I am a cookie person. I’m happier with a good salted chocolate chip or peanut butter cookie than with the poshest dessert you could dream up.
Every year during the holidays, my mom would bake dozens upon dozens of cookies which were stored in large tins and given away to friends and family throughout the season. I searched the tins one by one looking for my favorite cookies. When I pulled the lid from the tin, I knew by the little cloud of powdered sugar that wafted up into the air that I had found them– pecan crescent cookies.
These pecan crescents have been a constant in my life, even though I have no idea where this recipe originated. The cookies are all at once similar to Mexican wedding cookies, Viennese crescents, and Italian almond crescents, but they are still particularly unique in flavor and texture.
Crescents were the specialty of both my mamaw and mom. I have years of practice with these cookies. When I was young, it was my job to chop up the pecans using mom’s old wooden bowl and mezzaluna that was reserved solely for the purpose of pecan chopping. That’s still one of my favorite memories from childhood: chopping pecans in an old wooden bowl for mom and mamaw. It was a simple task that I looked forward to every December.
As I got older, my mom taught me more “advanced” cookie knowledge, like how to tell when the butter and sugar had been creamed enough and how to shape the cookies.
This year I made pecan crescents for the first time in my own home. And I messed them up royally. The cookies kept turning out significantly drier than ever before. Instead of tender, buttery pecan goodness, the crescents were chalky and generally unpleasant. I tried reducing the temperature, baking them for less time and reducing the amount of flour. It made no difference. Three batches of pitiful crescents later and I finally realized what the problem could be–the sugar.
Here’s what happened.
In the recipe handed down to me, the butter is creamed with powdered sugar. Powdered sugar contains a small amount of cornstarch, which prevents caking, but can also cause baked goods to dry out. Cornstarch isn’t always bad. It helps baked goods (and these cookies) achieve a nice crumbly-but-not-fall-apart texture, so I didn’t want to take it out of the recipe completely.
The solution, I decided, was to divide the sugar, using one half powdered sugar and one half superfine sugar. The result? Perfect pecan crescents–buttery, nutty, slightly sweet and absolutely addictive. The perfect accompaniment to a cup of tea or coffee and a unique & delicious cookie to gift to friends & family.
It’s safe to say that pecan crescents will always be a part of my winter tradition. I’ll look forward to making them every year and stashing them away in little tins to share with people I love.
If you like these Pecan Crescent Cookies, you might also like:
Pecan Crescent Cookies
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- 3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1 1/2 cup pecans chopped between medium & fine (the biggest bits should not be bigger than a pencil eraser!)
- 16 tablespoons 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
- 2 1/2 tablespoons powdered sugar sifted
- 2 1/2 tablespoons super fine sugar*
- 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 1 cup powdered sugar for coating the cookies sifted
*Using half powdered sugar and half superfine sugar in this recipe allowed the cookies to have the perfect balance of crumbly-ness without drying out too much. Superfine sugar is just a smaller granule size and is otherwise just like regular old granulated sugar. If you can't find superfine sugar, also called caster sugar or baker's sugar, you can easily make your own by whizzing up a little granulated sugar in a food processor for a few seconds to break it down a bit. If you do this, make sure you measure the sugar after processing it!
Preheat the oven to 350*F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Cream the butter and both sugars in the bowl of a stand mixer with a whisk attachment on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3-5 minutes, scrapping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
While it's creaming, mix together the flour and salt in a small bowl. Stir the chopped pecans into the flour mixture.
Once the butter and sugar is light and fluffy, mix in the vanilla until it is completely combined. Add half the flour mix and beat on low until just combined. Scrap down the sides of the bowl and add the rest of the flour and mix again on low until just combined.
Using a tablespoon, scoop out the dough. Shape each bit of dough you scoop out into about a two inch log, then gently bend the little logs into the crescent moon shape and place on your prepared baking sheet. Work quickly because if the butter gets too warm, the cookies will spread and you won't have the nice defined crescent shape!
Bake for 17-20 minutes, until golden brown around the edges. Remove from the oven and let cool on the baking tray for ten minutes. Remove from baking tray and let cool completely on cooling rack. Once totally cool, put the cup of powdered sugar in a shallow bowl and coat the cookies gently in the sugar.
Store in an airtight container for a week or more.