Thursday, December 13, 2007

Christmas Cookies: Pecan Fingers

Christmas is that time of year when we, like so many other people, pull out all the stops when it comes to sweets. Into cookies and cakes go dark, rich Valrhona and Ghirardelli chocolate bars and cocoa powder, fragrant roasted nuts, shiny glaceed fruits, sticky sweet dates and dried figs, glittering candied citrus peel, spicy crystallized ginger, syrupy-thick molasses, local wildflower honey, Madagascar Bourbon vanilla, vibrantly yellow farm eggs (so tasty that we won't buy anything else), creamy, rich bars of European-style butter, butter and more butter...

In spite of my adoration for all these luscious ingredients, we don't often eat desserts at home, save the few times throughout the year when I get the urge to bake. I certainly can bake reasonably well (i.e. I can follow instructions of well-written recipes), but I have to be in a baking mood to really enjoy it.

Our friend Ida, on the other hand, is absolutely, positively, without a doubt a baking queen. She's an amazing, intuitive baker, and I am in love with her strawberry cheesecake (best made, it turns out, with a cocktail in hand) and carrot cake with cream cheese frosting. When we're lucky, she sends us home with sweets, but alas, it's always too dark to get decent pictures, and the yummy goodness is always gone in a flash anyway.

In any case, I do get the urge to bake like mad during the Christmas season. Spicy, citrusy, chocolaty- whatever the flavour, intense sweet aromas waft through the warm house. There is something so comforting about a warm kitchen full of tempting scents. Happily, I still have the energy for some intense cookie baking, so last night, I tested my fourth Christmas cookie recipe: Pecan Fingers or Puckle Warts.

When I was forming the pecan fingers, I couldn't help but notice that they looked more like shiny, pecan-studded baby... well, I won't say it. It's a bit gross, albeit somewhat amusing. I guess I'm not that good at forming cookies into appetizing log shapes. Is that even possible? Anyone?

With all that butter, too, I wondered how the cookies would hold up to being rolled between warm hands and baked in the oven for such a long time. Is one inch of space between the cookies really enough? Would they spread out too much? I'm glad to report that they came out exactly as described in the recipe, partially due, I am sure, to the long chilling time (I chilled them overnight out of necessity) and low, low baking heat.

The Pecan Fingers turned out to be absolutely, wonderfully addictive- oh my goodness, they are that good- with a light, shortbread-like buttery texture, fabulous honey undercurrent, nutty crunch that complements the crisp dough quite nicely, and a lingering sweetness from the double dustings of light, powdery confectioner's sugar. The dough is very easy to mix up, too- especially so if you have any kind of electric mixer.

The flame-coloured Le Creuset terrine mold my mom gave me a few years ago (I got lucky here- she was given two at her 1972 wedding to my father!), lined with a bit of waxed paper and clingfilm, is a perfectly-sized storage container for a few cookies short of one full batch- a convenient excuse for some taste testing, no?

I'm thrilled with another very successful recipe, and am very glad that, once again, Epicurious reviewers came through with reliable ratings and advice!

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