Pecan Florentines

Pecan FlorentinesIf you’ve never seen or heard of Florentine cookies, you’re probably not alone. I rarely see these ultra-crispy, nutty, chocolaty cookies in bakeries, but on the occasion that I do, I just have to have one.

Pecan FlorentinesMy love of Florentines began when I tried an almond version at Blue Bonnet Bakery in my hometown (they must have been out of Gingerbread Men that day 😉). I was intrigued by the non-traditional appearance of the cookie (let’s be real–I was mostly in it for the chocolate). After one bite, I knew I’d found a favorite.

Pecan FlorentinesFlash forward fifteen years and I’ve finally tried my hand at making them. And you know what? I wish I had made them sooner. I’m always so intimidated by lace cookies, but they’re actually some of the simplest to make. Exhibit A: Apple Cider Snaps.

Pecan FlorentinesHere’s what you need to know about Florentines: if you start now, you can have dough ready for the oven in ten minutes. That dough will bake in all of five minutes. And the finished cookies get filled and topped with dark chocolate. So…what are you waiting for?!

Pecan FlorentinesPecan FlorentinesMeasure out a cup of pecans and then pulse them in the food processor until they become a rubble. You could use almonds or walnuts if you prefer, but given a choice, I will always go for pecans. It’s a Texan thing, I suppose. I would like more things to taste like pecan pie, Florentines included. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

Anyway…mix the pecan rubble with 1/2 cup of flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt.

Pecan FlorentinesPecan FlorentinesNext up, bring some butter, dark brown sugar, and Lyle’s Golden Syrup to a boil. Golden syrup is an invert sugar with a slight caramel flavor; I usually find it on the baking or international aisles (it’ll be with the British foods). If you can’t find golden syrup at your grocery store, light corn syrup works just fine.

Pecan FlorentinesPecan FlorentinesBack to the recipe…combine the wet and dry ingredients and voilà! Cookie dough. It will be thin and a little, uh, gloppy, but it will be cookie dough.

Pecan FlorentinesPecan FlorentinesDrop teaspoons of dough onto lined baking sheets and flatten them into circles. Bake them for 5 1/2-6 minutes, until lacy and turning golden at the edges. Keep an eye on ‘em and make sure to rotate the pans halfway through–since these cookies are mostly sugar, butter, and nuts, they can go from perfection to charcoal in seconds. I made six batches last week and you can see that I still had a few close calls. Rotate, rotate, rotate. It’s crucial to your Pecan Florentine success.

Pecan FlorentinesPecan FlorentinesPecan FlorentinesPecan FlorentinesOnce all the cookies are baked and cooled, sandwich them together with dark chocolate. The melted chocolate may seep through some of the holes in the cookies. To mitigate this, I like to spread the chocolate onto one cookie, top it with a second cookie, and flip it over. That seems to contain any overflow.

Pecan FlorentinesAs a finishing touch, I like to drizzle a little more chocolate onto each Pecan Florentine. It’s entirely optional, but I think it’s pretty. After that, just let the chocolate set at room temperature (or if you’re impatient, throw them into the freezer for a few minutes).

(I’m impatient.)Pecan Florentines

Pecan Florentines
makes about 20 sandwich cookies

1 cup raw pecan halves
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
pinch of Kosher or sea salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/3 cup Lyle’s Golden Syrup or light corn syrup
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped

Place racks in the top and bottom thirds of the oven. Preheat oven to 350F. Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment or silicone baking mats. Set aside.

Place pecan halves in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until they become a rubble. Transfer to a bowl and stir in flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Set aside.

Combine butter, golden syrup (or corn syrup), and dark brown sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir constantly until the mixture comes to a boil. Remove from heat and pour into the bowl with the pecan mixture. Fold together with a silicone spatula or wooden spoon.

Drop teaspoons of dough at least 3 inches apart on the prepared pans. Flatten the dough into circles. Bake 3 minutes. Rotate the pans top-to-bottom and front-to-back. Bake an additional 2-3 minutes (I do 2 1/2 minutes), until golden at the edges. Let cool on the pan five minutes before removing to a rack to cool completely. Discard and replace parchment between batches.

