Hickory Nut Cookies with Maple Cream Icing
My father is a man of many talents and hidden skills. He’s the kind of man that as soon as you think you’ve figured him out he does something like forage thousands of hickory nuts, transporting them in a backpack on his mountain bike out of the woods, then proceeds to conduct experiments on them to predetermine which are intact and which have already been foraged by little wormies and then hand cracks, shells and separates them all, and places them into glass jars outfitted with labels he designed for them. And each year, I’m lucky enough to be the recipient of one of these jars filled with the fruit of his labor.
This year the nuts I received are particularly special to me since my Fred had a hand in the processing efforts! When we visited my parents for Thanksgiving my dad was still processing the bounty of his treasure and he enlisted Fred to help with the cracking, shelling and sorting. Alright, more accurately, he enlisted us both and I helped for a few minutes before quickly finding other tasks to make myself useful. Let’s just say that the meditative art of nut processing is not exactly my thing. And as it turns out, this is exactly why they’re not grown commercially. That’s right folks, none of the geniuses of industrial agriculture have figured out a way to make this process any easier or faster than how my dad does it. Which is why you generally won’t find these nuts in supermarkets, and when you do find them for sale at all they’re from a small batch hand processor, like Ray.
For those of you who have never had the pleasure of tasting a hickory nut, they’re similar to pecans (unsurprisingly, since they’re related). They have that same slightly chewy texture and even look pretty similar. I like them best toasted a bit, which draws out and rounds out their flavor nicely. After toasting, I use them pretty much anytime I would normally use a pecan – in cookies and cakes, in oatmeal and sticky buns. The hickory nut cookies I’m sharing with you today are one of my favorite uses for them, since the nuts are the main attraction. The entire cookie is built around supporting and highlighting the hickory nuts’ flavor, so I feel as though these are the best way to celebrate all the hard work that went into bringing these nuts into my kitchen. Thanks dad!
Hickory Nut Cookies
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup shortening
1/4 cup butter
1 large egg , beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract
1.5 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup hickory nuts
Preheat oven to 375°F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.
First toast your hickory nuts in a dry skillet until fragrant. Remove from heat, allow to cool, then chop.
Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt together and set aside.
Cream together your brown sugar, shortening, and butter in a stand mixer or with a hand beater. Beat in the egg and vanilla. Add half your dry ingredients (except the nuts) and mix on low, when incorporated, mix in the other half. Fold in the hickory nuts.
Form into small golf ball sized balls and place on lined cookie sheets. Bake at 375F for 12-14 minutes, until they begin to turn golden brown at the base. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on the cookie sheets for a few minutes before transferring the cookies to wire racks to cool.When completely cooled, decorate with maple cream icing.
Maple Cream Icing
1 cup sifted confectioners sugar
2 Tbsp cream
2 Tbsp maple syrup
Mix together all ingredients until smooth. Add more maple syrup to taste, if desired.