For just about every holiday, there are some flavors that just seem to naturally fit right into the overall feel of the season. Christmas in particular has a lot of flavors associated with it, as families often stick with the same traditional foods year after year. Cranberry Orange bread is a staple not only for my family, but for lots and lots of the people I know (even those who don’t celebrate Christams), so while anything that has a combination of cranberries, oranges and nuts will be tasty year-round, it tends to be evocative of the holidays for me – especially if it’s crisp and cold outside.
Oranges and pecans are the two main flavor players in these cookies, which means that they are an excellent holiday cookie as far as I’m concerned. I found the original recipe in a old issue of Food & Drink – an outstanding food magazine published by the LCBO – and it called for a lime-pecan combination. The lime sounded zesty and appealing, but with a tree full of just-ripe blood oranges I couldn’t resist mixing it up a little bit.
I’m glad I went with the orange because the cookies turned out beautifully. The orange flavor was strong (in a good way), but did not overpower the buttery and toasty flavor of the pecans. The cookies have a nice, chewy sugar cookie texture, too, and were slightly crisp at the edges when first pulled from the oven. I finely chopped the pecans so that, rather than getting large pieces of nut in the cookies, you get an overall pecan flavor. Starting with toasted, unsalted pecans will save you a few minutes of prep work, but if you only have raw pecans, simply toast them in a dry skillet for about 5 minutes before starting the cookies.
Also, I made more than one batch of these cookies because I suspected that they would work really well with different add-ins. Dried cranberries are amazing in these, and both milk and white chocolate go well with the orange and pecan. Crystallized ginger bits also work nicely, but really stand out if you use lemon in place of the orange.
Orange and Pecan Sugar Cookies
1 medium orange (any kind)
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup pecans, toasted and finely chopped
optional: 3/4 cup dried cranberries/milk chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 375F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar. Zest orange and add zest (about 1 tbsp) to butter mixture, along with 3-4 tbsp fresh orange juice (squeeze from remaining orange). Beat in eggs one at a time, followed by vanilla.
In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda and salt. Add flour mixture to butter mixture, blending it in at a low speed until no streaks of flour remain. Stir in pecan pieces and optional cranberries, etc., if using.
Drop dough onto prepared baking sheet in rounded teaspoonfuls (1-inch balls), leaving about 2 inches between cookies. Bake for 9-12 minutes, until edges of the cookies are lightly browned.
Cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container.
Makes about 3 dozen, slightly more if using add-ins.