Pecan fingers cookies: Delicious old-fashioned vanilla powdered sugar treats from the 1970s

Powdered sugar Christmas cookies - Pecan fingers cookies

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By any other name… pecan fingers cookies are also commonly known as sand tarts

These cookies — and other very similar ones — have many names! Besides pecan fingers, you might find them called German or Austrian vanilla crescent cookies (vanillekipferl), Viennese crescent cookies, sand tarts, pecan crescents, powdered sugar cookies… and we’re sure many more names exist out there.

They have been around for years, and are especially popular around Christmas!

What sets these buttery shortbread cookies apart from most conventional cookies is that they don’t include any egg or baking soda/baking powder. The dough is made with just butter, nuts, flour, powdered sugar and vanilla (plus a little salt if you use unsalted butter).

While this particular recipe from the 1970s uses pecans for the very finely-chopped or ground nuts, you can absolutely make them with almonds, walnuts or hazelnuts.

Shortbread crescent cookies with powdered sugar
Delectable shortbread cookies are also known as sand tarts, for their crumbly texture (Photo kasia2003/Freepik)

Mixing the cookie dough for pecan fingers

When you’re preparing the batch, start with cold butter cut into small blocks or pats. Once you start getting the ingredients mixed together, you’ll notice that the dough will be quite dry and crumbly, but a little water helps the ingredients won’t stick together enough to form a ball.

If you get really stuck and it just won’t hold together, you can try adding 1 egg yolk. The texture of the cookies won’t be quite the same, but it may at least get you to the point where you will have cookies.

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One key to success: Don’t over-handle the dough. You will need to chill it before shaping the cookies, and may find it’s best to work with a small amount of the dough at a time, keeping the rest in the fridge until you’re ready to shape them.

The vintage recipe below suggests rolling them into simple finger shapes, but several of the more traditional European recipes have them shaped into a crescent. If you go with the shape, be aware that the shape matters, and the pointed ends may cook a little more quickly.

And that brings up another good point: Be sure you don’t over-bake these treats. You want them just to start getting a little bit golden around the bottom edges, but don’t let them brown.

Making powdered sugar cookies - crescents
Picture by Purple Queue/Deposit Photos

Sugaring up the baked cookies

These cookies melt in your mouth, in part because they’re very delicate and crumbly. Be gentle when handling them after baking to avoid breakage.

The original instructions from 1977 say to roll them (or dredge) in powdered sugar, and if you use that method — which we think is the best — you will want to use a very soft touch.

They’re best with vanilla powdered sugar — powdered sugar that’s been mixed with vanilla beans, or has been stored with a fragrant vanilla pod for a couple of days. You can also make it with vanilla extract, but you will need to thoroughly combine the sugar and extract, let it dry, and then use a food processor to break it back down into a powder.

Because the cookies are so fragile, you may find it easier to sprinkle powdered sugar on the cookies instead of rolling them in it. We do this on top of waxed paper that we first dusted with powdered sugar so it gets on the bottom, too.

After each batch, pick up and fold the waxed paper and pour the excess into a bowl. Repeat the process until all of the cookies are covered as much as you would like.

Another version: Sugar-coated walnut crescents cookie recipe (1964)

Sugar-coated walnut crescents - Cookie recipe from 1964


The inspiration: Vintage Pecan Fingers recipe (1977)

From the Terre Haute Tribune (Indiana) December 21, 1977

Pecan Fingers, before and after baking and rolling in powdered sugar, are shown here ready to serve for any snack occasion.

Delicious with a hot drink, cold drink, with fruit or alone as a crisp nibbler, they prove to be unbeatable.

Pecan Fingers cookie recipe (1977)

Founder and Chairman of the Board of Brownberry Ovens, Inc. Catherine Clark is actively involved on a full-time basis developing new ideas and new products…

Clark would stake her reputation that a nationwide poll would unify us all as lovers of a delicacy known as “Pecan Fingers.” If a tasting panel would offer chocolate chips, brownies, oatmeal, Danish, Fig Newtons, Oreos and pecan fingers, she believes the last-named would win hands down.

