And So It Begins...

I just couldn't wait any longer -- Thanksgiving is only a couple days away, but that didn't stop me from getting a head start on Christmas this weekend. Given the large volume of decorations I have to put up, and my increasingly crowded calendar for the month of December, I decided it would be in my best interest to do my decorating gradually, over a number of days. There will be no photos until I've completed my masterpiece, so you'll just have to wait to see it for the time being.

I also got a start on testing new cookie recipes for this year's Cookie Bonaza, the multi-day period before Christmas in which I bake cookies, package them attractively, and distribute them to friends and coworkers. Last year, I made a few classics, and a few cookies for the first time and wasn't entirely pleased with the results, although I didn't have the time to bake replacements and had to box them anyway. Everyone seemed to like my offerings just fine, but I couldn't shake the sense that I could have done better. Therefore, this year I decided to do a little test-driving in advance, to weed out the recipe clunkers.

First on my list for this year was Maple Pecan Shortbreads, from Martha Stewart's Cookies: The Very Best Treats To Bake And Share. I had made her Chewy Chocolate Gingerbread Cookies for last year's Cookie Bonanza, and they were a huge hit, even though I didn't care much for them myself (as it turns out, I just don't like molasses in general), so I thought I would give another one of her recipes a try. Plus, I have been hunting for a good maple-nut cookie for ages. An experiment last year with a recipe from King Arthur Flour was a bust (too much artificial maple flavor and a poor texture), but I was undeterred.

Aside from producing more than five dozen cookies when the recipe claimed it would produce a mere two dozen, the cookies turned out well, and were quite attractive. My only problem with them is that they tasted mostly like buttery shortbread, and not very much like maple. They were still delicious, just not quite what I wanted. I think, if I had decorated the tops of them with maple sugar instead of the raw, turbinado sugar that the recipe called for, there would have been more maple flavor, but that's an experiment for another day.

Martha used plain round cookie cutters, but I think the fluted ones add a nice touch.

Maple Pecan Shortbread
adapted from Martha Stewart

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cake flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup finely-chopped pecans
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup real maple syrup
1 large egg yolk
1/4 teaspoon maple extract
1 large egg, lightly beaten
Maple sugar, for sprinkling
5 dozen pecan halves, for decorating

1. Into a medium bowl, sift flours and salt. Whisk in 1/2 cup chopped pecans, set aside.
2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and granulated sugar on medium-high speed until smooth and light, about one minute. Add the maple syrup, egg yolk, and extract; beat on medium speed until well combined. On low speed, gradually add flour mixture, beating until just combined. Dough should be smooth and pliable. Flatten into a disk. Wrap in plastic; chill until firm, at least an hour and a half or overnight.
3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.
4. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out dough to 1/4 inch thick. Cut out rounds using a two-inch cookie cutter; place one inch apart on prepared baking sheet. Brush tops with beaten egg; lightly press a pecan half into the center of each cookie. Sprinkle the entire surface with maple sugar.
5. Bake cookies, rotating baking sheet halfway through, until golden around the edges, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Store in airtight containers at room temperature up to four days.

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