if you were to present me with the entire lineup of Thanksgiving desserts and ask me to rank them, or pick out my favorites, or otherwise subject them to some sort of popularity contest, pecan pie would not make the cut. Pumpkin and apple desserts win the election; they get the extra 3 million popular votes over pecan pie’s also ran (don’t let the orange hue fool you).
Sure, there is always the attempt to dress those pecans up with chocolate, but I don’t know anyone clamoring for rich chocolate after the feast, and so otherwise you have this pie trying to make its case with just pecans and sugar. I like pecans and I like sugar. In fact, I like like them both, but put them together and, I don’t care what fancy mosaic you’ve created with those nuts, my brain just goes, “meh.”
Which is why, over the last few years, it’s been interesting to see what happens to me when I come across recipes for pecan pie-adjacent things. Mini pecan pies with an earl grey crust? I have to make that. Caramel pecan fried hand pies? Where’s the oil? Apparently, as long as you don’t try to present me with a pecan pie in an actual, full-sized pie dish, then I’m all about it.
So, this year, when I began to map out and schedule my holiday baking plans (uh, you also have a calendar for this, right?) I wasn’t very surprised to realize I wanted to make something in the pecan pie family. As it also turns out I knew exactly what I wanted to do.
A few years ago, Deb over at Smitten Kitchen came up with a recipe for Apple Pie Cookies, which are basically just tiny pies with a slice of apple tucked in between two slightly crispier crusts. They elegantly solve the problem of a too-small crust to filling ratio, while also looking adorable in the process. I happened to make these for my father once, and now he strongly hints every year that Christmas might be ruined if I were to forget to send him a box.
I’m not the Grinch, so every year I comply, and now I’ve gotten both really good at making these cookies but also to the point of wondering what other pie filling could go in them. I thought maybe pumpkin, because it is the best and also then I could pretend I made the Pumpkin Pasties from the Hogwarts Express (side note: what is a pasty?), and then I decided I should definitely turn them into little pecan pie cookies, which you see here.
I stole the caramel pecan filling from the hand pies I mentioned above, and spooned it in between the crusts, and baked up a perfect batch of tiny, crispy, caramel and pecan filled little treats that you hold and eat like a cookie but spiritually experience as pie. In my mind, if you are going to serve pecan pie this year at Thanksgiving, this should probably be the way you do it.
Pecan Pie Cookies
- 4 oz pecans
- 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour, plus more for dusting
- 1 1/3 cup plus 2 tbs sugar
- 1 tsp salt plus more for caramel
- 2 sticks unsalted butter, very cold, plus 4 tbs for caramel
- 1/2 cup buttermilk, very cold
- 1/3 cup heavy cream
- 2/3 tsp vanilla
- 2/3 cup corn syrup
- 2 large eggs
- 1 egg, beaten, for egg wash
- turbinado sugar, for sprinkling
- Heat oven to 375 degrees, and toast pecans on a baking sheet for about 8 minutes until they brown and smell amazing. Let cool. Leave oven on.
- Make the crust: Whisk together flour, 2 tbs sugar and 1 tsp salt in a large bowl, and crumble 2 sticks of the butter into the flour using a pastry cutter or your fingers, until the butter pieces are roughly the size of peas. Stir in the buttermilk until a rough, craggy dough forms, then press it together with your hands. Divide dough in half and chill, wrapped in plastic, for at least an hour.
- While the dough is chilling, make your filling: Coarsely chop your pecans. In a medium pot, combine half of the remaining sugar with 1/4 cup water over moderate heat. Swirl the pan a bit, gently, once Swirl the pan a bit, gently, once sugar begins to color and bubbles form around the sides of the pan. Cook until caramel is a medium amber color, about 9 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in the 4 tbs butter, heavy cream, 1/3 tsp vanilla, and a pinch of salt.
- Transfer 1/2 cup of the caramel to a large bowl and let cool a bit (any remaining caramel can be saved for another use). Whisk the remaining sugar and vanilla along with the corn syrup into the slightly cooled caramel, then whisk in the 2 eggs. Add the pecans and another pinch of salt.
- Spray a small baking sheet with cooking spray and pour the filling into the pan. Bake for about 25-30 minutes, until set, then remove from oven and let cool a bit. Scrape filling into a bowl and stir to fully combine. Refrigerate 1 hour.
- Assemble the pies: Heat oven to 350 degrees. Lay out a small bowl of water and one with a bit of flour. Dust a counter well with flour, then roll out cookie crust dough to about 1/8 inch thick, or slightly thinner. Using at least a 2-inch round cookie cutter, cut dough into as many rounds as you are able and lay the rounds on a parchment lined baking sheet. Once the baking sheet is full, transfer to refrigerator and repeat rolling and cutting with remaining dough.
- To assemble cookies: Dampen the edges of a disc of dough with water, and scoop 1 tbs of filling into the center of the circle (you make need to heat up the filling a bit if it has hardened too much while chilling). Lay another round of dough over the first round and press gently to seal. Dip a fork in the bowl of flour and use the tines to crimp the edges to further seal them, or you can use a fluted round cutter to do this. Repeat with all remaining rounds of dough and filling, laying pies on parchment lined baking sheets with about an inch in between. Keep full baking sheets in the fridge to chill while you finish assembling.
- When ready to bake, brush tops of cookies with the beaten egg and cut a few decorative slits in the top of each. Sprinkle with turbinado sugar and bake 20-25 minutes, until puffed and golden.