It’s well known within our circle of friends that we do not keep junk food in the house – no potato chips, cheese puffs or Doritos. With that said, I have been known to occasionally give in to the pull of a box of ‘movie theater butter’ flavored microwave popcorn if I somehow find myself strolling down the grocery store’s snack food aisle (I know, I’m a hypocrite). But rarely does our ‘snack food free zone’ home ever affect our friends…that is until they become houseguests.
Case in point, two very good friends of ours who shall remain nameless (oh, what the hell, their names are Will and Darryl from Atlanta). Whenever they come up for visits, they walk in the door with suitcases, a host’s gift, smiles, hugs AND a small grocery bag filled with Doritos and other treats to help tide them over during their stay.
Now, it’s not that I have some holier-than-thou attitude about snack foods. Honestly, I have very little self control when it comes to junk food. I love love love the stuff. I especially love Lay’s chips. The salt, the oil…just to think about it. I take my time when eating them, making sure to place the salted side of the chip face down on my tongue, I let that flavor settle in and then take slow, deliberate bites so that I not only enjoy the flavor but I enjoy the loud crunch that comes with each, satisfying bite. Oh, now we’re talking.
See what I mean, I have a problem.
And my devotion to junk food is not isolated to salty snacks. ‘Cause me loves sweet treats too. As a kid, I was a huge fan of Keebler Pecan Sandies. Their flavor can be boiled down to three ingredients: butter, pecans and sugar. What’s not to love?
I like them so much that years ago (when I first started seriously cooking for myself), I searched for the perfect recipe for homemade Pecan Sandies. As we say in the South, I hit pay dirt.
This recipe is a little gem. Perfect flavors. Of course, you get the holy trinity of any good Pecan Sandy (pecans, butter, sugar), but it is this cookie’s texture that makes it a stand out. It has a perfect shortbread texture. It’s crumbly. It’s light as air.
You bite it and it instantly breaks apart in your mouth – which is perfect, because each tiny crumb serves as a little vessel of flavor being dispersed to every corner of your mouth. And pairing the cookie with caramel just heightens the nutty flavor of the pecans.
The smooth and creamy buttery flavor, the nuttiness of the pecan and caramel, the texture – it’s…just…heaven.
PECAN SANDIES WITH CARAMEL FILLING
I originally discovered this recipe on either Martha Stewart’s website or the television show. Since then, the recipe has been published in the Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook.
Although there is a caramel recipe included in the MS book, I find it a somewhat difficult caramel to make: it too easily crystallizes. I’m sure the problem is me but I have always had the same problem with this recipe. I recently discovered a much easier caramel recipe in the Williams-Sonoma book, Cooking for Friends (as featured in my recent post for Ricotta-Almond Doughnuts with Caramel Sauce). It’s simple and a breeze to make.
For Cookies: Adapted from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook
½ cup pecan halves
2 sticks of unsalted butter, room temperature
½ cup sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
½ tsp kosher salt
For Caramel: Adapted from Cooking for Friends, by Alison Attenborough, Jamie Kimm
½ cup granulated sugar
1 tbl of butter, diced
¼ cup heavy cream
TO MAKE THE COOKIES: Spread the pecans on the baking pan, and toast until fragrant and golden brown, 5 to 7 minutes, rotating pan halfway through. Transfer the pecans to blender and pulse until finely chopped.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add vanilla extract, flour, and salt; beat to combine. Stir in pecans.
Form the dough into a disk, and wrap in plastic. Transfer to refrigerator, and chill until firm, 30 to 45 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Line 3 baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside. On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough 1/4-inch-thick. Using a 2 1/4-inch fluted pastry cutter, cut out 68 rounds. Place the rounds, spaced 1 inch apart, on the prepared baking sheets. Refrigerate dough 5 to 10 minutes. Using a 3/4-inch round aspic cutter, or the large end of a pastry tip, cut out and discard the centers from 34 cookies, making top halves.
Bake until golden brown, about 12 minutes, rotating baking sheets halfway through baking time. Transfer cookies to a wire rack, and let cool completely.
TO MAKE THE CARAMEL: Put sugar in a small heavy saucepan and add enough water just to cover sugar (it will resemble wet sand). Place over medium-high heat and cook, without stirring, but occasionally swirling the pan to ensure even cooking, until mixture starts to bubble and edges begin to turn amber, about 7-10 minutes. Watching carefully to prevent overcooking, continue cooking until mixture turns a deep amber, 3-5 minutes more. Remove from heat and very carefully add butter (it may spatter). Carefully add cream and swirl pan until evenly mixed.
TO ASSEMBLE THE COOKIES: Spoon or pipe about 1/2 teaspoon caramel in the center of each of the bottom halves, and sandwich both halves together. Drizzle remaining caramel over the tops of the cookies. Let the caramel set at least 2 hours, and up to overnight. Store the assembled cookies in an airtight container for up to 3 days.