High Country Baking: Pecan-caramel shortbread sticks

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Contrasting tastes and textures have wide appeal, and these cookies are a good example. A tender, sandy, subtle-tasting shortbread is paired with sweet, rich, gooey caramel frosting and crunchy nuts for a winning combination of opposites. Cookie lovers of all ages sing their praises. Pair them with fruit, ice cream or custard for a pleasing dessert or nibble them on their own.

When I make this cookie at sea level, I don’t include corn syrup as an ingredient in the frosting. I use it in our high, dry climate because when we combine hot melted butter and brown sugar, some of this mixture often splashes on the side of the pot, quickly evaporates, reforms into sugar crystals and turns the frosting grainy. The addition of a little corn syrup helps to prevent this high-elevation baking mishap.

Pecan-caramel shortbread sticks

Works at any elevation. Yields twenty 2-inch cookies.

Shortbread sticks

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour, spoon and level
1/4 cup pecans or pecan pieces, toasted
2 1/2 tablespoons powdered sugar
Pinch salt
1/4 cup unsalted butter, cold

Add the flour, pecans, sugar and salt to the bowl of a food processor and pulse until the pecans are very finely chopped and the mixture is well-blended. Cut the butter into small pieces, add them and process until the dough holds together when you pinch it between your fingers. If it’s too dry, add another teaspoon of butter, process and try again. Only add enough butter to make the dough hold together; any more could cause the cookies to spread when baked. Dump the dough out onto a sheet of waxed paper, knead it gently a few times and then form it into a rectangle one-quarter of an inch thick and about 4 inches wide and 5 inches long. Cover and refrigerate it until very firm. While the dough chills, preheat the oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the center position. Line a cookie sheet with nonstick aluminum foil or leave it ungreased.

Remove the chilled dough from the refrigerator. Cut it into sticks about one-half inch wide and 2 inches long and carefully transfer them to the cookie sheet, spacing them at least a one-half inch apart. Place the cookie sheet, with the cookies on it, in the freezer for about 15 minutes until the dough is firm. This will help prevent the cookies from spreading in the oven. Bake until set, 10-15 minutes. Remove to a rack to cool completely.


2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon light corn syrup
1/4 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1 tablespoon heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
1/4 cup toasted pecans, chopped fine

Cut the butter into 6-8 pieces and add them, with the corn syrup, to a small saucepan, preferably nonstick. Place on the stovetop, over low heat, until the butter melts, stirring occasionally. Stir in the brown sugar and bring to a low boil to dissolve the sugar. Return to low heat, stir in the cream and then whisk in the powdered sugar a tablespoon at a time. Continue to whisk until the mixture is smooth, and remove the pan from the heat.

Place the chopped pecans in a small bowl. Dip one end of each of the cooled shortbread sticks in the warm frosting and sprinkle chopped pecans over it. Set the frosted cookies on a rack or a sheet of waxed paper to cool and dry. Serve or store, well covered, for up to four days.

This recipe is a variation of one published in Cuisine Magazine.

Vera Dawson

Vera Dawson’s column “High Country Baking” publishes biweekly on Thursdays in the Summit Daily News. Dawson is a high-elevation baking instructor and author of three high-altitude cookbooks. Her recipes have been tested in her kitchen in Frisco, where she’s lived since 1991, and altered until they work at elevation. Contact her at veradawson1@gmail.com.

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