Once all the cookies have been baked, chop the chocolate and place it in a microwave-safe bowl. Heat in 30 second increments, stirring in between, until smooth. Let cool five minutes.

Line a surface (or two baking sheets) with parchment. Place half the cookies underside-up on the parchment. Top each with about 1/2 teaspoon of melted chocolate. Spread it into a thin layer and top with another cookie. Carefully turn sandwich cookies over. Use a fork to drizzle remaining chocolate over the tops. Let sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes, or until set.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Pecan Florentines

Maple-Roasted Pecan Butter

Maple-Roasted Pecan ButterI reorganized my kitchen last week. I should have done it months ago–my beloved mix-in cabinet was basically overflowing and the tiny bins I had for dried fruit, nuts, sugars, and chocolate just weren’t cutting it anymore. It had gotten to the point where I knew I had some of everything, but none of it was easy to access. After spending a cool $20 at Target, I’m happy to say that everything is organized and back in working order.

I knew I had pounds of dark chocolate and that I am set on light brown sugar for at least a month, but I didn’t expect to find two full pounds of pecans. It makes sense, being from Texas and all, but still. I live in a place where people generally prefer walnuts; I’d expect to have far more of those than anything else. So, what does one do when they have a glut of pecans? Well, first, make Carrot Cake Blondies. And then blitz the rest into this Maple-Roasted Pecan Butter.

Maple-Roasted Pecan ButterI love making nut butters. They come together in a matter of minutes and are far more delicious than their storebought counterparts…although I don’t think I’ve ever seen pecan butter for sale at a grocery store. Not in walnut country, anyway. This brings me to my next point: when you make nut butter at home, the possibilities are endless. Beyond peanut and almond butters, there’s homemade Nutella, pistachio butter, coconut-cashew butter. Heck, you can even make the best flavor combination in the world into a nut butter. <– seriously, make that.Maple-Roasted Pecan Butter

My Maple-Roasted Pecan Butter starts with roasting 12 ounces of pecans (about 3 cups of halves). Transfer the pecans to the bowl of a food processor and blitz until smooth. Resist the urge to eat it as-is (although you totally should). Add a tablespoon of maple syrup, a splash of vanilla, some cinnamon and nutmeg, and process again. The pecan butter will tighten up a bit and become nice and spreadable.

Maple-Roasted Pecan ButterOh, this stuff is good. It has a really pronounced roasted pecan flavor and the maple makes it slightly sweet. The vanilla and spices round out the flavor and make this nut butter pretty irresistible! Maple-Roasted Pecan Butter is great on toast, and would make a killer sandwich with a little raspberry jam. My favorite way though, is with a sprinkling of finely chopped dark chocolate.

Yep, chocolate for breakfast. Because I’m an adult.Maple-Roasted Pecan Butter

Maple-Roasted Pecan Butter
makes about 1 1/2 cups

3 cups pecan halves
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
pinch of ground nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350F. Spread pecan halves in an even layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast 5 minutes, or until fragrant. Let cool in the pan on a rack until you can handle them.

Add pecans to the bowl of a food processor. Process until smooth, stopping and scraping down the sides as necessary. Add maple syrup, cinnamon, and nutmeg, and process until combined. Store in an airtight container.

Maple-Roasted Pecan Butter will keep at room temperature for up to a week, or indefinitely in the refrigerator.

Chocolate Chip-Pecan Brown Butter Blondies

 Father’s Day is this Sunday, and I’ve been thinking all day about what I would say about my dad. I mean, I’ve already said a lot–I wrote about him in my first blog post. But he’s such a great guy, I had to give him another. 

My dad is the kind of guy who taught his three daughters how to play golf, throw a baseball, and shoot hoops. But he also did the Father-Kid number at my dance recitals for seven years straight (and once in tights).

He works really hard and is always trying to better himself–intellectually, physically, in his chosen field, in relationships, you name it. His tagline is “Always go forward.” And he means it. Thank goodness that’s the line he uses most frequently–I don’t know how I would have worked “See that? *points to glass* That’s glass,” into this post. 

While my dad has had some success in his life, he is also one of the humblest people I’ve ever met. You can congratulate him on something he’s achieved and, after he thanks you, he’ll immediately turn the conversation to you and what you are achieving. This is something I try to emulate in every interaction I have.

