Desserts

Brown Butter Pecan Cookies

In the past few years, I’ve grown more and more convinced that we live many lives.

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Not like all at once. I was going to try and avoid the term “reincarnation,” but yeah, basically that. One soul/spirit living in different bodies, in different places, in different times. But not every spirit. Only the spirits that feel like it. And don’t ask me what I think happens in the down time between one life and the next. I’ve never given it much thought.

How’s that for some theological wisdom? This coming from a girl with zero religious upbringing, but who’s worked primarily for churches since the age of 18. I saw the greatest “meme” the other day. It said: “spiritual gangsta doin’ time in a body.” I plan to use that in answer to the ‘tell us about yourself’ question at my next job interview.

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I bring this up because I think I must have lived on a plantation in the deep south in a past life. I’ve always been fascinated by the romanticized idea of Southern culture, yet it is one of the only regions of the country I’ve yet to experience. 

I used to spend weeks during the summer in Virginia, which is hardly “The South,” but is still pretty southern to New England-raised me. Nashville, TN is one of my very favorite cities. When my cousin moved down to Georgia for a couple years, I thought it was just about the greatest thing and loved her weekly updates on southern living. When I visited, I made her drive me over the border to Alabama just so I could say I’d been. Otherwise, I still have not spent time in most of the states at the bottom edge of America.

Nevertheless, ever since elementary school, if I see a book that takes place in the South, written about southern things, I read it. The same with movies, TV shows and of course, food. I took an extensive quiz a couple years ago designed for crazy people who think “I want to move somewhere for absolutely no reason at all. Where shall that be?” This quiz was maybe 300 questions long and was a complete life survey, resulting in a ranking of 50 cities in the United States with which one is most compatible. My number one was Palo Alto, California. Since I’m not married to a dashingly nerdy and loaded tech executive, here I am an hour north in Oakland. 

My number 2? Fayetteville, Arkansas. Who on earth knows why. Lack of snow? Rural but with a conveniently located Whole Foods Market? No ridiculous 10% California sales tax? All very likely reasons. Getting back to how I was saying a few weeks ago I’m wanting to plan my next adventure, the south has been on my mind. I’m dreaming of a summer where I can actually wear shorts and drink lemonade in a hammock on a white washed porch. None of this San Francisco “leather boots are totally appropriate July attire” and “only taking a table outside if the restaurant has one of those heated ceilings” nonsense. 

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My favorite part about the South? Obviously, the food. When I spent a week driving through Tennessee and Kentucky two summers ago, I ate fried chicken every day. My cousin and I will never again do Thanksgiving without a proper mac & cheese and banana pudding. Collard greens shouldn’t even be considered food until they’ve been cooked in bacon. Fresh, juicy peaches, and sweet, crunchy pecans.

Pecans. The Lexus of nuts. Not quite the most expensive nut in the bulk bin, but pretty high up there. Because of the cost, it’s not often I have a bag of pecans in my kitchen. On the occasions a sale strikes or I decided to splurge, I find myself trying to stretch those few cups of nuts into as many different recipes as I can.

During “coffee hour” after church service this past Sunday morning, there was a huge spread of catered goods leftover from a memorial service the day before. Among the cookie assortment (of which I sampled one of everything) was a chewy, pecan-studded oatmeal cookie with a hint of what I’m guessing was artificial butter flavoring. While imitation butter extract isn’t exactly something I keep stocked in my pantry, this was a cookie with great intentions, and I knew I could take the idea and recreate something better in my own kitchen.

Sunday afternoon I set to work coming up with these Brown Butter Pecan Cookies. I’m a weirdo and am partial to cookies made with more wholesome ingredients (like these and omg these), but as far as traditional bakery-style cookies go, these ultra-chewy, buttery, and nutty treats cannot be beat.

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Between browning the butter, making the dough, letting it chill, then shaping and baking the cookies, these are a little bit of a process. But they are so, totally, worth it. The flavor of brown butter can hardly be described. When used in sweet applications, it lends a distinct caramel taste. This is made even more intense in these cookies by the brown sugar. Add pecans to the mix and it’s like a praline in big cookie form. I tried something I’d never done before in this recipe, which was replace a small amount of the flour with rolled oats. I opted not to make a full on oatmeal cookie, for as much as I love those I didn’t want the flavor of the oats to compete with all that brown butter goodness. Adding just a small amount of oats does wonders for the texture of these cookies, giving them some added bite and extreme chewiness.

The best part? From the moment you start browning butter until hours after these cookies leave the oven, your house will smell like a candy factory. I don’t think you need any more convincing to make Brown Butter Pecan Cookies than that!

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Brown Butter Pecan Cookies
Yields 2 dozen cookies

Soft and chewy cookies with the nutty caramel flavor of brown butter, and toasty pecans. It’s like eating a big praline, only better!

INGREDIENTS

  • 3/4 cup (6oz/172g) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 1 3/4 cups (210g) all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup (45g) rolled oats
  • 1 tsp. corn starch
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/8 tsp. cinnamon
  • 3/4 cup (150g) brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup (50g) granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • 2 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 Tbs. milk
  • 4 oz. (1 cup) pecans, roughly chopped

INSTRUCTIONS

Start by browning the butter.* Place the butter pieces in a large, light-colored skillet and melt over medium heat. Once melted, keep an eye on the pan as the butter begins to bubble at the edges, and a foam forms on top. Continue to cook at a low simmer for 5-7 minutes longer, stirring occasionally. The butter will start to smell nutty, and you’ll be able to see browned bits forming at the bottom of the pan. Once the butter has turned a deep golden, and the foam has subsided slightly, transfer the mixture to a glass bowl, leaving what’s stuck to the bottom of the pan behind. Refrigerate the butter until firm, about two hours. Soften to room temperature before proceeding with the recipe.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, oats, corn starch, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Set aside.

Using an electric stand or hand mixer, beat together the browned butter and sugars on medium speed until combined. Add the egg and vanilla, and continue to beat a minute longer, scraping the sides of the bowl.

Turn the mixer to medium low, and slowly add the dry ingredients to the bowl. Continue mixing until a dough forms.

Turn off the mixer, then fold in the pecans. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill for at least two hours, or up to 72 hours. You may also freeze cookie dough for later use.

Once the dough has thoroughly chilled, preheat the oven to 350° F. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.

Roll the dough into 20-24 balls, and arrange on the baking sheets two inches apart. Flatten the tops ever so slightly.

Bake for 11-13 minutes, until lightly golden at the edges. For chewier cookies, remove them from the oven when still ever so slightly under-baked. For crispier, just bake them a bit longer, keeping in mind that cookies continue to bake on the sheets after coming out of the oven.

Remove the cookies from the oven. Allow them to cool on the baking sheets a few minutes, then transfer to cooling racks. Store cooled cookies in an air tight container.


*Here is a good step-by-step photo tutorial on how to brown butter.

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