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After all the excesses and indulgences of the holidays, I usually start the new year with a pressing need to rein in my eating. Too much rich food and booze starts to take a toll, after all. But here’s the thing: I can’t just quit cold turkey, going from aaaaalll the cocktails and sweets to none at all. (OK, technically I could. I just don’t want to.) So I go for a gentler come-down strategy that centers on my Nightcap Cookies, aka five-spice pecan shortbread.These are My. Kind. Of. Cookies. They’re buttery, a little salty, incredibly nutty, and crumbly-crisp—and a good way to bridge the gap between holiday hedonism and everyday reality. They’re way less sweet than most holiday desserts but just sweet enough to feel like a treat. And they’re made with whole-wheat pastry flour, not so much for the whole-grain goodness (though that’s a great benefit) but for the toasty flavor it adds. See, I have a theory that with certain baked goods, all-purpose flour’s blandness dilutes the flavors you want to play up—especially nutty or chocolaty ones. But whole-wheat flour, with its inherent nuttiness, amplifies those delicious notes. And because of whole-wheat pastry flour’s superfine texture, it works beautifully in pretty much any dessert.I like using cultured butter for these shortbread cookies instead of traditional butter because it adds a little bit of tang and deeper flavor overall. And I really enjoy kosher salt here for the little pockets of salinity it creates. A hint of five-spice powder, with its light anise fragrance, adds just enough subtle oomph to keep you interested bite after bite. And for heaven’s sake, I implore you to use toasted pecans so that they’re crisp, with intensified nuttiness. The cookies will be infinitely more delicious with well-toasted pecans instead of raw ones. By well-toasted, I mean roasting in the oven at moderate heat (around 300°F) for 18 to 23 minutes until the nuts are roasted throughout, not just on the outside like they are when you toast them in a skillet. (And when you’re toasting nuts, go ahead and toast a lot of them and store them in the freezer so you’re a step ahead later when you want a great topper for your oatmeal or salad.)These shortbread cookies are great to keep on hand, holding up well in an airtight container for a week or two. They’re the cornerstone of my new, more reasonable nighttime routine: one or two cookies after dinner with a prudent pour of bourbon. Because they’re really good with bourbon, poured neat. Promise.


Credit: Jennifer Causey

Recipe Summary

45 mins
10 mins


Ingredient Checklist


Instructions Checklist
  • Whisk together flour, cornstarch, salt, and five-spice powder in a medium bowl. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter, powdered sugar, and vanilla on medium speed until well blended, 1 to 2 minutes. Add flour mixture; beat at low speed just until combined, 30 to 45 seconds. With mixer running on low speed, add pecans, and beat until combined, about 15 seconds.

  • Divide dough in half, and place each half on a sheet of plastic wrap. Roll each half into a 7-inch log, using wax paper or plastic wrap to help with the rolling. Wrap dough in plastic wrap, and refrigerate 30 minutes, just long enough for the flour to absorb and meld with the butter.

  • Preheat oven to 350°F with oven rack in upper third of oven. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

  • Remove one dough log from refrigerator (keep second chilled), and unwrap. Using a thin, sharp knife, cut dough into 1/2-inch slices (you will have around 14 slices). Arrange on prepared baking sheet, leaving around 1 1/2 inches between slices. Bake in preheated oven on upper rack until cookies barely start to brown around edges, about 16 minutes, rotating pans after 8 minutes. Let cookies cool on pan 2 minutes; remove cookies to wire rack, and let cool completely, about 10 minutes.

  • Repeat step 4 with second dough log, or transfer to freezer for later use.