that compared the various types of butter for baking, and their top choice for flavor was called Plugra. After hearing Martha Stewart sing the praises of it as well, I decided to give it a try in this recipe.

So far, I'm not noticing a huge difference between using Plugra, which is an American-made European-style butter that has a higher content than your garden variety butter, and Breakstone's, which is what I usually go for.  I did notice, however, the difference in price:  the Plugra costs almost double what regular butter goes for.

The cookies themselves look and taste very professional and impressive. The recipe calls for a square cutter, but I didn't have one and went for round. My cookies also came out bigger than I would have liked. Next time, I'll try cutting them smaller. I think they're better as a two-bite "snap" with tea than as a larger disc that requires more effort and concentration.


  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
  • Pinch of ground cloves
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup packed light-brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup finely ground pecans (from 2/3 cup pecans)


  1. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, cornstarch, salt, nutmeg, and cloves; set aside.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and brown sugar together on medium speed until smooth, about 3 minutes. Add vanilla, and mix to combine. Add pecans. Reduce mixer speed to low and add flour mixture; mix until just combined.
  3. Turn dough out onto work surface and form into two flat squares; wrap with plastic wrap and transfer to refrigerator. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 2 days.
  4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees with racks set in the upper and lower thirds. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside.
  5. Place a nonstick baking mat on work surface. Place one square chilled dough on baking mat; top with a sheet of plastic wrap. Roll out dough between baking mat and plastic wrap until it is 3/8-inch-thick. Transfer to freezer to chill until firm, about 30 minutes. Repeat process with remaining dough.
  6. Using a 2 1/4-inch square cutter, cut out dough and transfer to prepared baking sheets. Carefully prick each cookie with a skewer, gently pushing through the dough until it reaches the baking sheet.
  7. Transfer baking sheets to oven and bake, about 10 minutes. Halfway through baking, repeat pricking process and rotate baking sheets from top to bottom and front to back. Cookies should be very pale and not take on too much color. Transfer cookies to rack to cool.

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