Pecans are the nuts harvested from native hickory trees found throughout the north, northeastern ,southern, and southern south western United States, and Mexico. Pecans have been a part of the native American diet long before European explorers arrived in the Americas. These elegant native hickory trees can grow over a hundred feet tall and live for more than a thousand years. The name pecan comes from the Algonquin Indian word pacane, meaning a nut that needs to be cracked with a stone.
Thomas Jefferson planted native hickory trees at his home “Monticello” in Virginia and shared some of his hickory nuts with George Washington who planted them at his Mount Vernon home.
The first successful grafting of native hickory trees was done by a slave gardener named Antoine at Oak Alley Plantation in Southern Louisiana around 1846 and a pecan industry was born. Today Georgia, Louisianan, and Texas produce about 80% of the world’s pecan supply, while Mexico produces the remaining 20%.
Pecans still reign supreme with home cooks and bakers throughout the American south. Favorite recipes include southern pecan pies, pecan pralines from New Orleans, pecans topping baked sweet potatoes for Thanksgiving dinners, and of course butter pecan ice cream and gilato. All these southern delights go hand in hand with hickory wood smoked Texas barbecues, a Louisiana Cajun gumbo or jambalaya, or a Gulf Coast shrimp crab and crayfish boil. This is real southern food you’ve got to love!
Pecans pack a load of healthy benefits as well. They are rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Organic pecans are available from specialty shops and online. Pecans are a must have essential to keep on hand in your larder. Pecans are delicious roasted and salted, dded to salads, ground for coating baked poultry or fish, and of course for heavenly baked goods.
These butter pecan cookies are easy to make and a perfect accompaniment when served with a butter pecan gelato or for a summery peach and strawberry pecan short cake.
Butter Pecan Cookies makes 24 cookies
preheat oven to 350 f/180 c with the rack set in the middle position
Have ready 2 baking sheets lined with parchment
For the pecans:
- 2 tablespoons salted butter
- 1½ cups whole pecan halves
- 2 teaspoons light brown sugar
For the cookies:
- ¾ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
- ¾ cup light brown sugar
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 1 large egg
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon corn starch
- ½ teaspoon flaked / or kosher salt
To prepare pecans melt 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter in a small sauce pan set over medium heat. Swirl the pan until the butter begins to color. Then lower the heat a bit and continue swilling the butter until it is a medium amber color. Add the brown sugar and swirl the pan until the sugar has melted. Promptly remove the pan from the heat and add the pecans. Gently turn the pecans in the browned butter until evenly coated. Set aside to cool for a couple of minutes.
Then give the pecans another turn in the butter mixture, and pick out the pecans and spread them out on a parchment lined baking sheet. Transfer to the preheated oven and toast the pecans for about 8 minutes.
Remove the toasted pecans from the oven and set aside to cool. Once the pecans have cooled set 24 pecans aside to use later. Then chop the remaining pecans and set them aside to use for the cookie dough later.
For the cookies:
Place the unsalted butter in a mixing bowl. Using a hand mixer whip the butter on medium speed until fluffy. Then add the brown sugar and granulated sugar and whip until the mixture is light and fluffy.
Place the egg in a small bowl along with the vanilla extract and whisk until combined.
Add the egg mixture to the butter mixture and mix on medium speed until incorporated.
Combine the flour, baking soda, corn starch, and salt in a bowl and mix with a spoon until combined.
With the mixer set on low speed add a third of the flour mixture and mix until combined. Ad the remaining flour mixture in two additions until combined. Scrape off the excess dough on the mixer blades and add to the dough.
Then using a silicone spatula fold the chopped pecans into the dough until evenly combined.
Take two tablespoons of the dough and roll it between the palms of your hands to form an even ball. Place on the parchment lined baking sheet. Form the remaining dough into balls and place them on the baking sheet, allowing about 3 inches between each ball of dough, generally 9 to 12 cookies to a tray.
Gently flatten the balls of dough just slightly and top with a pecan placed in the center of each cookie.
