The first year I lived in the Pacific Northwest, something very strange happened. My pecan puffs, one of my best and most reliable holiday cookie recipes, flopped. It was an easy recipe. Just four ingredients. The results were always lighter-than air puffs of sweetness that just melted in your mouth.
But that year, and the next, and the next, I couldn’t make them work. Instead of light puffs, the pecan puffs were dense and gummy and awful.
Then one year — perfection!
So what was the difference? What did I do differently? What changed?
The weather. The weather changed.
In Memphis, it’s cold and dry in December. I always made these cookies in December, and they always turned out beautifully. In Seattle, it’s almost always dark and damp and dreary in December. And almost always, pecan puffs turn out sticky and gummy. But every once in a while, we’ll have a few days that are as cold and crisp and as dry as they can be. And on those days, the pecan puffs turn out as beautifully as they ever did in Memphis.
Pecan puffs are a type of meringue. Meringues don’t like dark, damp, dreary days. They like cold, crisp, dry days.
I don’t make pecan puffs every year any more. But when I wake up on a late December morning, and the frost on the ground is so heavy it looks like snow, then I know — this year is a year for pecan puffs!
Besides good weather, you need a few other things to make pecan puffs.
- A very fine, very sharp rotary grater, like the Microplane rotary cheese grater
- Flour sifter
- Insulated baking sheets
- Parchment paper
A note if you are looking for a gluten-free cookie recipe: Pecan puffs have no gluten ingredients in them. However, if you use a flour sifter that has ever been used for wheat flour, then they won’t be gluten free.
Pecan Puffs Recipe
1 cup pecan meats
1 1/3 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
3 egg whites
1 tsp vanilla
It’s easier to separate eggs while they’re cold, but they beat up better if they’re at room temperature. So start by separating your eggs, then let the whites sit on the counter to warm up.
While they’re warming, grind the pecans. Don’t try to grind them in a food processor. You’ll get nut butter if you do that. You don’t want nut butter. You want nut fluff.
Sift the brown sugar. (There is no gluten in these cookies. But if you want to make them gluten-free, you can’t use a sifter that has ever been used for wheat flour. Even if the sifter looks clean to you, the cookies will not be safe for someone who can’t have gluten.)
Once the eggs have come to room temperature, beat them until they are stiff but not dry.
With the mixer running, spoon the sugar into the egg whites a little at time, beating constantly.
While you’re still beating, add the vanilla.
Take the bowl off the mixer and gently fold in the pecan meal.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees
Cover an insulated baking sheet with parchment paper.
Using two teaspoons, drop small blobs of batter on the cookie sheet. These cookies don’t spread, but they cook better if you don’t crowd them, so keep the blobs a couple of inches apart.
Bake the cookies for about 15 minutes, until they look dry and have developed just the faintest hint of browning.
Cool the cookies on a rack. Once they’re completely cool, store them in an air-tight container.
If you wanted the cookies to be more beautiful, you could make stars instead of blobs by using a pastry bag and piping the cookies onto the pan. I’ve never done that, but you could.
Pecan Pie Bars: These are the best pecan pie bars you’ve ever had. I like them even better than I like pecan pie!
Thoughts on Our House Blessing: In the cold, dark days, when Christmas is over, and the days are beginning to get longer (but not long enough that you can tell the difference yet), it’s time to schedule house blessings.
Cookies and desserts for special diets and special occasions: Special days call for special treats. Here are some of my favorites, including a selection that work if you’re on a gluten-free, dairy-free or anti-inflammatory diet.