Filed under: Cookies / Sugar Cookies / Fall / Winter
December 2, 2019

Apple Cider Pecan Shortbreads with Salted Apple Cider Caramel

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. 

5 from 7 votes
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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.

apple cider pecan shortbreads

Recipe Ingredients

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.


How to make the apple cider caramel

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.

How to make Cider Pecan Shortbread

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.

How to top the shortbread with the caramel

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.

Making it Gluten Free

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.

Storing the Caramel Shortbread

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.


Apple Cider Pecan Shortbread with Cider Caramel

Soft crumbly pecan shortbreads flavored with fresh apple cider topped with a salted apple cider caramel.
apple cider pecan shortbreads
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
5 from 7 votes


  • 2 cups fresh apple cider

Apple Cider Pecan Shortbread

  • 115g or 1 cup raw pecans toasted (see ingredient notes above)
  • 275g or 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
  • 130g or 1 cup powdered sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 226g or 1 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon boiled cider see notes

Apple Cider Caramel

  • 200g or 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2.5 tablespoons heavy cream at room temperature
  • 85g or 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons boiled cider see notes
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • additional pecans, to top optional
  • flaky sea salt, to top optional


  • Make the boiled cider by boiling down the 2 cups fresh apple cider with mulling spices (if using) on medium-high. Boil until the liquid has reduced to syrup consistency, it should be around 1/4 cup. Store in fridge if making ahead of time.
  • Make the caramel (this will make more than you need to top the cookies, about 4 oz): in a deep pot, stir the sugar with 1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice. Cook on medium high until sugar turns amber colored (the darker the color the less sweet the caramel, but be careful not to burn it). Add the heavy cream slowly, while whisking. The mixture will boil up. Once it has simmered down, lower the heat and add the butter and sea salt and stir to combine. Stir in the cider and vanilla. Set aside.
  • Make the cookie dough: pulse the pecans in a food processor until finely chopped. Add the flour, sugar and salt and pulse to combine. Add the butter and cider and pulse until it comes together in a ball.
  • Shape the dough into roughly a 12 inch long log that's about 2 inches diameter. Wrap it in plastic wrap and set in the fridge for 2 hours to chill.
  • Preheat oven to 350. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.
  • Using a bread or chef's knife, slice the log into rounds that are about half an inch thick (for thick cookies!) and set them on the cookie sheet. Leave some space between the cookies so they can spread just a bit.
  • Bake for 10 minutes or until edges just start to turn golden.
  • When cookies are cool, gently spoon some caramel on top. Once it has set a bit, you can add pecans or some flaky sea salt.

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Recipe Reviews

  1. 5 stars
    I made these cookies a while back and adored them. I want to bake them again but wonder about how many each recipe yields?

  2. Hello!
    I’m making these for the first time to bring to Thanksgiving. I’ll be making them the night before. Do you recommend putting the caramel on right after making? Or would it be better to wait and put the caramel on the next day before eating? I’m not sure how well they store with caramel on.
    Thank you!!

    • Hi! They will definitely stick together if you stack them because of the caramel. You can do it ahead of time but you’ll want to put them on a tray in one layer (no stacking) and I wouldn’t cover them. They are delightful but rather difficult to transport :p

  3. I made the caramel and it all seemed to be going well but then when I poured it over it hardened into a disk (far too hard for anyone to chew). What may I have done wrong?

    • Oh, I’m sorry Morgan. It sounds like it overheated after you added the butter and cream, if it was as hard as a disk (usually 245-250 F).I usually take it off the heat as soon as the butter has melted. I’ll add a note to lower the heat in hopes that that helps readers.

  4. Should the butter be cold or room temperature? I assumed cold since it doesn’t specify otherwise, and since it’s essentially being cut it into the dough. My food processer isn’t big enough to make the dough in it, so I ended up using a pastry blender to incorporate the cold butter into the dry ingredients, and then used my hands to bring the dough together. It seemed to work. I am currently waiting for the cookies to cool, but the dough tasted amazing!

    • If you are using a food processor then cold is fine (they’re stronger & quicker to work with it). I would’ve had it soft if I was using a hand or stand mixer. Let me know how it works out!

      • 5 stars
        It took a little extra time, but using the pastry blender and then working the dough a little with my hands worked out just fine. The cookies are so yummy!! Love the texture and toastiness of the pecans.

  5. The caramel recipe mentions lemon in the instructions but not in the ingredient list? Do you use lemon juice in this caramel? How much?

  6. Hi Sam,

    These sound amazing and are on my to-do list. But I wanted some clarification on the boiled cider reduction. Are we aiming to reduce two cups to two tablespoons? Or just looking for a syrup consistency?


  7. 5 stars
    Made these without the caramel topping so that it would be easier to package them for mailing and the cider taste was subtle, but went a long way to brighten the pecan flavor. Will return to this one and try with the caramel on once it’s safe to meet others in person again and share the caloric love.

  8. 5 stars
    I made these this week and they were pretty tasty! I would say that the caramel needs a temperature and my cookies didn’t rise like yours did. I also HAD to chill them as the dough was impossible to roll (too wet) when I tried. I wound up making logs and slicing and they were tasty even without the caramel.

    • Hi Sara! I’ve never used a thermometer to make caramel, just visual cues. Interesting you say the dough was wet, I made these yesterday and found it was too soft to roll. My butter was overly soft though and I used a low-protein flour so this is likely why. I’m adding a ‘chill’ step if the dough is too soft. In terms of ‘rising’ these actually don’t – there’s no leavening in them. But, I do roll mine a bit thick which is probably why they look it!

  9. 5 stars

    These were fantastic! My notes – pecans were 110g, flour was 260g, conf sugar was 113g. I preferred the cookies rolled to 1/4 inch, preferred 2" cutters, halved the caramel and the proportions were perfect. KAF boiled cider worked perfectly. Thanks!

    • I think so, it’s been awhile since I had KAF’s cider so I don’t remember how intense it is. I would add some in small increments to get to the taste you like.