Why? First, pecans. No flavor can beat them in the hearts and taste buds of the American public.

What sweetness there is comes from powdered sugar in which the cookie is rolled after baking. This reaches the tongue first for the pleasure of it, only to be followed by the relief of finding the center coming through loud and clear as toasted pecans.

Crisp and rich in shortening or butter, Pecan Fingers will keep for days — that is, if you can keep your fingers out of the jar.

It’s still best, because of the butter content, to store them in the fridge. And there’s a side benefit — if you don’t see them every time you turn around, they’ll last longer.

Vintage vanilla crescent cookies - sand tarts vanillekipferl

Known by many names

Many countries have versions of this rich, not-so-sweet cookie distinguished by the variations one might expect… German Almond Crescents, Viennese Hazelnut Nuggets, Scandinavian Sand Tarts, Greek Butter Fingers, and Mexican Wedding Cake.

For Almond Crescents, simply use ground almonds in place of the pecans, and curve into a crescent the finger you have rolled as you lay it on the pan. Make these fingers more pointed on the ends.

The same is true of Hazelnut Nuggets, where the shaping of the dough piece may result in a slightly flattened small ball of dough.

Pecan fingers cookies - rolling in powdered sugar

Pecan fingers powdered sugar cookies

Pecan fingers cookies

Yield: 48 cookies
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Additional Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour 45 minutes

These cookies — and other very similar ones — have many names! You might find them called German or Austrian vanilla crescent cookies (vanillekipferl), Viennese crescent cookies, sand tarts, pecan crescents, powdered sugar cookies... and we're sure many more names exist out there.

Be sure to read the accompanying article for important notes to help you make your cookies the best they can be!

Ingredients

  • 1 cup of butter
  • 6 tablespoons powdered sugar
  • 2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups pecans, chopped or ground
  • 2 teaspoons real vanilla
  • 2 tablespoons water

Instructions

  1. Combine the flour and butter. The dough will be crumbly.
  2. Add the powdered sugar, nuts, vanilla and water.
  3. Form into a ball or disc shape, cover with wrap, and chill for at least 1 hour.
  4. When you're ready to bake, take walnut-size pieces of dough with a spoon.
  5. Quickly roll the dough between your hands into a ball shape, then roll back and forth on the counter with one hand to form finger shape.
  6. Bake at 325 degrees for 10-15 minutes until very lightly colored.
  7. Cool, then gently roll in or sprinkle additional powdered sugar.

Notes

If you get really stuck and the cookie dough just won't hold together, you can try adding 1 egg yolk. The texture of the cookies won't be quite the same, but it may at least get you to the point where you will have cookies.

Be sure you don't over-bake these cookies. You want them just to start getting a little bit golden around the bottom edges, but don't let them brown. 

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Nutrition Information:
Yield: 48 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 87Total Fat: 7gSaturated Fat: 3gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 4gCholesterol: 10mgSodium: 31mgCarbohydrates: 6gFiber: 1gSugar: 1gProtein: 1g

Click Americana offers approximate nutrition information as a general reference only, and we make no warranties regarding its accuracy. Please make any necessary calculations based on the actual ingredients used in your recipe, and consult with a qualified healthcare professional if you have dietary concerns.

Pecan fingers: A recipe variation from 1950

From the Decatur Herald (Illinois) May 11, 1950

Pecan fingers are just the thing to munch with a glass of milk, or a long cool lemonade on a spring afternoon, when gardening is going on apace and a pause for refreshment is in order.

Cream one cup of butter or margarine, and gradually add one-half cup of confectioner’s sugar. Cream well. When fluffy, add two teaspoons of vanilla.

Sift together two cups of sifted all-purpose flour and one-half teaspoonful of salt. Add to the creamed mixture. Have ready two cups of finely chopped pecans and fold them in.

Use one tablespoon of dough for each cookie; shape with hands to make finger-length cookies, and bake on an ungreased sheet in a slow oven 30 to 40 minutes. Roll in confectioner’s sugar while still warm.

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