Sugary shortbread is perfect for a platter

pecanfingers

For the second cookie in my countdown to Christmas, I bring you Pecan Fingers. I found this recipe years ago in my “Good Housekeeping Favorite Recipes: Brownies!” cookbook. It’s simple and really tasty.

I include some kind of shortbread cookie on my Christmas cookie platter every year because it’s important to have one cookie that’s easy to make and not time-consuming. I save the time-consuming part for the sugar cookie decorating. One of the most important pieces of advice I can offer to anyone who is in charge of doing all the Christmas baking is not to commit to cookies that all require extensive amounts of time to make and decorate. Don’t get overly ambitious — making a large amount of cookies is ambitious enough, no matter the type. To do a platter well, you need to choose what you want to spend time on, and what you want to keep simple and delicious. There’s a large variety of shortbread recipes out there to choose from. Shortbread is one of the easiest things to make, which is why I always choose at least one type for my platter.

When I think of shortbread, I tend to think of simple, buttery, and sometimes dry, plain cookies. These pecan fingers are pretty far from that. They are sweeter than your average shortbread, but overall have a warm flavor to them because of the pecans and brown sugar. I will likely bring these back to my assortment this year because my mouth is watering just thinking about them.

Ingredients
3/4 cup butter (1 1/2 sticks), softened
1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup pecans, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a large bowl, with a mixer at medium speed, beat butter, brown and granulated sugars, vanilla and salt until creamy, about 2 minutes. At low speed, gradually beat in flour until just evenly moistened. With hand, press dough together to form ball.

Divide dough in half. On half of an ungreased large cookie sheet, roll half of dough, covered with waxed paper, lengthwise into 12-inch by 5-inch rectangle. On same cookie sheet, repeat with remaining dough, 1 1/2 inches from first rectangle. With fork, prick dough at 1-inch intervals. Press tines of fork along long side of rectangles to form decorative edge. Sprinkle pecans evenly over rectangles; press gently to adhere.

Bake until edges are lightly browned, 20 to 25 minutes. While still warm, cut each rectangle crosswise into 12 finger-shaped cookies. Transfer fingers to wire rack to cool. Store in tightly covered container up to 1 week.

Brownies for any occasion

Germanchocolatebrownies1

Of all the desserts in the world, brownies are my favorite. They always have been, and probably always will be. While I have a couple go-to recipes, this is one I return to when I want to get a little fancy.

These German chocolate brownies look more complicated than they actually are. I got the recipe out of Good Housekeeping’s Favorite Recipes: Brownies! book, which I found years ago during one of my regular trips to Seattle. It was in a clearance pile on the basement floor of the the Barnes & Noble at the corner of Pine Street and Seventh Avenue. As someone who loves brownies, I couldn’t pass up the $4.99 price tag for a book that contained dozens of recipes for my favorite dessert. To this day, it’s one of my favorite cookbooks.

If you like chocolate, coconut and pecans, you’ll enjoy these brownies. When properly cooked, the brownie layer is fudgy, so it sticks to your teeth the slightest bit when you bite into one. The coconut layer browns during baking and adds a burst of flavor to the top. Together, the two make for a decadent treat that I’ve made time and time again.

When I first made these at high altitude, they didn’t turn out right. The brownie layer overcooked at the edges as I attempted to get the center to fully cook. The next time I made them, I added one-fourth cup cocoa powder, which turned out to be the perfect stabilizer. The brownies turned out just right. Thursday will mark one year since I moved to high altitude, and I’m happy to say I think I’m finally getting the hang of baking up here.

BrownieGermanchocolatebrownies2
1/2 cup butter
8 ounces semisweet or bittersweet baking chocolate
1 cup packed brown sugar
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
(If you’re at high altitude, add 1/4 cup cocoa powder)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 13-inch-by-9-inch pan.

To prepare the brownie, heat butter and chocolate in a 3-quart saucepan over medium-low heat until melted, stirring frequently. Remove saucepan from heat; stir in the brown sugar. Add eggs and vanilla; stir until well mixed. Stir in flour and salt just until blended. Spread batter evenly in prepared pan.

ToppingGermanchocolatebrownies3
3 large egg whites
2 cups sweetened flaked coconut
1 cup pecans, toasted and chopped
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup whole milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon almond extract
1/8 teaspoon salt

To prepare the topping, beat egg whites with a wire whisk in a medium bowl until foamy. Stir in coconut, pecans, brown sugar, milk, vanilla and almond extracts and salt until well combined. Spread topping over batter.

Bake until toothpick inserted 2 inches from the edge comes out almost clean and topping turns golden brown, 45 to 50 minutes. Cool in pan on wire rack.

When cool, cut lengthwise into six strips, then cut each strip crosswise into six pieces.