This vintage Butter Pecan Cookie recipe yields 18 melt-in-your-mouth cookies PERFECT for holiday gifting or hiding away all for yourself!
All images and text ©Jenny DeRemer for Not Entirely Average, LLC
Well, yes! Pecans are native to the southeastern portions of North and Central America, encompassing two of the largest producers, the US and Mexico. And it makes sense that Butter Pecan would be a southern thing simply for the fact that the majority of pecans grown here in the United States are produced in southern states, Georgia being the largest.
According to the Tennessee Pecan Authority, “butter pecan is a flavor that merges the nutty notes of pecan with rich butter and a hint of sweet vanilla extract. The distinctive flavor of the pecan is hard to pinpoint – even for experts – but is perhaps best described as having sweet, fat, and roasted undertones.”
Butter Pecan Cookies – Classic Southern Cookie Recipes
Not your typical Christmas cookies. I get it.
No royal icing, nothing in the shape of a tree or even Santa for that matter. Just crudely assembled golden brown cookies with LOADS of chopped pecans.
Let me tell you why these will be THE MOST POPULAR COOKIES you will bake for the holidays. Let me tell you why you will WIN FIRST PRIZE AT THE COOKIE EXCHANGE party.
- They will be the first to be COMPLETELY EATEN from the vast varieties of cookies you will assemble.
- Despite being chock full of pecans and butter, they are relatively cheap to make.
- There is something about brown butter that enhances every other flavor profile, elevating what begins as simple and pushing it to absolutely extraordinary.
- This recipe yields the best buttery cookies with soft centers, crisp edges, and a toasty flavor that is unmistakably reminiscent of pecan pie or butter pecan ice cream and is an incredibly easy recipe.
Do You Have What You’ll Need to Bake Up This Pecan Cookie Recipe? Check the List!
- pecan halves
- room temperature unsalted butter
- all-purpose flour
- baking soda
- Kosher salt
- granulated sugar
- dark brown sugar or light brown sugar
- room temperature eggs
- vanilla extract
- flakey sea salt
How This Recipe Came About…
I am a self-proclaimed thrift junkie. I literally raid estate sales with vengeance.
It didn’t start out that I began collecting old menus or old recipes, but sometime about 35 years back, I came across a dinner menu from the White Star Line of passenger ships.
No, not Titanic, but assuredly another equally prominent passenger vessel that dominated the waters between here and the United Kingdom in the early days of the last century. It was unearthed in a barn sale in Far Hills, New Jersey and the lady running the sale charged me ten cents for it. Imagine that.
It was this unique sheet of paper that began what is now my vast collection of turn of the century menus from not only passenger ships, but bygone restaurants and tea rooms from the gilded age in New York City.
And because I get a jolt from these old menus, I guess I figured old recipes could do largely the same for my curiosity. They’re not all remake-worthy, as many of the ingredients would prove difficult to source today under current FDA allowances.
But sometimes, just here and there, I run across an old newspaper or church publication that yields a tasty-sounding surprise. Between the pages of a 1915 copy of The Anderson Intelligencer from Anderson, South Carolina did this recipe for brown butter pecan cookies emerge.
What are Butter Pecans?
Well, there is no such thing as ‘butter pecans,’ rather there is butter which we will brown, and then there are very lightly toasted pecans. Butter pecan is its own distinct flavor profile that is created when toasty pecans and brown butter merge.
The nutty flavor you experience upon biting into one of these masterpieces comes from the toasted chopped nuts. The sweet butter flavor you experience at the same time is due in part to us melting butter, but then taking it ten steps further and browning it. The best way to brown butter is outlined just below.
How to Properly Brown Butter?
First things first, the term is ‘brown butter,’ not ‘browned butter.’ Why am I mentioning this?
I made the mistake of using the term ‘browned butter’ in a scallop recipe I posted in my first year of blogging and had it called out to me by numerous chefs’. And because I apparently incorrectly penned the word/term, I am always sure to clarify as I offer up more recipes that employ this genius technique.
I have shared the method for brown butter here on Not Entirely Average before. And really, earmark this because you can brown butter to make just about everything special taste utterly exceptional.
How To Brown Butter for Use in Delicious Dishes!
- Begin by cutting unsalted butter into small pieces and place it in a light-colored pot or pan. Light-colored cookware ensures you can see how dark the butter gets as it cooks, while small pieces enable it to melt and cook evenly.
- Turn on the heat to medium and let the butter melt. This step requires constant monitoring as the butter will go from liquid to brown in mere minutes. High heat will brown the butter very quickly, but if you don’t keep a close eye on it, the milk solids could sink to the bottom of the pan and burn. So, no stepping away, and maintain medium heat versus high heat.