I could go on and on about him, but let me just say this: my dad is a kind, sweet, compassionate, generous person. He has ambition coming out his ears. He loves my mom, his daughters, his friends, and his dog fiercely. If I become half the person he is, I will consider myself the luckiest girl on earth. 

My dad loves chocolate, especially brownies, and he always tops them with pecans that get super toasty while they bake. I’ve already made a pecan-topped brownie recipe on here though, so today, we’re going with blondies. But not just any blondies: Chocolate Chip-Pecan Brown Butter Blondies. They’re super chewy, filled with melty chocolate, and extra nutty from the toasted pecans and brown butter. 

I know my dad would love these and they’re so simple, he might even try to make them. The recipe only has eight ingredients and doesn’t require a mixer. It can be made start-to-finish in about forty minutes! The hardest part is browning the butter, and that takes almost no effort at all. You could make these blondies with regular melted butter and they would be great, but by taking the time to brown it, you add tons of rich, nutty flavor to the finished product. 

Browning butter is mostly letting butter melt over a burner and then letting it continue to cook until it turns a lovely shade of amber. The only real tip I have is not to take your eyes off the pan. Do not step away from the pan, even for a second. Butter can go from brown to burnt in the blink of an eye, and there are few things I hate more than wasting good ingredients.

To brown butter, start by melting a stick of butter in a light-colored saucepan over medium heat. Make sure to use a silver or white pan so you can clearly see the butter browning. Once the butter melts, it will start to bubble and crackle. Don’t be alarmed–this is just the water content evaporating. Once the crackling stops, swirl the pan occasionally for 4-7 minutes. You’ll see the milk solids in the butter gradually start to brown. You’ll know your brown butter is ready when you smell the most amazing, deeply nutty, buttery aroma coming from the pan. At this point, turn off the heat and pour the brown butter into a large mixing bowl. That’s it!

Mix your brown butter with brown sugar, an egg, some vanilla, flour, and salt. Fold in some toasted pecans and chocolate chips before spreading the batter into a pan and baking it for 20 minutes. Let the blondies cool to room temperature before slicing and serving. 

If I were going to be anywhere near the great state of Texas this weekend, I’d make these Chocolate Chip-Pecan Brown Butter Blondies and serve them warm with ice cream, just how my dad likes his brownies. They’re fantastic at room temperature too, and perfect for packing into a box to deliver to all the great dads in your life.

Happy Father’s Day, Daddio! 

 Chocolate Chip-Pecan Brown Butter Blondies
makes one 8×8″ pan, about 9-16 blondies

1/2 cup pecans, chopped
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup light or dark brown sugar, packed
1 large egg, room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
pinch of Kosher or sea salt
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease an 8-inch square baking dish with butter, and dust with flour. Set aside.

Toast the pecans. Place pecans on a dry baking sheet. Place in the oven for 4-5 minutes, until fragrant. Let cool completely.

Brown the butter. Place butter in a light-colored saucepan over medium heat. Let butter melt. Butter will bubble and crackle as the water content evaporates. Swirl the pan frequently for 4-7 minutes, keeping an eye on the color. When the solids are turning brown and the butter is nutty and fragrant, remove the pot from the heat and immediately pour the brown butter into a large mixing bowl.

Add brown sugar to the brown butter and stir to combine (it will be thick and look like wet sand). Whisk in egg and vanilla. Use a silicone spatula to stir in flour and salt, scraping down the bowl as needed. Stir in chocolate chips and toasted pecans.

Spread batter into prepared pan and bake for 20-22 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out mostly clean. Let blondies cool in the pan on a rack until they reach room temperature. Run a small, thin knife around the edge of the pan to release them (they should be sturdy enough to lift out of the pan in one piece). Slice and serve.

Blondies will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a week.

Hummingbird Muffins

 Have you ever had Hummingbird Cake? If you aren’t from the south, there’s a good chance you haven’t. It’s a southern specialty, first published in Southern Living magazine in 1978 (and still their most requested recipe). It’s like carrot cake, but decidedly tropical–a spice cake full of banana, pineapple, coconut, and pecans, topped with cream cheese frosting. Oh, is it ever good. And with all that tropical fruit, it’s perfect for summer.

