In this week's So Many Fairies story, “Old Man Hickory,” Old Man Hickory Elf likes things orderly and efficient. This worked well when his hickory tree was part of a working farm. But that was long ago, and the farm is now gone and has been replaced by forest.
The forest fairies and creatures struggle to follow Old Man Hickory Elf's rules and demands, as he is quite the task-master. But then one day, the playful antics of two young chipmunks turn things quite upside down.
When people talk about hickory nuts, they usually mean the nuts from a “shagbark” hickory tree. The shagbark is so named because it really does have shaggy bark. One doesn't have to work hard to imagine one as an old man with a long beard and shaggy hair.
Unfortunately, at least for those of us in the mid-latitudes and further South, one also doesn't have to work hard to imagine a persnickety, old tree elf guarding each hickory tree and rationing its nuts. That's because — due to their smaller nut meats and harder shells — shagbark hickories aren't as common once you leave New England and the East coast. In fact, their nuts are very difficult to find for sale.
But, the good news — for our purposes today, at least — is that “hickory” is actually a genus of trees, not an individual species. There are almost 20 different species of tree that can claim the “hickory” (or “carya” if you want the Latin term) designation, including the very common and easy-to-find-at-your-local-grocery-store pecan.
Which is all to say that you will not have to fight a hundred year old tree elf to make these cookies. If you have access to shagbark hickory nuts, use them. If not, pecans will substitute just fine.
You may have to fight a few (small human) chipmunks if you want to ration these cookies out slowly. But, as the elf in this week's story eventually learned, a little silliness (and maybe an extra cookie) is a joyful thing in the springtime.
Browned Butter Hickory Nut Shortbreads
1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter, divided
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon cream of tartar
2 cups flour
½ cup chopped hickory nuts (or pecans)
Pull the eggs and a stick of butter out of the fridge, then cut the butter in half. Leave half of the butter on the counter, with the eggs, to come to room temperature.
When the 20 minutes is up, begin preheating your oven to 350 degrees.
While the oven warms, cream the remaining, non-browned butter with the brown and white sugar. Everything should be well incorporated, but this mixture doesn't have enough butter to get truly light and fluffy — it will still be a bit crumbly.
Once you've reached that stage, keep your mixer running and slowly drizzle in the browned butter, scrapping out the pan to get all the delicious browned bits. When that's well incorporated, add the vanilla and eggs, again, continuing to mix as you do.
Then, sift together the salt, baking soda, cream of tartar, and flour. Add the flour mixture to the butter and sugar mixture a little at a time until it's well blended, then add the chopped pecans and give the batter one last, good, 15-second spin.
Dollop the batter out by the spoonful onto a parchment covered bake sheet, and lightly press it with your hands to make a round. These cookies will only spread a little, so you can leave less space between them than is pictured here.
Bake the cookies for 10-13 minutes, or until the edges are just starting to turn golden. As with any shortbread cookie, don't wait for the tops to brown.
These cookies are best when allowed to cool and eaten with a warm mug of tea or a tall glass of milk.
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About the Author
The Sparkle Kitchen Series is created by Meryl Carver-Allmond.
Meryl lives in a hundred year old house near the prairie with her sweet husband, two pre-schoolers, one puppy, one gecko, and about ten chickens. While she's been writing since she could pick up a pen, in recent years she's discovered the joy of photography, too. She feels lucky to be able to combine those skills, along with a third passion--showing people that cooking for themselves can be healthy and fun--in her weekly Sparkle Kitchen posts.
When Meryl isn't writing for Sparkle Kitchen, you can find her on her personal blog, My Bit of Earth, where she writes about chickens, babies, knitting, gardening, food, photography, and whatever else tickles her fancy on any given day.