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Recipe category: Desserts | All categories

Brown butter pecan shortbread

Brown butter pecan shortbread
Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times

Beyond the colorful decorations and after the initial rush of sugar, holiday cookies are about memories, tradition and sharing with those close to us. Be they humble or ornate, our baked goods are used to celebrate and give thanks — thanks for our childhoods, the blessings of family and friends and the magic that can be found only this time of year.

This fall, we again asked L.A. Times readers to share their special cookie recipes with us for our fourth annual Holiday Cookie Bake-Off and then to help us narrow down their favorites to the top 50.

We received more than 250 submissions, and more than 3,700 votes were cast. We took the top vote-getters to Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Pasadena, where students spent one Saturday morning baking batches of cookies. L.A. Times Food Editor Russ Parsons, Deputy Food Editor Betty Hallock and Times Test Kitchen Director Noelle Carter joined KCRW's "Good Food" host, Evan Kleiman, to taste and test each cookie, narrowing it to our 10 favorites.

Earlier this week, the L.A. Times Test Kitchen was jammed with happy bakers and their helpers for this year's photo shoot. Amazing cookies, memories and traditions were shared. The Czechoslovakian nut bars bring back memories of a finalist's Slovak heritage. The holiday crescent cookies bring sisters together one afternoon each year to bake in their mother's honor. The frosted orange crispies were given to a finalist years ago by a military wife; she would serve her cookies on a silver tray at the officers club. The candy cane chocolate mandel bread is a merging of holidays for one family, Hanukkah and Christmas honored together.

As much as holiday cookies might keep memories and tradition alive, they also help to share memories and traditions with new friends in new places. One family is known far and wide for its chocolate peppermint snaps: "Everywhere we have lived — Madrid, Nairobi, Suva, SoCal — we've given these cookies as Christmas gifts to friends."

Total time: About 1 hour, plus chilling and cooling times | Makes about 24 cookies
Note: "I've always loved the combination of sweet and salt. When I was a kid, I loved pretzels and vanilla ice cream together. The edges of this nutty, rich cookie glisten with the combination of coarse sugar and flaked sea salt." - Zora Margolis
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, divided
  • 1 cup pecans
  • 2 cups (8.5 ounces) flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons turbinado or other coarse sugar
  • 2 teaspoons fleur de sel

Step 1Melt one stick of butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan until the milk solids have turned a rich brown color and the butter smells nutty. Watch carefully so it doesn't burn. Cool in a small bowl and then chill for a couple of hours in the fridge. Leave the second stick of butter out at room temperature.

Step 2Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread the pecans on a rimmed baking sheet and toast for a few minutes until they are fragrant and darker in color. Cool, then finely grind using a food processor (be careful not to overwork the pecans, or they will turn to a butter).

Step 3 Sift together the flour and salt in a separate bowl.

Step 4 In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in a large bowl using a hand mixer, cream the browned and regular butters together with the brown sugar until light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the vanilla and pecans and beat until well combined. Add half the flour until just combined, and then the rest of the flour. Don't overbeat at this point. The dough will be kind of shaggy.

Step 5Dump the dough out onto a sheet of plastic wrap or wax paper and gather into a large ball. Cut the ball in half and use wax paper or plastic wrap to form logs 2 to 3 inches in diameter. Mix together turbinado sugar and fleur de sel, and roll the logs in the mixture, pressing it into the dough. Wrap the logs in plastic wrap or wax paper and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, at least 2 hours and preferably overnight.

Step 6 Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Slice the logs crosswise into one-fourth-inch rounds. Space the cookies approximately 2 inches apart on a parchment- or silicone baking mat-lined baking sheet. Bake until set and lightly colored around the edges, about 12 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through.

Step 7The cookies will be very delicate just out of the oven. Cool them on the baking sheet before removing.

Each of 24 cookies:
Calories 156; Protein 2 grams; Carbohydrates 14 grams; Fiber 1 gram; Fat 11 grams; Saturated fat 5 grams; Cholesterol 20 mg; Sugar 6 grams; Sodium 221 mg
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