Our family cookie bake took a dramatic turn this December and we stopped doing the big Milwaukee Zauner women all-day bake-a-thon we’ve been doing every single year since I was literally in the womb.
There was no sadness or big conversation that led to the change. The tradition just sort of naturally reached it’s end. A lot of things have been changing in our little clan for the last decade— big moves across the country, new homes, new babies, different schedules, shifting priorities, shifting families— and some of the traditions we’ve been keeping up meticulously for the past thirty years through blizzards, illnesses and family drama have suddenly just stopped making sense.
New traditions are still arising and we still see each other the dang time. It just seems like sometimes traditions stay the same forever and sometimes something subtle shifts and they get reinvented. And honestly, since my family now includes two sets of parents I absolutely adore (mine and my Carrot’s) and two amazing brothers I love doing festive things with (mine and my Carrot’s), I wholeheartedly welcomed the shift.
This year cookie baking looked completely different. It moved to our little Evansville home. There was no epic list of cookies we had been painstakingly curating for thirty years. It was new people with new opinions and we built the cookie list together from scratch. It was just seven of us— me, my Carrot, the moms, the brothers and my little brother’s adorable girlfriend Sara. Our pace was no where near the manic level of Zauner cookie bakes of the past but it was just as perfect. It wasn’t mine or his, it was all about the blending: my mom and my hyper efficiency and type A madness paired with my Carrot family’s low key, take a break to watch some Christmas movies with a White Russian at one in the afternoon kind of energy.
My little brother brought the beer and the best attitude. My dad swung by for a surprise visit. No, he did not help. He just broke his coffee maker and knew we’d have a full pot of the good stuff. We all wore aprons. The holiday music playlists switched erratically anytime someone made a new request and the volume on our Bluetooth speaker only grew. The silliness was up. The focus was down. The soup and sandwich themed lunch of the last three decades remained. All in all, it was a beautiful shift. The kind of change that makes life more full and beautiful instead of less.
And the new cookies were excellent! My favorite was a simple pecan shortbread that is great whether or not you decide to dip it in chocolate. It’s easy. It’s elegant. It’s made in a sheet pan which keeps things extra simple. It’s decadent without being flashy. It’s got a fun shape that’s different than most traditional cookies. All in all, it adds a lot of value to the cookie trays we bring our neighbors and coworkers, and that still remains a key priority of any cookie we select. Because some things never change.
In the most festive holiday spirit,
SALTED CHOCOLATE PECAN SHORTBREAD
Adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction
1-1/2 cups (or 3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 teaspoons Kosher salt
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups finely chopped pecans, divided
12 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips
The classiest flaky sea salt you can find (I obsessed with this grey sea salt from France that I found at my favorite local co-op), for sprinkling
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line a standard baking sheet (13×17-inches) with parchment paper.
- Using a hand mixer or a stand mixer, beat the butter on high speed until completely smooth. Add the sugars and beat until light and creamy, about 2 minutes. Turn the mixture to low and add the vanilla, salt and flour gradually until just incorporated. Scrape the sides as needed. Add 1-1/2 cups of the finely chopped pecans, reserving the rest for sprinkling on top of the chocolate.
- Press the dough into your prepared baking sheet. The dough might be crumbly and that’s fine. Press it into the pan until is compact and there are no cracks.
- Bake the shortbread for 25 minutes or until lightly browned around the edges.
- Remove from the oven, allow to cool for a minute or two and then cut into triangles. I do this by first cutting 2-inch squares and then going diagonal through the middle of each square. You must cut the shortbread while it is still warm or it will crack.
- Allow to cool while you melt your chocolate. I do this in a double boiler over medium heat, stirring every minute or so, but you can also melt the chocolate in a glass bowl in the microwave (in 20 second increments, stopping to stir after each).
- Lift the parchment from the pan, removing all the shortbread. Dip into warm chocolate and then sprinkle with reserved pecans and sea salt.