Hyde Park, N.Y. As rich as a slice of pecan pie, pecan diamonds are bite-sized treasures that seem more like a confection than a bar cookie.
At holiday season, cookie recipe secrets are especially welcome. Here is insider information for making The Culinary Institute of America's renowned Pecan Diamonds, otherwise sold only at the college's Apple Pie Bakery Cafe on the Hyde Park campus.
Pecan Diamonds are versatile cookies. Their presentation can be altered quite dramatically. The pecan diamond is a "diamond" only because its creator originally shaped the cookie this way. In fact, the cookies can be cut into various shapes -- squares, triangles and rectangles -- and different sizes, ranging from tiny bite-sized servings to as large as three bites per piece.
For a special finishing touch, pipe a rosette of whipped cream or add a shaving of chocolate to top the cookies.
The dough should be cold but pliable before you attempt to roll it out to fit the pan for your pecan diamonds. Kate Cavotti, assistant professor in baking and pastry arts at The Culinary Institute of America, suggests hitting the dough a few times with your rolling pin before you start, to help make the dough more pliable.
Chef Cavotti includes additional tips:
l Roll the dough into an even, consistent shape.
l Start with a rectangular shaped piece of dough.
l Give the dough a quarter turn each time you roll it with your rolling pin. This helps to keep its shape, prevents sticking to the surface, and ensures an even thickness.
Note: If you're pressed for time, you can confidently bake your pecan diamond bar cookies ahead -- they freeze well.
Pecan diamonds, along with many other desserts, are explained and illustrated in The Culinary Institute of America's "Baking and Pastry, Mastering the Art and Craft" cookbook, scheduled for publication January 2004.
For the following recipe, you will need a 15-by-10-inch jellyroll pan and a candy thermometer.
For the Cookie Dough:
1 cup or 2 sticks unsalted butter, soft
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 whole egg
3 1/4 cups cup cake flour, sifted
Cream together the butter, sugar and vanilla on medium speed using a paddle attachment on the mixer. If a paddle attachment is unavailable, mix by hand. Scrape the sides of the bowl periodically until the mixture is smooth and light in color. Add the egg, scrape the bowl again, and blend until smooth. Add the flour all at once and mix on low speed until just blended.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and flatten into a disc (the dough now can be wrapped and frozen for later use). Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 1 hour before rolling the dough.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line bottom of baking pan with parchment. Once the dough is chilled, begin the rolling process. Lightly dust the work surface with flour to ensure that minimal flour will be incorporated into the dough; this helps to preserve its delicate texture and crumb.
If the dough is too firm to roll, massage it or work it with a rolling pin until it is a malleable consistency, as previously described.
Lightly dust the dough to help prevent it from sticking to the rolling pin. Roll the dough from the center out. Lift and turn the dough as you roll to help keep the dough even and prevent it from sticking to the work surface.
Work quickly but carefully -- the dough should not become too soft. If necessary, refrigerate intermittently. Roll out the dough to 1/8-inch thickness and a 17-by-12-inch rectangle. To transfer the rolled dough to the baking pan, carefully roll it around the rolling pin and then unroll it over the pan. Gently press the dough into the pan, lining the bottom and sides and being careful not to tear or stretch the dough. Prick the bottom with the prongs of a fork to prevent it from bubbling during baking. Trim along the edges with a paring knife to ensure a perfect fit. Remaining dough can be wrapped and frozen for later use.
Bake at 350 degrees until light in color, about 10 to 12 minutes.
For the Pecan Filling
1 cup or 2 sticks unsalted butter, cubed
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup heavy cream
4 cups pecans, chopped
To make the filling, begin by placing the heavy cream, honey, butter and both sugars into a heavy-bottom saucepan and cook over medium-high heat. Bring mixture to a boil while stirring and cook until it reaches 240 degrees measured on the candy thermometer. Add the pecans and stir until fully incorporated. Immediately pour into the pre-baked crust and spread into an even layer.
Bake at 350 degrees until the filling bubbles or foams evenly across the surface and the crust is golden brown, about 45 minutes. Cool thoroughly before cutting.
To remove from pan, use a knife to ease the sheet from the sides of the pan and invert the slab onto the back of a sheet pan. Transfer to a cutting board by flipping it over so it is right side up. Trim off the edges and cut into 1-inch diamonds.
The bars store well at room temperature, but also can be refrigerated or frozen as long as wrapped airtight.
Makes 4 dozen 2-inch, or 8 dozen 1-inch, depending on the size and shape.
Nutrition information per 1-inch cookie: 110 calories, 1 gram protein, 10 grams carbohydrates, 8 grams fat, 0 milligrams sodium.