- Stir you can take the pan off the burner because the butter will continue cooking even after you off the heat. The butter should be an acorn brown color and smell slightly nutty. Pour the brown butter into a bowl to end the cooking process. Now it is ready to use atop vegetables, stirred into dishes, or combined with some Bourbon and marshmallows for a colossal homemade Rice Crispy treat!
What Is the Texture of This Cookie?
To describe the finished bake for this cookie recipe is to describe rich, chewy cookies with crisp edges. These are not especially crumbly cookies, but they do not maintain their shape once you bite into them.
You will notice that you’ll be pulling them from the oven while the centers still appear soft and unset. Don’t fret; the cookies will get an additional 5 minutes on the hot cookie sheet and a chance to firm up as they cool.
This is all part of the method to achieving those chewy centers while still enjoying a fully baked cookie. The remainder of the cool down will require you transferring them to a wire rack to cool all the way.
While still warm, you can opt for flakey sea salt if you like. Do this the minute they are pulled from the oven so the salt has a chance to meld with the warm cookies.
What I love about this cookie is the fact that they are a not only a darn tasty cookie, but also a bulky cookie for adding to gift boxes and tins for the holidays. Eating one is eating a whole dessert, seriously.
How Long Will Homemade Cookies Stay Fresh?
If stored properly, homemade cookies will stay fresh for two to even three weeks. When I reference storing items in an airtight container, I cannot emphasize enough how great metal cookie tins work.
The best cookies much like this classic cookie, do best and stay freshest when stored in metal tins. I usually find old tins at estate and yard sales and can scoop them up for as little as .50¢ a piece.
Cookies make a great gift, so delivering them in a handy tin makes it double awesome! Never place a warm cookie in a tin, rather always allow them to cool COMPLETELY before loading.
Pro Tip: I crumple parchment paper a couple of times before smoothing it out and lining a cookie tin. Try this next time you store your cookies.
How to Make This Pecan Cookie Recipe?
For this recipe, you will need a high-sided sauté pan, a wooden spoon, mixing bowls, plastic film, and cookie sheets. I am also using parchment paper or Silpats on my baking sheets.
The dough is stiff. If you do not have good upper hand strength, consider using your stand mixer for this method which honestly is how I do it.
Dry Toast Pecans
For these cookies, you will need 1 1/2 cups chopped pecans. If you want to garnish each cookie with a pecan half, set aside 18 (I set out 16 to 20 because the number of cookies you get will may vary based on the size of the cookie scoop you use) nice looking and intact pecan halves.
Place a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat and heat the pan dry. Reduce the heat to medium after the pan is GOOD AND HOT and add the chopped pecans.
Shake the skillet over the heat for 1 to 2 minutes or until you begin to smell the pecans. Remove the skillet from the heat and immediately add in 1 to 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter and continue shaking the skillet as the butter melts to coat the nuts.
Return the skillet to medium heat and sauté the chopped pecans and butter until fragrant and toasted, about 3 to 5 minutes. Watch the smaller bits of nuts as they will brown/cook much faster and could burn if not continuously stirred.
Remove from the heat and allow to cool. Take this opportunity to assemble the dry ingredients.
Prepare the Butter Pecan Cookie Dough
In a large bowl, whisk together some all-purpose flour along with cornstarch, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
Next, brown some butter in a high-sided sauté pan. If you are unsure how to brown butter properly, reference my section above and follow each step. Brown butter is not hard, but it takes time and patience, or it becomes burned butter in an instant!
Once the butter is sufficiently brown, no longer foaming, and is fragrant with no visible milk solids remaining, pour the butter from the sauté pan into a large mixing bowl (separate bowl to the dry ingredients). By removing the butter to a bowl, the cooking process immediately stops, and the butter will cool in about 10 minutes.
Whisk both granulated and brown sugars into the cooled butter. Then, whisk in two large room temperature eggs and some vanilla until well combined.
Combine the wet butter mixture and dry ingredient flour mixture either from one bowl to another or in the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment. Stir until no streaks of flour remain, then stir in those lovely, chopped pecans.
Cover the surface of the dough with plastic film to prevent any air in between. Chill for 2 hours or up to 3 days.
Assembling the Pecan Cookies
Preheat your oven to 350°F. Have your baking sheets at the ready and a wire cooling rack in a good spot on the counter.
So, remember when I said this was a stiff cookie dough as opposed to a sticky cookie dough? Unless you’re Superman, there’s no way to cut through this until after it’s had about an hour to come back to room temperature.
Why chill it then? Because no matter how long it sits to come back to room temperature, it’s still going to be firm and that is integral to the sucess of the cookie dough balls not spreading during the bake.
Now, it’s your choice as to whether to use a cookie scoop or to roll dough balls. If you roll dough balls, cut the dough in half and manage 9 dough balls from each half and use the bottom of a glass to gently flatten them a bit.
If you use a cookie scoop, manage 18 cookies that are as similar in size to one another as possible. You may have to steal a little bit of dough from a bigger ball to add to a ball that needs plumping up.