Transfer the cookies to the oven and bake for 8 to 10 minutes, rotating the tray after 5 minutes to insure even baking. The cookies will be lightly browned and will be soft, but not to worry. They will firm up as they cool. Be mindful of your timing s over backing will dry the cookies out!
Promptly remove the cookies from the oven and set them aside for a few minutes to firm up. Then transfer them to a cooling rack and set aside to cool to room temperature.
Store the cooled cookies in an air tight container for several days or refrigerate for longer storage.
Martha was our next door neighbor when we were growing up in rural Lancaster County Pennsylvania. I didn’t know much about cooking back then, but we kids always enjoyed having lunches together in Martha’s kitchen. The radio was usually on and supper preparations were already well under way, so there were usually some enticing aromas wafting above the kitchen table. The whole idea of cooking and the pleasures of those long gone lunches have lingered and shaped my own thoughts about food and cooking.
Every fall, around late October or early November, we kids would help Martha collect the walnuts that fell from the black walnut trees in front of our houses. To us they looked like icky leathery decomposing green balls with a gross acrid odor that were begging to be kicked at one another. Of course what was encased inside those retched balls were Martha’s prized cache of black walnuts that would later be baked into her sublime black walnut cakes.
What we didn’t know then was that those Black walnuts that fell from our trees were from native north American black walnut trees. Black walnuts have a unique assertive flavor unlike the larger milder English walnuts that are commonly found in baked goods and in the baking section of your local grocery stores. Shelled black walnuts are smaller and have a distinctly unique walnut flavor all their own. I urge you to seek them out for this recipe that follows. If you don’t have a source where you live, they are available online. If that is not an option, toasted English walnuts will do in a pinch, though there really is no comparison.
Back home, once our walnuts were gathered up we put them in an oblong rectangular wooden tray with a wire mesh screen bottom. The walnuts were then put up to air cure until the green skin blackened and was soft enough to pull away revealing the hard black walnut nestled inside. This was very messy business and wearing rubber gloves was a must to avoid having sticky black stained hands.
The hulled walnuts were then set out to cure for several days before cracking the shells with a small hammer and meticulously removing the prized walnuts inside. This was very tedious work that we kids usually quickly lost interest in, leaving Martha to finish the harvesting all on
That said, all the laborious preparations do pay off handsomely once you are digging into a slice of Martha’s gloriously moist and delicious black walnut cake. I try to make Martha’s black walnut cake every fall so I can revisit those fond memories from my childhood spent in Martha’s kitchen all over again.
For this recipe I have referenced a penciled recipe from Martha herself along with some of my own recollections.
Martha’s Black Walnut Cake:
- 4 ounces unsalted butter at room temperature
- 2 cups sugar
- 2 eggs, at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 2 cups flour
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 2 cups whole milk
- 2 cup chopped black walnuts
- confectioners sugar for dusting.
Preheat the oven to 350 f/ 180 c
Prepare a 9 or 10 inch round or a 13 x 9 inch rectangular baking pan, buttered and the bottom lined with parchment paper.
Using either a stand mixer or a hand mixer and large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and the sugar until light and fluffy. Then add one egg at a time, mixing in each until combined into the butter sugar mixture. Then beat in the vanilla.
In a separate bowl combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and stir until combined.
With the mixer set on low speed begin adding a third of the flour mixture alternately with an equal part of the milk and mixing until combined before adding the second and third additions of flour mixture and milk. Try not to over mix the batter so it retains its airiness.
Then using a silicone spoon fold in the walnuts by hand until evenly distributed throughout the batter.
Spoon the cake batter evenly into the prepared baking pan. Shake the pans slightly to even out the batter.
Transfer the pan to the preheated oven and bake for about 40 to 45 minutes. Test by inserting a skewer into the center of the cake. If the skewer comes out clean the cake is done. Keep an eye on the timing so the cake is not over baked which will dry it out.
Transfer the cake pan to a wire rack and allow to cool to room temperature.
When the cake has cooled you can place a plate over the baking pan. Then, holding both the plate and the pan together, flip them over and remove the baking pan. Gently peal off the parchment and let the cake cool a bit longer.
