Friday, December 2, 2011

Brown Sugar Brown Butter Cookies

If you’re a fan of the rich nutty flavor of brown butter and also a fan of the caramel notes that come from using brown sugar, chances are you’ll enjoy this super tender cookie that features the subtle deliciousness of both.

There’s nothing terribly fancy or complex about these cookies but they are somehow pretty irresistible. Pecans are finely ground with the flour to enhance the nuttiness of the brown butter. The brown sugar adds its distinctive flavor while the granulated sugar preserves the crispy texture. The egg yolks provide a large measure of tenderness. Vanilla adds to the flavor profile and salt gives the cookie a distinct edge.

So there you have it - a crispy, crumbly, buttery, not-too-sweet shortbread cookie to share with cookie lovers, especially during this season of appreciation and giving.

Bench notes:
- Toast pecans in a 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes.
- If you don’t have a vanilla bean, add 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract to the butter after it has browned.
- For a good illustration of how to brown butter, see the guidance at Simply Recipes. Use a stainless steel pan so you can watch the butter carefully as it can take just a moment to burn. Once you begin to detect a nutty aroma, it’s just about ready. I lift the pan off the heat and swirl for more control if I think it’s browning too fast or nearly done. It will continue to brown once you take it off the heat. Pour immediately into a heatproof bowl to stop the cooking.
- I used a #40 ice cream scoop to portion these cookies. It speeds up the process and creates uniform cookies. (The #40 refers to 40 scoops per quart.)
- One test for doneness for cookies is to gently nudge one with your fingertip. If the cookie slides easily, they are done. If you feel a lot of resistance, bake for another minute or so. Once removed from the oven, most cookies will need to firm up for a minute or two before moving to a wire rack to cool completely.

Brown Sugar Brown Butter Cookies
Makes 2 dozen 2" cookies

8 oz (2 sticks; 16 T) butter
1/2 vanilla bean or 1 t vanilla extract
2 C flour
1/2 C pecans, toasted
1/2 t salt
1/4 C + 2 T dark brown sugar
1/4 C + 2 T granulated sugar
2 egg yolks

Cut the butter into small pieces and melt in a saucepan over medium-low heat. If using a 1/2 piece of vanilla bean, cut it lengthwise, scrape out the seeds and add it to the butter along with the casing. Swirl the butter carefully as the foam subsides, the mixture begins to brown and the flecks on bottom of pan turn golden. Lift off the heat periodically to check on the browning and to avoid burning. The browning only takes about 5 – 6 minutes. Pour into a clean container and set aside to cool. If you didn’t use a vanilla bean, add 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract at this time.

Place the flour and pecans in the bowl of a food processor and process until the nuts are finely ground. Add the salt and sugars to the flour mixture and pulse to blend. Remove the vanilla been casing from the browned butter and add. Pulse just a few times to begin to combine. Add yolks and pulse until the dough starts to clump around the center of the machine.

Pour the dough onto a piece of plastic. Press into a disc and wrap tightly. Place in the refrigerator for about an hour to allow the flour to soak up the butter and the dough to firm up.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Line 2 baking sheets with parchment or silpats. Shape dough into balls about 1 1/4” in diameter. Place 12 on each baking sheet and press down gently to flatten just a bit so cookies measure about 2” in diameter.

Bake for about 15 – 18 minutes until slightly brown and firm to the touch, rotating pans from top to bottom and front to back about half-way through the baking. Cool on a wire rack.


Elly McCausland said...

Sometimes the simplest things can be the best. These look fabulous and I love the idea of using pecans too. Three of my favourite things, all in one biscuit!

Anonymous said...

What other kind of nut can we use for these? the kind of pecans Isee you use in your recipes don't exist here (here = Greece). Thanx in advance!

pastry studio said...

Howdy, cookie aficionados!!

Anonymous, walnuts would also be very good. Hope you can locate them where you are.

Victoria said...

To quote Steve Jobs, these are without question


I made the dough last night and refrigerated it overnight. Then I took it out this morning and let it rest just enough that I could scoop it, roll it, and press it.

They are truly delicious (and they smell great while they are baking). Thank you so much.

Do you think packed well, they could ship, or do you think they are too short that they would crumble?

pastry studio said...

Victoria, I'm so pleased you enjoyed them!! YES, they definitely have a great aroma as they bake. Also, I think they taste better the next day.

Although they look pretty sturdy, they are fairly fragile so I'm not sure about shipping, but then I'm not an expert on packaging, etc. Wish I could be of more help with that.

Anonymous said...

I sent the link for this recipe to a friend, who immediately wrote back to say she was going to have to do some procrastibaking.

pastry studio said...

HA!! I must admit they are really good!!

DTBerquist said...

I would like to avoid the two egg yolks in this recipe and prefer not to use that powdered "egg substitute" available in health food stores. Do you have a go to substitute for eggs in a baking recipe?

pastry studio said...

Greetings, DTBerquist. Sorry, I don't have an egg substitute. But I think you can probably forego the eggs. The dough will be very, very crumbly and hard to form into cookies but you can pat the dough into a tart pan and bake it more like shortbread. Lower the temperature to 300 degrees and bake for about 45 minutes. Hope this helps!!

Anonymous said...

Bless this blog and all who sail in her! I just made these cookies and holy cow are they delicious. Lordy.

I have a question, PS, and maybe you could point me in the direction of a definitive answer: is there a way to know which cookie doughs are safe to freeze? Do any undergo strange mutations through freezing and being thawed?

Other question: when you call for butter, are you always assuming unsalted butter?

Thanks so much for this blog. I'm a newbie baker and so far have made the hazelnut cake, chocolate hazelnut jam tart, and now these. Batting three for three!

pastry studio said...

Hello and thanks so much for your enthusiasm!! For a "newbie" baker you're definitely doing some intermediate type baking.

I have to confess I'm not the best authority on freezing but here's what King Arthur has to say:

I always mean unsalted butter unless stated otherwise. Sorry for the confusion.

Hope you have a delicious holiday season full of great treats.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, PS.

FYI, here is what says:

Freezing Cookie Dough

Most cookie doughs freeze extremely well and can be kept frozen for up to 4 or 6 weeks. Use these tips for freezing:

- Double-wrap dough in plastic wrap to prevent freezer burn and absorption of odors from your freezer
- Write the type of cookie dough and the date it was frozen on the outside of the package.
- When you are ready to bake, simply let the dough defrost in the refrigerator. This will take several hours, so plan ahead.

These cookie doughs freeze the best:

- shortbreads
- chocolate chip
- peanut butter
- refrigerator
- sugar
- brownies

Bryan said...

Hi PS! happy December.
you had me at browned butter, these are wonderful, thank you!

i love a good short-dough style cookie. simple to make, buttery, but not too sweet.
the flavors here are perfect, the pecans are a good addition.
similar to Claudia Fleming's pecan sandies, i roasted the pecans barely to the point of being over-done, their flavor is intense without being at all bitter.

i actually like a crumbly texture in my shortbread so i just-hard-cooked the yolks and sieved them into the dough (no whites).
the baked cookies still hold their form but are super tender like a sablée.

made them last week, baked some, and froze the rest of the dough for later. i rolled it into a log and will see how slices bake up.

happy more-holiday-cookie baking!

pastry studio said...

Thank you for that info,

Bryan, so nice to hear from you. I'm pleased you enjoyed these cookies. They're definitely among my favorite. They're already pretty short so I imagine with the hard-cooked yolks they were off the charts. Hope the slice and bake works well.