Warning: once you try Hummingbird Cake, you’ll want it all the time. Even for breakfast.

And really, why not?! I mean, there’s fruit in there. And nuts–hello, protein! But there’s also a lot of sugar, and frosting simply is not breakfast food…unless you’re having cinnamon rolls ☺️ And so, to satisfy my early-morning need for tropical spice cake, I took all the flavors of the southern classic and put them in a batch of muffins. And I swapped the frosting for a pecan streusel, just to make them appropriate for scarfing down at 7am.

The base for these Hummingbird Muffins is a riff on my favorite banana bread. I got the idea to soup-up the batter from my Insta-friend and fellow blogger, Megan. She took her favorite vegan banana muffins and made them into Hummingbird Cupcakes! Her idea is absolute genius, and when I was developing this recipe, I just had to steal it 😊 

 

The muffin base is soft and moist, a little nutty from the addition of white whole wheat flour, and full of cinnamon and banana flavors. It’s a simple no-mixer recipe that I absolutely swear by. Here, the batter is filled with crushed pineapple, sweetened shredded coconut, and chopped pecans before being spooned into muffin cups, topped with an easy pecan streusel, and baked until domed and golden brown.

Hummingbird Muffins are the best way to have cake for breakfast. Full of whole grain, cinnamon, fruit, and nuts, they’re healthy enough to grab for a quick breakfast, and delicious enough to keep you coming back for seconds. 

 Hummingbird Muffins
makes 14-16 standard muffins

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup white whole wheat flour*
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
1/2 cup coconut oil,* melted
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
1/4 cup milk of choice*
2 teaspoons real vanilla extract
3 large ripe bananas, mashed
1/2 cup canned crushed pineapple in juice (not drained)
2/3 cup sweetened shredded coconut
2/3 cup pecans, chopped (optional)

Streusel:
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup pecans, chopped (optional)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
pinch of Kosher or sea salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, very cold

Preheat oven to 425F. Grease a standard muffin pan or line with muffin liners.

In a medium-large mixing bowl, whisk together all-purpose flour, white whole wheat flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together melted coconut oil, light brown sugar, and granulated sugar. Add eggs one at a time, combining completely after each addition. Whisk in vanilla, followed by mashed bananas, crushed pineapple, and milk.

Add dry ingredients to wet, and use a silicone spatula or wooden spoon to stir them together–no more than 20 strokes. Add coconut and pecans, and stir five additional strokes. Fill each muffin cup all the way to the top.

Make the streusel. In a small mixing bowl, use a fork to stir together flour, light brown sugar, pecans, cinnamon, and salt. Use a pastry blender (or two forks) to cut cold butter into dry ingredients until the largest pieces are the size of small peas. Place about 1 tablespoon of streusel on top of each filled muffin cup.

Tap full pan on the counter five times to release any large air bubbles. Place full pan in the oven. Bake for five minutes. Without opening the oven door, turn the oven temperature down to 375F and bake an additional 17-18 minutes. Tent with foil if anything starts to brown too quickly. Muffins are ready when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Let muffins cool in pan for at least five minutes before removing to a rack to cool completely. Pan should return to room temperature before you bake any remaining batter.

Serve muffins immediately, or keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to three days.

Notes:
1. White whole wheat flour may be replaced with an equal volume of whole wheat flour or all-purpose flour.
2. Melted coconut oil may be replaced with an equal volume of neutral-flavored oil, such as canola or vegetable.
3. I use whole milk, but 1% or 2% milk will also work. I do not recommend skim or fat free cow’s milk. You may also use a non-dairy milk.

