Are you ever in the mood for a quick cookie to bake that would taste ooh la la luscious with ice cream or even a cold glass of milk? Then you’ll want to give Mrs. Nichols’ recipe for pecan crispies a try!
Mrs. Nichols: A Landlady And Her Sweets
Every year Mrs. Nichols rented a small apartment on her second floor to students from Salem State College. When there was no room in the dorms for me in 1970, Mrs. Nichols became my and Jody DiGiandomenico’s landlady. Thus began a friendship among the three of us that spanned generations, lasting until Mrs. Nichols died at the age of 101. (Jody and I will be friends forever!) Even after we graduated, Jody and I traveled up to Salem twice a year. We’d take her out for dinner, followed by a drive through Marblehead before heading back to her apartment for a homemade dessert (like these pecan crispies) or stopping somewhere for an ice cream cone. Here she is with Jody and me at her 90th birthday party in Salem Willows.
The Dueling Doughs
It’s been a long time since I baked these cookies and I had forgotten it called for vegetable shortening, not an ingredient I keep on hand because I never bake pies (that’s a post for another day!). Since the recipe also called for butter, I wondered what would happen if I replaced the shortening with butter. Since the recipe would be easy to divide in half, I thought:
Why not do a side by side comparison and then corral family and friends into an informal taste test? I’d make one half of the cooky dough using Mrs. Nichols’s original recipe with equal parts shortening and butter and the other half using only butter. I had a hunch that the Crisco would make the cookies crispy.
Setting The Stage
The French call setting the kitchen stage “mise en place.” For me, that means not just gathering what the recipe calls for. It means gathering what I like to have on hand for setting the mood:
- Pour your glass of sipping spirit. Almost always, that’s wine for me. Except I was baking these cookies at 8:00am—a little too early to be enjoying the grape. So, coffee is what I poured into my mug instead!
- Cue up your music. Sometimes I know exactly what I want to listen to while I bake or cook. And sometimes I let an ingredient guide my choice. This morning it was pecans—my favorite nutmdash;which led me to Pecan Trees sung by Patrick Sweany on his henryfordbedroom CD. What I love about the Internet and Pandora, too, is how a world of new artists is waiting at the end of my fingertips tapping on a keyboard. Have a listen to this bluegrassy, bluesy song.
- Gather your ingredients.
Pecan Crispies are a perfect complement to ice cream. Or for dunking in one's milk or coffee.
- 1/2 cup (3.25 ounces, 92g) vegetable shortening
- 1/2 cup (1 stick, 4 ounces, 114g) butter
- 2 1/2 cups (1 pound, 3 ounces, 532g) brown sugar, packed
- 2 eggs, well beaten
- 2 1/2 cups flour (6 5/8 ounces, 180g)
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 cup chopped pecans (chop before measuring)
- Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C, 4 gas mark).
- Line cooky sheets with parchment paper.
- Use some of the measured flour to coat the pecans. Set aside.
- Sift dry ingredients together. Set aside.
- Add shortening, butter and sugar to mixing bowl. Here you can see the dueling doughs.
- Cream thoroughly.
- Add eggs and beat well.
- Add dry ingredients in thirds to dough. Mix well after each addition.
- Add pecans and stir just until incorporated.
- Roll about a teaspoonful of dough into ball.
- Place at least 2-inches (cm) apart on parchment lined cooky sheet. These cookies spread quite a bit so the balls should not be any closer than this.
- Bake for 12-15 minutes, rotating from front to back and from top to bottom rack at about 6 minutes. You can see in the picture that some of the dough balls were too close to each other.
For a crisp and crunchy cooky, use 1/2 cup each of vegetable shortening and butter. For a chewy cookie, use 1 cup of butter.
The next time I make these cookies, I will either make the dough balls a scant teaspoonful and place 12 on a sheet or make them a generous teaspoonsfull and only place 9 on a sheet.
If you do not have parchment paper, grease cooky sheets.
And the Winning Cooky Version?
As for the very unscientific and informal test among family and friends? My hunch was right. The Crisco made a crispier cooky while the all-butter version made a chewier cooky. While my brother Trip thought the shortening/butter version had a fuller flavor, no one else could detect a difference in flavor. (Can you tell I just read my latest issue of Cook’s Illustrated?)
So here’s the thing: if you like your cookies crunchy, use Mrs. Nichols’s original recipe. Me? I like my cookies chewy and scribbled a note on my recipe to use only butter when I’m making these for me!