Sunday, December 12, 2010
Butter Pecan Thumbprints with Lemon Curd Filling
I am not a baker, but I'm usually up for the challenge of baking 5 dozen cookies for my friend Julia's annual cookie swap.
With all those cookie recipes out there, choosing just one can be quite a challenge. When in doubt, follow the money.
Winning the $1,000 grand prize of Cook's Country's annual cookie challenge was a Lemon Hazelnut Thumbprint Cookie. Decision made.
Off I went to Trader Joe's, which has the cheapest and nicest nut selection around, for hazelnuts and lemon curd.
Have you ever made lemon or lime curd, by the way? I read the recipe some time ago and my heart just about stopped beating from seeing how much egg yolk and butter was in curd. Now I buy it under the same rationale as I buy ice cream: if you knew what was in it, you'd never eat it, but if you buy it, you can live happily (if not healthily) in ignorant bliss.
There must be some hazelnut shortage due to overenthusiastic bakers, because Trader Joe's was cleaned out -- had been cleaned out in over a week in fact -- and the guys there didn't know when the next shipment would arrive. "We keep putting the order in," said Dave with a sigh, "but we just don't know ..."
I bought pecans instead. Why sweat the small stuff?
Tripling the recipe, I ground the pecans and flour in the food processor and did the rest in the Kitchenaid mixer. My daughter Christina and I rolled and rolled and rolled the cookie balls and in no time we had a bunch of little cookie balls to smush down.
Our first batch was a little messy. We tried the back of a measuring spoon to imprint the cookies, but since it was a dull plastic instead of metal, the dough stuck (if you have fancy metal measuring spoons, you should be fine using the tsp. measure). We tried the end of a small pestle from our mortar and pestle, but that was a no go. Finally, I went into the cupboard and grabbed the top off the sesame oil, washed it, and rubbed it in butter - perfect.
After Batch 1 produced some misshapen cookies -- I mentioned I'm not a baker, right? -- we got our technique down. We rolled the balls, lined them neatly on the cookie sheets, and used the sesame oil top. I found that pressing down on the cookie first with my thumb and then with the top to make the cookies uniform worked the best. We then threw them in the freezer for 20 minutes to become firm, so they wouldn't spread out too much. Batch 2 was the best-looking batch.
With Batch 3, I tried to put the balls in the fridge to harden up first and then imprint. That didn't work so well, as when we pushed down on them, they cracked on the edges.
The cookies go in twice -- first to prebake and then a second time after the filling is added until they are barely browned. The filling bubbles and becomes more transparent, like stained glass.
Perfect or not so perfect, the cookies still tasted great -- nutty and tart. As my daughter Lizzy's friend Amanda said, "They're addictive."
We did test some with Nutella as a filling (we didn't cook the Nutella, but added to the fully baked cookie after it came out of the oven), and those were yummy too. For a Nutella thumbprint recipe, check this out. It looks scrumptious, but probably not a good one for a cookie swap as the Nutella is soft.
Butter Pecan Thumbprints with Lemon Curd Filling
(based on Cook's Country's December 2010 Issue Lemon Hazelnut Thumbprint Cookies)
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup toasted pecans (replacing the original hazelnuts)
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg yolk
3/4 tsp pure vanilla extract
Lemon curd (about 1/4 cup) - I used Trader Joe's brand
Preheat the oven to 350 F.
Process flour, hazelnuts, and salt in a food processor until finely ground.
Cream together the butter and sugar in an electric mixer until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the egg yolk and vanilla and mix until incorporated.
Reduce the speed and gradually add the flour mixture, until just incorporated.
Take dough in tablespoon-sized portions and roll into 1-inch balls and place on baking sheets lined with parchment paper or silicone mats, about an inch apart. Gently push the center of each ball down, creating an indentation, either with your thumb and/or the back of a rounded measuring teaspoon. (I used a small cap, because I don't have the right kind of measuring spoon.)
Bake the cookies until just set, about 10 min, turning them 1/2 way during pre-baking process.
Remove the cookies form the oven and gently reinforce the indentation with a teaspoon. Fill the cookies with 1/2-1 tsp of lemon curd each. Bake again, 8-10 min, turning 1/2 way through baking, until barely browned on the edges.
Let cook 5 minutes on the sheet and then move to a wire rack to cool completely. Dust lightly with powdered sugar. [Note: if you're going to serve this the next day or later on, dust before serving.]