NIBBY PECAN COOKIES


Recommendation: make the dough a day before baking, and bake the cookies at least 24-hours before serving - longer is better.

1 cup (3 1/2 ounces) pecan halves
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 t. salt (slightly rounded if you like)
1 T. plus 1 t. bourbon (optional)
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup cocoa nibs (The Barinas would do good here)
2 cups all-purpose flour

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Spread the pecans on a cookie sheet. Toast them in the oven for 7 to 8 minutes, or until fragrant and lightly colored. Let cool, then chop.

Combine the butter, the sugar, salt, bourbon, if using, and vanilla in a medium bowl and, using a large spoon or an electric mixer on high speed, beat until smooth and creamy but not fluffy (about 1 minute with a mixer). Stir or beat in the pecans and cocoa nibs. Turn off the mixer, if you are using one, and add all the flour at once. Beat on low speed to prevent the flour from flying out, just until the flour is fully incorporated. Or stir in the flour until incorporated. If necessary, finish mixing with your hands.

For slice and bake cookies: Form the dough into a 12-inch log about 2 inches thick.

For rolled and cut cookies: Divide it in half and form into two flat patties. Wrap the dough and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, preferably overnight. (The dough can be frozen for up to three months).

Position the racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

To slice and bake: Use a sharp knife to cut the cold dough log into 1/4 inch thick slices. Place the cookies at least 1 1/2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets.

To roll and cut cookies: Remove one patty from the refrigerator and let it sit at room temperature until supple dough to roll but still quite firm - it will continue to soften as you work. roll the dough out between two pieces of wax paper or between heavy plastic sheets (from heavy duty plastic bag) to a thickness of 1/4 inch. Turn the dough over once or twice while you are rolling it out to check for deep wrinkles; if necessary, peel off and smooth the paper or plastic over the dough before continuing to roll it. Peel off the top sheet of paper or plastic and place it in front of you. Invert the dough onto the paper and peel off the second sheet. Cut out cookies as close together as possible to minimize scraps, dipping the edges of cookie cutters in flour as necessary to prevent sticking. Use the point of a paring knife to life and remove scraps as you transfer cookies, using a narrow metal spatula, to ungreased cookie sheets, placing the cookies at least 1 1/2 inches apart. (If the dough gets too soft at any time while you are working, slide a cookie sheet underneath the paper or plastic and refrigerate the dough for a few minutes until it firms up again.) Repeat with the second piece of dough. Press all of the dough scraps together gently (don't overwork them with too much kneading), reroll, and cut out more cookies.

Bake for 12 to 14 minutes, or until the cookies are light golden brown at the edges, rotating the cookie sheets from top to bottom and front to back halfway through the baking. Let the cookies firm up on the pans for about 1 minute before transferring them to a rack with a metal pancake turner. Let cool completely. for best flavor and texture, store the cookies in an airtight container for at least 24 hours before serving. (They can be stored airtight for at least 1 month).

NIBBY COCOA COOKIES: If you omit the nuts, increase the nibs, and add cocoa, you get these tender, crunchy cookies with even more complex but subtle flavors. Omit the pecans and bourbon. Decrease the vanilla to 1 teaspoon. Whisk 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (natural or Dutch-process) into the flour before adding it to the dough. Increase the nibs the 1/2 cup. Bake the cookies for 10 to 12 minutes, or until they have puffed slightly, fallen, and feel firm to the touch.

SUBSTITUTIONS: I like the recipe with walnuts, or with toasted skinned hazelnuts instead of pecans, or substitute 1/4 teaspoon ground vanilla beans, which you can do yourself or buy, for 1 teaspoon of the vanilla extract. I also like to use sea salt that is slightly coarser than table salt - then I often use a tad more than 1/4 teaspoon, as this adds a little flavor enhancement.