Vanilla Bean-Pecan Shortbread

I had the pleasure of receiving some freshly-picked pecans as a gift so I thought I would use them for a twist on my shortbread. Shortbread is one of my favorite things to make at Christmastime and I really should make it more, but I kind of love it being special for this time of year; it is my husband and father-in-laws favorite. You can leave out the turbinado sugar, but I love the sparkle and crunch it gives!

Vanilla Bean-Pecan Shortbread // Makes 40 Cookies

1 c pecan halves, toasted & chopped

8 oz unsalted butter, at cool room temperature

½ c sugar

½ a vanilla bean, split and caviar scraped

½ tsp pure vanilla extract

½ tsp kosher salt

2 ½ c flour 

Turbinado sugar for sprinkling

If you haven’t toasted your pecans yet, set your oven to 350 degrees, place the nuts on a quarter sheet pan and place in the oven for 6-8 minutes until toasted and fragrant. Allow to cool and chop pretty finely.

In the bowl of your mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter and sugar for two minutes, until it begins to lighten in color. Add in vanilla bean and its caviar, and continue to beat until light and fluffy. Add vanilla extract and salt, mixing just to combine. Add flour, mix slowly at first, then beat for two minutes. The mixture will seem too crumbly at first, but then it will come together beautifully. Remove and discard vanilla pod. Add chopped pecans; since the dough is thick, it will be easier to mix in with the mixer, but only a few pulses. Bring dough together with your hands(ensure nuts are incorporated evenly in this step), split in half, and roughly shape each into a square. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate 30 minutes; preheat your oven to 325 degrees.

Working one half at a time, roll between two pieces of parchment paper to about ½” thick, keeping a square-ish shape as you roll. Sprinkle with turbinado sugar and lightly press in with your fingers so it doesn’t all just roll off (but not so deep that it just melts into the cookie when baked).

Cut Shortbread

With a sharp knife, cut into 20 squares - mine was five wide and four down. Place on parchment lined baking sheet and repeat with other half.

Bake just until the bottoms start to brown but edges do not get very dark, about 15-18 minutes. Start with a short amount of time and increase only by a minute or two as they can darken quickly!

Vanilla Bean Pecan Shortbread

Mix things up on your cookie platter this year and give these shortbread a go, and feel free to sub in a different nut if pecans aren’t your thing. Any way you mix it, they’ll be gobbled up in no time so maybe double the batch!

With a full heart and an empty plate,

Katie

Caramel Corn Cookies

Sometimes you have an excess of caramel corn in your house that you need to find a use for... right?

I found myself the proud owner of several cups of caramel corn, and instead of having it hang out on my counter staring at me, I decided to throw it in some cookies. You see, I don’t really care for caramel corn but this stuff was pretty magical. We made it in our candy class at school and my teammate didn’t want it, so I brought it home for the hubs. Turns out I like it too, when it’s homemade and delicious!

Caramel Corn Cookie Snack

I had seen versions of recipes where people put all kinds of crazy things into cookies with popcorn, but I wanted to highlight the caramel notes and use other ingredients in a more supporting role. Using a ranger cookie recipe as my base, I went to work tweaking and changing{my favorite thing to do!} to create a salty/sweet cookie that is soft, chewy, and packed with delicious texture and flavor.

Caramel Corn Cookies // Makes 24

½ c brown butter, solid at cool room temperature

½ c sugar

¼ c brown sugar

1 egg

1 tsp vanilla

1 c flour

½ tsp baking powder

½ tsp baking soda

¾ tsp salt

1 ½ c homemade caramel corn, chopped (or buy good-quality!)

½ c oats

¾ c sweetened flaked coconut

½ c pecans, toasted & chopped

*If you are new to making brown butter, check out this great tutorial. I melted and browned 10 tablespoons to get the ½ cup needed for the recipe. Do this the day before, refrigerate it, then take it out to come to cool room temperature like you would in a recipe calling for regular butter. Alternatively, you can use plain, unsalted butter; you will just be missing a bit of that warm nutty flavor!

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream brown butter and sugars together until light in color and fluffy, about 3 minutes. There will be beautiful brown specs in the mixture from the butter and that is good! Add in the egg and vanilla, and beat another 2-3 minutes. Add the flour, baking powder, soda, and salt, mixing until just incorporated. Stir in the remaining ingredients with a wooden spoon.

CCC Ingredients

If the dough seems a bit too soft, add a couple more tablespoons of flour. Chill dough for 30 minutes; preheat oven to 350 degrees and prepare two baking sheets with parchment.

Using a small cookie scoop, place dough on prepared baking sheets and bake until just set, 8-10 minutes. The bottoms and edges should be just lightly browned. Allow to cool a couple of minutes on the pan, then transfer to a wire rack.

