Let's face it, I should probably just re-name this blog "mea culpa." It simply happens far too often that I drop the ball. I promise you posts and recipes, and then life intervenes, sometimes in startling and good ways, sometimes in horrifying ones. I know this happens to everyone. Quite a number of my most favorite bloggers take a little hiatus here and there. But I do feel neglectful; I promised you the story of my lovely Lisette baking afternoon with friends Peter and Karen, which happened fully three weeks ago. As far as excuses go, I did have a family crisis, which has fortunately been resolved. Then of course there was Menu For Hope (thank you all so much for supporting this great cause), which took up my blogging time and energy for the past couple of weeks.
Sadly, my pictures from Lisette-baking Sunday did not appear. It's not just that they didn't turn out; they somehow or other vanished from my camera altogether. But you've had a fair number of Lisette pictures, and you know what these dome-shaped, glazed little lebkuchen nut tortes look like, even if you can't lick the screen and find out what they taste like. I have to see the vanishing of the pictures as something of an omen. I'm simply not meant to share too much information about these cakes. Suffice it to say that I had a lovely time with Peter, being his sous-chef for the Lisette-making process, and learning not to sprinkle too many nonpareils on top -- as well as sharing tales of childhood. Peter told me several delightful stories about his family's erstwhile Lisette-making business -- how his father, an engineer, created a machine that could automatically grind large amounts of nuts by jerry-rigging their little old-fashioned nut-grinder; how his mother was invited to sell her luscious little cakes at some of Manhattan's poshest department stores. It was indeed a glorious afternoon, and at the end, I went home with a large container of beautiful glazed Lisettes. That batch is, unfortunately, long gone; I've bought the ingredients for more, but haven't yet had the time to put them together.
In the meantime, I've been cobbling together time for my annual cookie-baking ritual. I had thought, of course, that this year I'd get lots and lots of baking done, as I'm on sabbatical. Somehow or other, just the opposite happened. Here it is Christmas Eve, and instead of a dozen kinds of goodies for the cookie platter, I have a mere eight. But they are eight very good ones. I've also made some modifications to old favorite recipes that have worked out very well, and I'll share those with you anon.
So far, I've managed a large batch of the good old-fashioned oatmeal cookies with-everything-in-them. In addition, I've made wallflower loaves, extreme gingers, double-chocolate mint cookies, linzer biscotti, espresso-toffee shortbread, World Peace Cookies, and oh, I don't even know what else. And I've made the cookies I'm about to share with you. You see, I'm thinking you might need another cookie at the eleventh hour, or perhaps you have plans for baking during holiday week or for New Years'. So I'm going to give you one of the all-time, most-requested favorites of my repertoire, Pecan Sand Tarts.
Oh, you say. Yet another recipe for the Mexican Wedding Cookie/Russian Tea Cake clone. ZZZZZ. But I'm going to have to exhort you to give this version a try, because there are several things that set it off from the standard recipe for this treat.
One is the ratio of pecans to flour/butter/sugar/etc. This recipe has about twice the number of pecans as the standard formula, and the added crunch factor is quite noticeable. And that brings me to the second point. Instead of grinding the nuts to a powder, this recipe leave them chopped so that some of them are finely ground and some are quite chunky, which gives great texture to the cookie. Next is the fact that cake flour is used, which makes the whole thing quite light, and increases the whole melt-in-your-mouth factor.
Then there's the low amount of sugar in the dough, which means that you don't go on sugar overload when you coat them with powdered sugar. Instead, there's a nice contrast of the only faintly sweet and nutty buttery cookie to the sugary coating. And finally, there's the baking time. These cookies are baked slowly, for a long time at a lower temperature than normal. This gives everything a chance to develop fantastic flavor instead of leaving a generic nutty buttery pastiness in your mouth. You can pre-toast the pecans if you wish, but I think the slow baking gives them the extra toasted crunch anyway.
I've been making these cookies since I was about 10 years old, ever since the Christmas a neighboring family gave them to us as part of a cookie assortment and I begged the recipe from them. They called them pecan puffs, but my father said they tasted like cookies he remembered from long ago, and he always called them sand tarts. They're his favorite, and beloved of many other family members and friends as well. So instead of apologizing any more for my bad blogger tendencies, I leave you with this, another recipe which has become a family heirloom for us, and will perhaps become one for you as well.
Pecan Sand Tarts (aka Pecan Puffs)
Approximate yield: 30 - 50 cookies, depending on how large you roll them. I usually make this recipe times six during this season -- the demand for them is such that a large number of people would be unhappy with me if I showed up without them at holiday time.
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons white sugar
fat pinch of salt
1 teaspoon good vanilla extract
1 cup sifted cake flour
1 cup pecan halves
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar for rolling
Preheat oven to 300 degrees F (150 degrees C). Line cookie sheets with parchment. In a medium bowl or a stand mixer, cream together butter, sugar and salt until smooth. Beat in the vanilla. Roughly chop pecans in a food processor or blender so that you have a mix of textures; toss with cake flour. Stir the pecan mixture into the creamed mixture until well blended (at this point, the dough can be refrigerated and kept for several days, to bake at a later point. Or it can be frozen, probably for a couple of months). Roll the dough into balls "the size of a walnut," then place them 1 inch apart onto the prepared cookie sheets.
Bake for 30 to 40 minutes in the preheated oven, or until nicely golden brown (keep an eye on them; ovens differ, so I'd begin checking at 20 minutes). Roll warm cookies in confectioners' sugar (I often skip this step, not liking too much sugar -- I just roll them when they're cool). When cool, roll again.