Brilliant Black Pepper Cheese Shortbread

My new favorite cookbook is from Virginia Willis.  Virginia is a gift.  She is a graduate of L’Academie de Cuisine and Ecole de Cuisine La Varenne, so she knows a thing or plenty about French cooking.  But she has never denied her Southern roots – and aren’t we happy about that.  And it comes as no surprise – to me at least – that she is a friend of Nathalie Dupree.  Nathalie is yet another favorite of mine.   Pick up a copy of Basic To Brilliant, Y’All, 150 Refined Southern Recipes and Ways to Dress Them Up for Company.  You won’t be disappointed.  While you’re at it, pick up her Bon Appétit, Y’All.  It’s just as superb.

This is the “brilliant” version of the basic Black Pepper Cheese Shortbread.  If you’re not feeling particularly brilliant, simply omit the pecans.  Not that I’d ever do that, just sayin’.  Take a break from cheese straws or anything you might buy at the grocery store.  These are worth the effort.  Crack open a bottle of wine, champagne, or your favorite sip and nibble on these for the perfect snack.

Brilliant Black Pepper Cheese Shortbread

Recipe:  Virginia Willis – Basic To Brilliant, Y’All

Makes about 4 dozen

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste

½ teaspoon fine sea salt

Pinch of cayenne, or more to taste (I added quite a bit)

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

8 ounces sharp white cheddar cheese, at room temperature, grated

2 cups chopped pecans

48 perfect pecan halves

Position the oven racks in the top and bottom third of the oven.  Preheat the oven to 375° F.  Butter two baking sheets or line them with silicone baking liners or parchment paper.

Combine the flour, black pepper, salt, and cayenne in a food processor fitted with a metal blade and pulse to combine.  Add the butter and cheese and process until smooth.  Cover the work bowl with plastic wrap and set aside to rest for about 15 minutes.

Food Processor

Hamilton Beach Food Processor & Vegetable Chopper for Slicing, Shredding, Mincing, and Puree, 10 Cups - Bowl Scraper, Stainless Steel

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Transfer the dough to a clean surface.  To shape the dough, work it in your hands; it should be soft and pliable (like Play-Doh).  Shape the dough into two equal cylinders and wrap tightly in plastic wrap.  Transfer to the refrigerator and chill until firm, about 30 minutes.

Roll the edges of each cylinder in 1 cup chopped pecans to coat.  Then, working with one cylinder at a time, using a utility knife, cut into ¼-inch-thick slices and place 1 inch apart on the prepared baking sheet.  Repeat with remaining dough.

Top each slice with a perfect pecan half.  Bake the shortbreads, rotating the baking sheets once, until lightly browned on the edges, about 20 minutes.  Remove the baking sheets to a rack to cool slightly.  Using an offset or slotted spatula, remove the individual shortbreads to  a rack to cool completely.

Making Ahead Store the savory shortbread at room temperature in an airtight container between sheets of waxed paper.  They will keep for 2 to 3 weeks.

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