Cooling CC Cookies

I loved these cookies because they weren’t too sweet and there wasn’t any one flavor dominating; they all played nicely together. You must try one warm, dunked in milk - divine. My husband took the lot to work and set them on the counter while he got settled at his desk - when he came back, they were gone! I think that means these are a great one to try for a group, who doesn’t love a warm, caramel-y flavor this time of year?! 

Cookies and Milk

Now, go make someones day with a tasty cookie and a cold glass of milk.

With a full heart and an empty plate,

Katie

 

Halfway Homemade Cream Cheese Pastries

Cooling Pastries

On one of the few trips to Costco where I actually brought my husband, he grabbed my hand and pulled me over to the bakery section and pointed to the cream cheese pastries. Even though I knew they were one of his faves when we go on a morning coffee date, I opted to promise him that I would make him some and they would be WAY better. He gave me a look and said ‘I’m holding you to that!’ - challenge accepted. Now I realize I bought puff pastry sheets, hence the ‘halfway homemade’, but I wasn’t about to start rolling butter between ultra-thin sheets of dough unless I was going to be making myself chocolate croissants. I made a couple of variations of these cream cheese pastries, some to include strawberries, so I could make a fancier copycat of another favorite of his - strawberry cream cheese toaster strudels.

Halfway Homemade Cream Cheese Pastries // Makes 19

1 pkg frozen puff pastry dough, thawed (2 sheets)

1 - 8oz pkg cream cheese, room temperature

1 T sour cream

⅓ c sugar

1 T flour

1 egg yolk + 1 whole egg

1 tsp butter, softened

1 tsp vanilla

Fresh berries (optional)

Glaze:

1 c powdered sugar, sifted

¼ tsp vanilla

Milk

While your pastry is thawing on the counter (about 40 minutes), combine cream cheese, sour cream (I used light versions of both), sugar, flour, egg yolk, butter, and vanilla in a medium bowl using a hand mixer. Beat well, for 3-4 minutes, until no lumps remain and you have a nice, smooth filling. Set aside. Preheat oven to 375 degrees and place a sheet of parchment on two half-sheet pans.

Once thawed, place one sheet back in the fridge so it doesn’t get too soft while you make the first version. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the remaining sheet to about 12” x 10”, ensuring the seams have been rolled out. Using a pastry wheel, pizza cutter, or nice sharp knife, cut the dough lengthwise into ten 1” strips. Taking one strip at a time, twist ends in opposite directions to create little loops.  Pull the ends around to create a horseshoe shape.

Pastry Shaping

Curl one end in toward itself to the halfway point, keeping the end flat to create a little space for the filling; roll the other side in the same manner to create what looks like the shape of….binoculars? Position the dough where you want it on the prepared sheet and repeat with remaining strips. I wasn’t sure how much they would puff up, so I only place eight on the pan, but I think ten would fit just fine. Place 2-3 teaspoons of the filling in each little basket you created. 

In a small bowl, use a fork to whisk the whole egg and a bit of water together to create an egg wash. Lightly brush onto the pastry part only, to help with the browning. Bake for 15-18 minutes, until golden and puffed. Immediately remove from pan and allow to cool on a wire rack.

While the first batch is baking, roll your second sheet of pastry just enough to remove the seams and keep an even square of dough. Cut into nine equal squares and transfer them to your second prepared baking sheet; I placed six on one and three on the other sheet once it was cooled. Equally divide remaining filling among the squares, about a heaping tablespoon, then spread it out, leaving a ½ inch border of pastry on each one. Fold up the edges to encompass the filling and squeeze the corners together to create a little point. Arrange sliced strawberries or whole raspberries/blueberries on top of the filling or leave them plain - I did some of each because the local berries were so great!

Brush edges with egg wash and bake for 15-18 minutes, removing immediately to cool.

Square Pastries Round Rack

To make glaze, whisk together sifted powdered sugar, vanilla, and just enough milk to make it a medium-thin consistency. Drizzle over pastries while they are still slightly warm. These are best eaten right away, but in case you can’t eat 19 pastries in one sitting, wrap them each individually and store in airtight container in fridge. Toaster ovens are great for reheating, however, we don’t have one so I pop them under the broiler to revive them - you can also do a quick pan fry in a dry skillet! Microwaving them will just make them soggy and unappealing so I recommend one of the above options.

I was just throwing these together, but there is so much you can do with them to make them a bit fancier for a dinner party, or fold them over to make a more toaster-pastry type look! Get creative and try incorporating some of your favorite ingredients - Nutella perhaps? Above all else, enjoy the process and the eating!


With a full heart and an empty plate,

Katie

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