I love my life. Really, truly I do. The husband, Little C, our home here in San Francisco, the craziness, all of it. But it's taken a lot of work and overly dramatic, awkward young woman years to get to this place, believe you me. You couldn't pay me to go back to being in my early 20s. Well, maybe I'd go back to what I like to call my Georgia Period. Just for a day. That was pretty sweet. And by "sweet" I mean mostly drunk and full of questionable choices and eating lots of incredible southern food with my best friend from high school who went to college there and gave me plenty of excuses to visit often and wreak delightful havoc on the city of Atlanta.
It was so much ridiculous fun that I swore that I would move there one day, become a Yankee-turned-Southern Belle and throw elaborate, overtly feminine luncheons during which I would serve sweet tea and tiny sandwiches and the sort of delicate, heirloom recipe wafer-like cookies that provoke un-ladylike gossip. However, that was not to be (and, really, thankfully so). But that doesn't mean I didn't transport back to those old daydreams when I was stuffing my face with these completely perfect Toasted Pecan-Cinnamon Wafers with a tall glass of sweetened iced tea a few weeks ago.
To be honest, I didn't have extremely high hopes for these cookies. It was the sort of day where I just felt like baking whatever, and began leafing through cookbooks I hadn't used in a while for inspiration. I happened to land upon a recipe for an unassuming icebox butter cookie I hadn't tried before. Simple enough, I thought. I could slice and bake half the dough, freeze the rest. I had a hankering for something involving cinnamon and a sack of pecans in the pantry. Done and done. Well.
The combination of toasty pecans and vibrant Vietnamese cinnamon is totally magical here, people. Have you tried Vietnamese cinnamon yet? Because you really should. It's all I use for baking now. It's like cinnamon on steroids. Spicy and sweet, it tastes exactly like Red Hots candy, and nothing like the sort of dust-flavored ground cinnamon you get at the supermarket. It really helps to make this cookie something special and seriously addictive, something I just didn't see coming from a humble butter cookie recipe.
Don't you just love it when you have no expectations for something and than that thing rocks you so hard you feel like you got clocked in the face, making you curse out loud before you ask for another? Yeah, that's this cookie. Every time I reached for one and took a bite, it surprised me all over again. And what's better, the flavors seemed to really bloom over a couple of days. I'm telling you, this cookie will charm the pants off you. Just like a good old Southern boy. Oh, I said it.
Toasted Pecan-Cinnamon Wafers
Adapted from Tartine
Makes about 3-4 dozen
Toast the pecans while the oven is preheating for about 10 minutes or so or until fragrant. If you've never tried Vietnamese cinnamon, now is the time. It is intense, spicy and sweet and tastes exactly like Red Hots candy and I covet it. Use a bit more regular ground cinnamon if that's all you've got. The original recipe called for walnuts, and suggested pine nuts or almonds, too. I'm in love with pecans here, but those sound delicious, too.
For the cookies:
1 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
11 tablespoons unsalted butter, at cool room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup pecans, toasted and chopped
For the coating:
2 large egg yolks
2 tablespoons heavy cream (milk is fine too)
2/3 cup sugar
Whisk together the flour, cinnamon, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the butter and sugar on medium speed just until combined and creamy--do not whip. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg and salt until the egg is uniformly beaten and liquified, and add it to the butter and sugar, beating to blend. Add the flour mixture and beat on low speed until a smooth dough forms. Stir in the pecans.
Turn the dough out onto a plastic wrap or parchment-lined work surface and shape the dough into a rectangular slab, about 1x4x8 inches. Wrap the dough tightly and refrigerate until firm, about 4 hours (you can also store it in the freezer for future use).
When you're ready to bake, position a rack to the center of the oven and preheat it to 325 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.
Unwrap the dough slab and slice it in half lengthwise into two 2-inch wide logs. Beat together the egg yolks and cream in a small bowl, and spread the sugar out in an even layer on a work surface. Brush each log lightly with egg wash and dredge generously in the sugar. Slice each log crosswise into about 1/8-inch thick slices (no more than 1/4-inch thick, otherwise they will not really crisp up). Place the slices on the prepared baking sheet and bake until firm and just golden on the edges, about 15-17 minutes. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely. Store an airtight container for up to 1 week at room temperature.