When you are ready to serve, dust the walnut cake with confectioners sugar and serve.
You can store the cake, tightly sealed with cling film at room temperature for several days, or refrigerated for up to a week. However, from my experiences, this cake is not going linger much past when first served! Everyone’s going to want seconds!
Here is yet another cookie recipe adaptation that I have gleaned from Elizabeth Prueit’s TARTINE cookbook. This time around it is a batch of wonderfully soft oatmeal cookies with chunks of white chocolate, plump currants, orange zest, and a hint of vanilla and nutmeg. I have to say there is an insightful playfulness to Elizabeth’s recipes that have me returning to her cookbook time and time again. Leafing through TARTIN’s pages is as much about being inspired as it is about having confidence in knowing you will come away with some amazing cookies that you know everyone will love!
Big Orange -White Chocolate – Oatmeal– Currant -Cookies makes 24 to 36 cookies
- 12 oz / 340 g white chocolate, chopped into 1/8 inch pieces
- 1 ½ cups currants, soaked in warm water until plumped, and drained
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- ½ tsp baking soda
- ½ tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
- 1 cup/ 8 oz unsalted butter at room temperature
- 1 ¼ cups sugar
- 1 whole egg
- 1 egg yolk
- ½ tsp vanilla extract
- 1 tsp dark molasses
- ½ tsp salt
- 4 tsp freshly grated orange zest
- 2 tbsp fresh squeezed orange juice
- 1 ½ cups old- fashioned rolled oats
Preheat oven to 350 f/ 180 c
Have ready 3 cookie sheets lined with parchment paper or non-stick liner.
Sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and nutmeg in a bowl and set aside.
Using a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium high speed until light and creamy. Slowly add the sugar and continuing beating until light and fluffy.
Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a silicone spatula. Add the whole egg, egg yolk, vanilla, molasses, salt, orange zest, and orange juice and beat on medium low speed until well mixed. Add the flour mixture and mix until combined. Stop the mixer and add the currants and the rolled oats and fold them in using the silicone spatula until well combined.
Have ready a small bowl of water.
For big cookies scoop out the dough into 3 ½ oz / 100 g portions. Roll portioned dough into balls and set aside on a platter.
If you want to make smaller cookies scoop out 2 ¾ oz/ 75 g portions of dough. Baking time will be 7 to 10 minutes.
For best results you want to bake 6 large cookies on each baking sheet. This allows for even baking and ample space for the cookies to spread out as they bake.
Position six pieces of dough on the lined baking sheet. Dip your fingers into the bowl of water and then gently press the dough out into about 3 inch rounds. Transfer the baking sheet to the oven and bake for 10 to 12 minutes. The cookies should be slightly browned around the edges while the centers will still feel a little soft.
Promptly transfer baking sheet with the cookies to a wire cooling rack. After about 5 minutes you can slide the parchment or liner with the cookies from the baking sheet to the cooling rack. The cookies will firm up as they cool. Be sure the cookies are cooled to room temperature before serving or transferring them to an airtight container for storage.
Continue baking batches of cookies until all the cookies are baked and cooled to room temperature.
Store in airtight containers fora couple of weeks. I you decide to refrigerate the cookies for longer storage be sure to bring them to room temperature for serving.
August always reminds me of the beginning of berry season back in the American North East where I come from. Irresistible just picked fresh berries are on display in all the local farmers markets and at roadside farm stands that dot the countryside. A cooks delight to be sure!
What vividly comes to mind is making all sorts of summery mixed berry galettes. This French free form tart is so easy to make you will be find yourself whipping them up not only throughout the berry season, but into the winter months as well using frozen berries that you have put up in your freezer. I have to say, a warm galette coming out of the oven in the dead of winter brings back a taste of summer that is a pure delight that lifts the spirit.
Preparing a batch or two of your favorite flaky tart dough and freezing rounds gets most of the work for making a galette out of the way in advance. The berries require just a bit of sugar, a dash of lemon juice, and a little flour, that is then tossed together. The berries are then placed in the center of the rolled out dough and the edges of the dough are folded over the berries to create a rim. The galette is then baked for about forty minutes and…voila!
