Cell phones and pecan shortbread

It was a quiet Saturday. Very quiet. I was busy with meetings and errands, household chores and dog walks, but I enjoyed an unusual amount of down time, time for reading and movies — pleasures I don't get enough of on weekends. It was fantastic. I was a little miffed that I hadn't heard from a few people, but happy with the silence, the tranquility. When I went to recharge my cell phone Saturday night I realized the ringer was turned off. Five messages on voice mail, seven missed calls. Lesson learned: put the phone on vibrate more often, though do it intentionally.

Baking was included in Saturday's roster, as I planned to meet friends for coffee and wanted to bring a snack. I think coffee meetings beg for snacks. These can come in a savory form, but most often a sweet, sugary something-something is the best accompaniment to hot beverages and scintillating conversation. Or even not-so-great conversation. Our meeting was lively and fun, but I do think the cookies added a bit of cheer.

This was my first time baking cookies from celebrated author Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours (my very first post featured her pound cake). If the pecan shortbread is any indication of how good her other cookie recipes are, I look forward to more time in the kitchen with this book.

Greenspan's technique for rolling out shortbread dough was a revelation to me. I've always patted the soft dough into a prepared pan, pricked it with a fork, and preceded with baking. In this recipe, the dough is placed in a plastic bag with a zipped closure and rolled out into a smooth rectangle using a rolling pin. The top of the bag is left open during the rolling to let out air and avoid a nasty explosion. When the correct size is reached, the bag is sealed and the dough is left to firm in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours before it's cut into squares and baked. The result: the neatest, cleanest looking shortbread cookies I've ever made. Tasty, too.

Brown Sugar-Pecan Shortbread Cookies
Makes 32 cookies
Adapted from Baking: From My Home to Yours

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
pinch of ground cloves
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup finely ground pecans

Confectioners' sugar, for dusting (optional)

Sift the flour, cornstarch, salt and cloves together and set aside.

Beat the butter and brown sugar together until the mixture is very smooth (about 3 minutes in a heavy stand mixer using the paddle attachment). Reduce the speed to low and add the dry ingredients. Mix only to incorporate - don't overwork. Add the ground pecans and mix the dough just a few more times, evenly distributing the nuts.

Use a rubber spatula to transfer the dough to a gallon-size zipper-lock plastic bag. Leaving the top open, place the bag on a flat work surface, and roll the dough into a 9 x 10 1/2 inch rectangle that's about 1/4" thick (mine was little thicker). Turn and lift the bag as you roll to avoid creases. Seal the bag, pressing out air, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or for up to 2 days.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and position the racks to divide the oven into thirds. Line  baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and slit the bag open. Turn it onto a cutting board (throw out the bag) and cut the dough into 1 1/2-inch squares. Place the squares on the baking sheets and prick each with a fork, gently pushing the tines through the cookies until they hit the sheet.

Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through (back to front and top to bottom). The cookies will still be very pale when they're done. Cool on a rack. I skipped the confectioners' sugar, but, if you like, dust the cookies with it while they're still warm. Cool to room temperature before serving.

These will keep in an airtight container for about 4 days at room temperature. They can be frozen for up to 2 months.

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