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Using Pecans in Cookies: Buy, Store, Chop, and Toast Them

Pecans in cookies have long been a love affair. Can there be a better addition to a cookie than the pecan’s buttery flavor and soft crunch?

A Bit of Pecan History

Pecans are the only nut tree that is native to North America, originating in what is today’s eastern and central U.S. and parts of Mexico. The name “pecan” is an Algonquin word meaning “all nuts requiring a stone to crack.”

In fact, Native Americans are credited with first cultivating the pecan in the 1500s. By the 1700s, Spanish and American colonists recognized acknowledging the nut’s commercial value and began planting orchards.

By the 1800s, pecan exports were launched in earnest. New Orleans, with its ideal pecan climate for production and easy access to ports, became a main distribution center.

Prior to the 1920s, pecans were hand-shelled. Thanks to automation and refrigeration, pecans are now most often commercially shelled and readily available for baking. Today, four out of five pecans is shelled by machine.

Buying Pecans to Use in Cookies

Pecans are available at grocery stores and markets. You can buy pecans either in the shell or shelled.

When buying pecans in the shell, look for plump nuts that are uniform in color and size.

You will need to devote some time to shell pecans, using a nut cracker and nut pick, before you can use them in recipes.

Shelled pecans are most readily available in grocery stores as pecan halves, pecan pieces, and chopped pecans.

Storing Pecans to Use in Cookies

Whole, unshelled pecans

Unshelled pecans in a cool, dry place for six to 12 months.

Shelled pecans in the refrigerator

You can store shelled pecans in the refrigerator for about nine months. Store pecans in airtight containers, such as jars with screw lids or sealable plastic containers.

Shelled pecans in the freezer

Use sealed plastic bags to store pecans in the freezer. They will keep in the freezer for up to two years and can be thawed and refrozen repeatedly during that time without loss of flavor or texture.

How to Chop Pecans

Pecans in cookies are usually coarsely chopped or finely chopped pecans.

To coarsely chop pecans

Place pecans on a chopping board in a heap. Grasp a cleaver with one hand. Extend your other hand along the top surface of the tip of the cleaver to steady it. Chop the mound of pecans repeatedly, in parallel motions starting at the front of the heap closest to you and working away from you. Turn the chopping board 90 degrees. Repeat the process until the nuts are the consistency of fine pebbles. Coarsely chopped nuts need not be uniform in size.

To finely chop pecans

Place pecans in a mini chopper or food processor with a steel blade. Pulse until pecans are the consistency of coarse sand.

Two Ways to Toast Pecans

Sometimes a cookie recipe calls for toasted pecans. Toasting nuts intensifies their flavor. The process also adds crunchiness.

If a recipe calls for toasted pecans, you can choose how to toast them.

  1. In the skillet: coat a cast-iron or aluminum skillet with vegetable spray. Place pecans in the skillet and cook on medium heat, stirring continually with a wooden spoon so they cook evenly, until nuts begin to brown.
  2. In the oven: coat a baking sheet with vegetable spray. Spread pecans on a single layer. Bake them at 325ºF for 10-15 minutes, turning once so they cook evenly, until they begin to darken.

Celebrate Pecans in Cookies!

April 14 is National Pecan Day in the United States. Be sure to bake cookies with pecans to celebrate.

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