Dark Chocolate Pecan Butter

 Well, we survived the blizzard. With the exception of a two hour excursion to the fancy grocery store for provisions (read: lots of cheese and some kimchi), Henry and I stayed home all day Saturday while New York City was brought to a standstill by Jonas. We watched PBS (because we’re big nerds) and made a pot of sausage and white bean soup before the real cabin fever set in. But that was solved by taking a slippery walk down to Smith Street and making some snow angels. Really, there was nothing to complain about: we had a warm apartment, plenty of food, Netflix, and good company. But now, the snow is a problem. It’s everywhere, gray and slushy. I literally had to hike to the coffee shop across the street yesterday morning. Gross. But, then I came home, turned on BBC World Service (again, big nerd), ate some toast with bananas and this Dark Chocolate Pecan Butter, and briefly, blissfully forgot about the mayhem outside…until I left for Target and fell in a gray snowbank. So much for peace 😜

This Dark Chocolate Pecan Butter is so good. Chocolaty and lightly sweetened, with the deep caramel flavor that only toasted pecans can provide. It’s made with everyday ingredients like pecan halves (duh), cocoa powder, maple syrup, and coconut oil. Nothing weird. No palm oil, no copious amounts of refined sugar. No refined sugar at all, actually! There’s no dairy here either, so this nut butter is vegan! 

Making homemade nut butters couldn’t be simpler. You will need a food processor or high-powered blender, but that is the only special equipment. If you don’t have one, I recommend this Hamilton Beach food processor. I’ve had mine for five years and it hasn’t failed me yet.

But back to the Dark Chocolate Pecan Butter. It starts with toasting pecan halves. Just spread them on a dry cookie sheet and bake at 400F for 5-7 minutes. You’ll know they’re ready the second you start to smell them. If you don’t trust your nose, start checking them every thirty seconds or so from the five minute mark until you deem them done. Whatever you do, don’t leave the room. The pecans can burn in a split second, and burnt pecan butter is decidedly not delicious. 

  Once the pecans are toasty, put them in your food processor with a touch of salt and some cocoa powder. I prefer to use Dutch process cocoa here because I think its flavor is richer than natural. Dutch process cocoa is a little less widely available than natural, but it’s really not hard to find at all. In NYC, it’s available at Whole Foods, Sahadi’s, Union Market, and many specialty stores. N.Y. Cake Supply sells Valrhona cocoa at wholesale prices, but if Valrhona is a little too pricey for your liking, Droste is another brand I love. If you just want to stick with classic Hershey’s, do it. It will be delicious! Don’t let something as silly as some fancy cocoa stop you from making this Dark Chocolate Pecan Butter.

…anyway…

Process the pecans, cocoa powder, and salt until a nut butter forms. Then, add a bit of coconut oil, a few tablespoons of maple syrup, and a splash of vanilla, before blitzing for an additional 3-5 minutes. You might be thinking that the coconut oil seems unnecessary with all the oils in the pecans. And you’d be right, except that the cocoa powder dries everything out. The two teaspoons of coconut oil keep everything loose and spreadable. As far as sweetening goes, it’s up to you. I don’t like this butter to be very sweet. I use three tablespoons of maple syrup, but just add it to your preferred sweetness. Keep in mind that the maple will cause the butter to seize when you add it, but after a minute or two, everything will loosen back up. When the Dark Chocolate Pecan Butter is to your preferred consistency, transfer it to an airtight container for storage. The oils will separate a bit as it sits, so just give it a quick stir before use.

Now, how to serve this… Well, there’s always eating it by the spoonful. Or on oatmeal. Or stirred into yogurt. All of those would be great! But my favorite is on toasted country bread with bananas. Try it. Trust me. 

Want more chocolate and pecans? Check out my Salted Caramel Chocolate-Covered Pecan Cookies!

Dark Chocolate Pecan Butter
makes about two cups

3 cups pecan halves
3 tablespoons cocoa powder*
1/4 teaspoon salt
3-4 tablespoons pure maple syrup*
2 teaspoons coconut oil
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 400F. Spread pecan halves on a baking sheet (not greased). Roast for 5-7 minutes, until fragrant. Let cool five minutes before transferring to a food processor or high-powered blender.

Add cocoa powder and salt to pecans and process until a nut butter forms, about 5 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Add in maple syrup, coconut oil, and vanilla. Process for an additional 3-5 minutes. Butter will seize initially before becoming smooth again. Once it’s smooth, transfer the butter to an airtight container.

Store Dark Chocolate Pecan Butter at room temperature for up to a week, or indefinitely in the refrigerator. Butter will harden in the refrigerator, so bring it to room temperature before spreading. Stir before using.

Notes:

1. I prefer Dutch process cocoa here, but any cocoa powder will do.
2. Honey or agave may be substituted.