I personally use a large cookie scoop, about a 3-tablespoon cookie scoop, to ‘size’ my cookies. I also ONLY do 9 cookies spaced 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets so nobody’s crowded.
Bake the Pecan Cookies
Dust the tops of the cookies with a pinch of granulated sugar and gently press a single pecan half into each center. Bake time on these is anywhere between 9 and 12 minutes or until the edges are set and the cookies are just beginning to turn a beautiful golden-brown. Always bake middle rack.
When you pull the cookies from the oven, you’ll let them begin to cool on the baking sheets for an additional 5 minutes. If you are using flakey sea salt, add it while the cookies are still hot and resting on the baking sheets.
Next, use a metal spatula with a thin blade to carefully lift the cookies from the baking sheets to a wire rack to finish cooling, about 30 to 45 minutes. The cookies must be completely cooled before they may be loaded into cookie tins or placed alongside other cookies on a cookie tray. If in doubt, just give it the extra minute.
Modifying this Butter Pecan Cookie Recipe to Make These Not Entirely Average…
So, y’all know I love some chocolate chip cookies. Last time I made a batch of these cookies, I did things a bit differently.
For starters, I wanted bigger cookies. Instead of making 18 medium-ish cookies, I assembled a dozen cookies, larger of course in size, and added to the dough both white chocolate chips and butterscotch chips.
They had great flavor and certainly did not last very long. Next time, I think I may try chocolate mini morsels and skip the white chocolate and butterscotch, but it goes to show that you can get creative with these.
If You Like This Recipe…
…you might also like these southern cookie recipes:
- No Bake Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies
- Pork Rind and Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies
- A Copycat Recipe for DoubleTree Hotel’s Legendary Chocolate Chip Cookies
- Valentine Shortbread Cookie Stacks
- Colossal Pumpkin Spice Latte Cookies
- Cherry Chocolate Chunk Oatmeal Cookies
Butter Pecan Cookies – Classic Southern Cookie Recipes
- 1 1/2 cups + 18 intact halves pecans chopped all but for the intact halves
- 1 cup + 1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 cups all-purpose flour dip and sweep/level method
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
- 1/2 cup + several tablespoonfuls for sanding granulated sugar
- 1 cup brown sugar may be light or dark
- 2 large eggs room temperature
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
optional for garnishing post bake
- flakey sea salt
- Place a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat and heat the pan dry. Reduce the heat to medium after the pan is GOOD AND HOT and add the chopped pecans. Shake the skillet over the heat for 1 to 2 minutes or until you begin to smell the pecans. Remove the skillet from the heat and immediately add in 1 1/2 tablespoons of unsalted butter and continue shaking the skillet as the butter melts to coat the nuts.
- Return the skillet to medium heat and sauté the chopped pecans and butter until fragrant and toasted, about 3 to 5 minutes. Watch the smaller bits of nuts as they will brown/cook much faster and could burn if not continuously stirred. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the all-purpose flour, cornstarch, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
- Brown the remaining 1 cup of butter. Heat the butter over medium-high heat until the melting process is well underway. Reduce the heat to medium and cook until the butter first foams, then until the milk solids become a golden-brown color, about 15 to 20 minutes depending on your stove.
- Once the butter is sufficiently brown, no longer foaming, and is fragrant with no visible milk solids remaining, pour the butter into a large mixing bowl and cool 10 minutes. Whisk both granulated and brown sugars into the cooled butter. Then, whisk in two large room temperature eggs and some vanilla until well combined.
- Combine the butter mixture and flour mixture either from one bowl to another or in the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment. Stir until no streaks of flour remain, then stir in the toasted chopped pecans and all of their butter. Cover the surface of the dough with plastic film to prevent any air in between. Chill for 2 hours or up to 3 days.
- One hour before assembling to bake, remove the dough from refrigeration. Arrange your oven racks to the middle position. Preheat your oven to 350°F. Have cookie sheets prepared by lining with parchment paper or Silpats.
- Using a large cookie scoop, about a 3-tablespoon scoop, manage 18 cookies that are as similar in size to one another as possible. Place 9 cookies spaced 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets.
- Dust the tops of the cookies with a pinch of granulated sugar and gently press a single pecan half into each center. Bake for 9 to 12 minutes or until the edges are set and the cookies are just beginning to turn a golden-brown.
- Remove the baking sheets from the oven and let the cookies begin to cool directly on the baking sheets for 5 minutes. If you are using flakey sea salt, add it while the cookies are still hot and resting on the baking sheets.
- Use a metal spatula with a thin blade to carefully lift the cookies from the baking sheets to a wire rack to finish cooling, about 30 to 45 minutes. The cookies must be completely cooled before they may be loaded into cookie tins or placed alongside other cookies on a cookie tray. If in doubt, just give it an extra minute or two.
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