Soft, crumbly shortbread studded with pecans and flavored with boiled cider, topped with a salted cider caramel and flaky sea salt. These combine the sweet, the salty, and the tart. They are simple and insanely tasty.
Got a cookie exchange anytime soon? There will be those who come in with the always easy winner, chocolate. You’ll come in with these and everyone will think they look a bit beige and basic but maybe they’ll be curious about the caramel and the sea salt topping so they take a bite, and then they’ll be totally gobsmacked. They’ll hunt you down for more. And then more. Pretty soon you’ll be making these every day till Christmas. I can’t wait. =)
I had to give these cookies away. They were too good. I couldn’t stand seeing them and NOT eating them. Goodness. I think it’s the intense complexity of the cider caramel: it’s tart, it’s salty, it’s sweet and it goes on top of a cookie that is also a bit tart, from some more cider. It’s complex deliciousness at its absolute best.
I have a super basic shortbread recipe I’ve been making for years and when I saw a photo of these cookies I knew exactly what to do. The title is a mouthful, I know. It makes them sound difficult to make. But don’t be fooled, they are a cinch.
Fresh apple cider: not to be confused with apple cider vinegar! This is unfiltered apple juice. An apple juice will not work as a substitute. You’ll start with two cups of it and boil it down to intensify the flavor and boil off some of the water.
Boiled cider: You’ll either make your own (from the above fresh cider) or you can buy boiled cider in a bottle. The latter is usually more intensely flavored.
Pecans: I usually buy raw pecans and toast them myself, spread over a sheet pan for ten minutes at 350 F in the oven. Doing this means the pecans will be at peak fresh flavor and will be nice and crispy.
Powdered sugar: I usually use powdered sugar made with tapioca starch (which melts on the tongue).
Butter: Softened butter for the cookie dough and cold butter is fine for the caramel. Unsalted or salted, use a bit less salt if using salted butter.
Salt: Fine sea salt which will dissolve quickly into the dough and caramel. Flaky sea salt to top the cookies, if you want.
Vanilla: Pure vanilla extract, a vanilla bean scraped or a vanilla bean paste.
Boil down some cider. For this recipe I’ll ask you to start with 2 cups but you can always do more and use it for other things (like this or this ) as well as the cookies. Add mulling spices if you like (cinnamon, nutmeg, etc. ) while it’s boiling to flavor the caramel.
The boiled cider can be made ahead of time as can the caramel. The caramel will keep in the fridge for about 2 weeks.
To see making the apple cider caramel in more detail, see this apple cider caramel recipe. There’s a video too! That one is more of a sauce, we’re making the one to top the cookies here thicker so it will stay on top rather than run off.
I used to make this dough in a food processor. It makes sense because you’re already using the food processor to grind the pecans. Recently I made the dough a stand mixer so that’s what you’ll see in the videos and in the photos below.
Start by toasting the pecans: set them on a cookie sheet and preheat the oven to 350 F. Let them cool fully before grinding (or you’ll make pecan butter!). Then process on high until just ground into bits, if you keep going – again you’ll make pecan butter ;p
Add the ground pecans and all of the dough ingredients (slice the butter so it incorporates more easily) to a bowl and mix until the dough is well combined. You can do this with a stand mixer, a hand mixer or even with a rubber spatula (though it’ll take a bit of time to get the butter mixed by hand).
Shape the dough into a log and wrap it in plastic wrap. Chill for a couple of hours to firm up the dough – so it will be easier to slice.
Preheat the oven and line your pan(s) with parchment paper. Slice the dough into 1/4 or 1/2 inch slices and place on the baking sheet.
Bake until just golden on the edges.
Before topping the cookies, bring the caramel to a warm room temperature (that way it will be easy to put on the cookies). Drizzle about a teaspoon into the middle. If you do more it’s more likely to run off.
Sprinkle with flaky sea salt and or a whole pecan.
My friend and fellow food blogger Rebecca of Rose & Whiskers adapted this recipe to make it gluten-free. She says: substitute the flour with gluten-free flour (1:1), add two teaspoons cornstarch to the cookie dough, to chill the dough before rolling for about 2 hours, and then chill the cutouts for 15 minutes before baking.
Once the caramel is on the cookies they’re quite sticky and impossible to stack. They’ll keep at room temperature in one layer for a few days. No need to cover them.
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