My home is nestled in a pecan grove, so every autumn we harvest the trees. We use loads of pecans in our holiday recipes, so we make sure to gather as many as possible. With long poles, we bat at the tree branches until they drop the ripened pecans (many times the nuts fall smack on our heads!) and we return to the house with bucketloads.
Shelling the freshly picked pecans is a family activity. We sit around the kitchen table, talking and cleaning the bits of pecan shells from nut meats using metal picks. We spend hours simply chatting about life. It may be easier to buy bags of shelled pecans at the store, but harvesting and shelling pecans is a fun seasonal activity for us.
Pecans are native to Texas, feeding the nomadic indigenous tribes and early pioneering settlers alike. In fact, the pecan is our state tree and perhaps owes this honor to the pecan’s generous annual harvest. Other neighboring states might like to brag about their world-famous pecans, but we can always give them a little Texas history lesson on who had them first. Like they say, “it ain’t bragging if it’s true!”
Buttery and crisp, all Christmas cookies are improved with the addition of a handful of Texas pecans. I am sharing my family’s favorite recipes.
Here are a few hints when baking with pecans:
- Taste test a pecan from your stash to make sure they are absolutely fresh.
- Pick over the pecans to check for any bits of shell.
- Store fresh pecans in the freezer for reliable freshness.
- Buy whole pecans instead of pre-chopped for moist, rich flavor at its peak.
- Measure pecans before chopping, not after.
Pecans grow just about everywhere in Texas and make thoughtful gifts during the holidays. Check your area for local pecan farms to get information on harvest times and the varieties available. We may not have snow in Texas at Christmastime, but I believe we have something better that falls from the sky. Texas pecans are a holiday tradition worth celebrating!
Pecan Meringues | Yields about 40 Meringues
- 1 egg white
- 1 cup brown sugar (make sure there are no lumps!)
- 2 cups pecans, very finely chopped
- 1/2 cup chocolate hazelnut spread
- Heat your oven to 250° F.
- Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and have your piping bag ready for filling. No piping tip necessary.
- With an electric mixer, whip the egg white until peaks form.
- Slowly add the brown sugar and continue to whip the mixture at a high speed. Your total whipping time should be around 5 minutes. Once all of the sugar is added and the mixture is completely whipped, remove from the mixer and fold in the chopped pecans.
- Transfer the mixture to a piping bag, and pipe onto the parchment paper into dollops that are 1 inch in diameter.
- Place the cookie sheet in the heated oven and bake for 30 minutes.
- Turn off the heat and allow the meringues to dehydrate for 1 to 2 hours. (Consider making at night and leaving them in the oven to cool overnight.) Serve within 24 hours, and store in an airtight container when completely cool.
- Right before serving, spread a small amount of the chocolate hazelnut spread on the meringue.
Pecan Thumbprint Cookies with Candied Fruit | Yields 32 Cookies
- 2/3 cup butter, softened
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 1/2 cups flour
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 eggs, separate
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 1/2 cups pecans, very finely chopped
- 16 candied cherries, cut in half (use the type made for fruitcakes)
- Heat oven to 350° F.
- In a large bowl, cream together the sugar and butter using an electric mixer. Sift in the flour and salt, mixing thoroughly. Add the egg yolks, vanilla, and pecans, and mix again until well combined.
- Divide the dough into four portions, then divide each portion into 8 equal pieces.
- Roll the pieces into balls, so that you have 32 equal-sized balls of dough.
- Chill the dough for 15 minutes.
- Pour the egg whites into a shallow pie plate, and pour the finely chopped pecans into a separate shallow plate.
- Dip each ball of dough into the egg white, and then roll in the chopped pecans.
- Place the balls on an ungreased cookie sheet.
- When all of the dough balls have been prepared in this fashion, press your thumb onto each dough ball to make an indentation.
- Fill the indentation with a piece of candied fruit.
- Bake for 15 to 18 minutes, until brown.
- Cool completely on wire racks.
Pan de Polvo con Nuez | Yields 6 Dozen Cookies
- 5 to 6 cups flour
- 1 1/4 cups sugar
- 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
- 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 2 3/4 cup lard or shortening
- 1 cup pecans, finely chopped
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
- 1 stick cinnamon
- 2 cups water
- Make the tea by combining the stick of cinnamon with the water and boiling for approximately 4 minutes.
- Remove the heat and set aside.
- Preheat the oven to 350° F.
- Combine the 5 cups of the flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, and shortening or lard in a large mixing bowl.
- Add 3/4 cup of the cinnamon tea and the chopped pecans.
- Mix well using an electric mixer, until the dough is smooth. Use the extra cup of flour to hand knead into the dough if it is too sticky. The dough should have a smooth surface, but not be too firm.
- On a floured surface, roll out the dough and cut into 2-inch wide shapes. Roll to a 1/4-inch thickness.
- Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until golden.
- While the cookies are baking, combine the sugar and ground cinnamon for the topping in a shallow bowl.
- Remove the cookies from the oven, allow to cool briefly, and roll the warm cookies through the sugar topping mixture.
- Set aside to cool completely. Roll again in the sugar mixture, if desired.