Keep in mind this idea works beautifully with any combination of mixed berries as well as berries combined with seasonal fruit as well.
I have included a recipe for a flaky tart dough from Elizabeth M. Prueitt’s TARTINE cookbook which has come to be my very favorite tart dough recipe. It is easy to handle and consistently delivers a perfectly light and flaky crust when baked.
Flaky Tart Dough makes two 10 to 12 inch tart or pie shells (or double the recipe and freeze dough for later use)
- 1 tsp salt
- 2/3 cup very cold water
- 3 cups + 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
- 10 ½ oz/300 g unsalted butter, very cold
In a small bowl combine the salt and water and stir to dissolve. Refrigerate so it is very cold when ready to use.
To make the dough in a food processor, put the flour in the work bowl. Cut the butter into 1-inch pieces and scatter the pieces over the flour. Pulse briefly until the mixture forms large crumbs and some of the butter is still the size of peas. Add the salted water mixture and pulse for several seconds until the dough begins to come together into a ball but not smooth. You should still be able to see some butter chunks.
On a lightly floured work surface divide the dough into two equal balls and shape each ball into a disk 1 inch thick. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least 2 hours or preferably overnight.
Preheat the oven to 350 f /180 c with rack positioned in the center of the oven.
Line a large shallow baking tray with parchment paper.
Remove a round of well chilled dough from the refrigerator. Unwrap the dough and place on a lightly floured work surface. Let the dough soften for a couple of minutes before beginning to roll it out.
Then roll the dough out working from the center to the edges into a 12 or 13 inch round. Transfer the dough to the parchment lined baking tray and put it in the refrigerator to chill the dough while you prepare the berries.
Berry Filling for 1 galette
As most berries are not grown here in the tropics I used imported blueberries and raspberries, and frozen lingonberries, but by all means use locally grown fresh berries when available.
- 2 cups fresh blueberries
- 2 cups fresh red raspberries
- 2 cups other fresh berries of choice
- 3 to 4 tablespoons granulated sugar or more to taste
- 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
- 2 tsp flour
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 tablespoon heavy cream or Greek yogurt
- granulated sugar for sprinkling
- 1 or 2 tsp corn starch mixed with cold water
Combine the all the berries in a large bowl and add the sugar and toss. Set aside for ten minutes and then drain off any excess juices and reserve to use later. If you are using frozen berries you will have considerably more juices to drain off and reserve. Taste the berries and add additional sugar if needed.
Once the juices have been drained off add the lemon juice and flour and toss to combine and set aside for a couple of minutes.
Give the berries a final toss and again pour off any excess juices into the bowl of reserved juices.
Gently mound the berries over the center of the dough leaving a generous 2 inches of border. Then fold the dough over the fruit around the edges creating a rim that will retain the juices while baking.
Ideally there will be no leakage of juices, but to be honest that is usually not the case, but not to worry. The parchment will capture any leaked juices that will solidify on the parchment while baking. The parchment can be trimmed off later with a sharp knife before serving.
Mix the egg yolk with the cream (or Greek yogurt) and brush the dough overlapping fruit around the edges of the galette with the egg wash and generously sprinkle with sugar.
Transfer the galette to the oven and bake for 20 minutes. Then turn the baking tray 180 degrees and continue baking another 20 minutes or until the edges of the galette are nicely browned.
While the galette is baking place the reserved berry juices in a small sauce pan and bring to a simmer. Stir 1 or 2 teaspoons corn starch mixed with an equal amount of cold water and slowly stir into the simmering juices. Continue to stir until the juices thicken into a sauce. Taste the sauce and add sugar if needed. Transfer the berry sauce to a small pitcher and set aside to cool.
When the galette has finished baking remove it from the oven and place on a cooling rack. Once cool, trim the parchment paper around the galette and discard. You can then easily transfer the galette to a serving plate.
Slice the galette into wedges and place on individual dessert plates. As it is summer, vanilla ice cream is the perfect accompaniment, along with some of the berry sauce. Whipped cream is the alternative for fall and winter serving.