Passion Cookies

by Andie Mitchell on November 10, 2010

Truthfully, I don’t quite understand why these are called Passion Cookies. If anything, they’re pecan pie meets frosted shortbread. But there are lots of things I don’t understand. Like why Paula Deen and I are all alone in pronouncing my favorite nut as PEE-cans, when all the rest of the world is onto pe-CAHNS. Or why Ben and Jerry have yet to churn out a pint of ice cream that marries peanut butter with marshmallow fluff? Or why shortbread isn’t counted as a serving of bread and grains according to the Food Guide Pyramid.

I mean, technically-speaking, isn’t it?

What I do know is this: these teeny tiny squares are intensely rich, buttery, and sticky-sweet. A base layer of crumbly shortbread, with a gooey, caramel pecan pie-like filling, and a silky vanilla frosting smeared across the top. I found them deep within the pages of My Nepenthe, a new and beautifully-photographed book of recipes from the famous Nepenthe  restaurant in Big Sur, California. Supposedly, these so-called Passion Cookies were made time and time again for the legendary actor Richard Burton, who frequented the restaurant while filming The Sandpiper with Elizabeth Taylor. He apparently couldn’t get enough of them.

That much I understand. One bite through the three melting layers and I was a smiling fool. They’re extravagant, luxurious even. Over the top in decadence. All the flavors of toasted pecan and deep dark caramel and coconut and and…what’s that thing that makes the world continue to spin ’round on its axis? Ah yes. Butter.

Bake them for the holidays, bring them to a party, package them up in cookie sampler gifts, have one this afternoon with a mug of tea. Whatever you do, my advice is to cut them small. Like a rich chocolate truffle, they’re intense enough that two perfect bites will do just fine by your taste buds.

Passion Cookies

Preheat your oven to 350°F. Begin by greasing a 9×12″ pan (or 9×13″, which is more standard) with melted butter. You want to really coat the bottom and the sides of the pan well, so that the bars don’t stick after baking.

Make the crust: In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar. Add the flour and stir until just combined (the dough will be crumbly). **A note about the recipe: I decided, after baking the bars according to recipe instructions, to add more butter to the crust, because I just didn’t feel the amount called for was enough because my bars *made as directed) turned out very crumbly and this shortbread crust didn’t hold together as well as I think it could with the addition of a few tablespoons more butter. I’ve added more butter to my ingredient list below.

Press the mixture firmly and evenly into the pan. Set it in the oven to bake for 20 minutes, or until it’s just beginning to turn golden.

While the crust is baking, make the filling. In a large bowl, beat the sugar and eggs until well combined.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. **A note about the recipe: I added a bit of salt here, but the recipe called for none. As a rule, I add salt to my baked goods because it tends to heighten the sweetness of things, and really round out flavors well. You can omit it if you’d like.

Add the flour mixture and beat until just combined.

Stir in the shredded coconut and pecans. **A note about the recipe: I used sweetened coconut flakes, rather than unsweetened as the recipe called for, because I never have unsweetened on hand, and because I absolutely adore the sweetened variety.

Now pull your crust out of the oven. It should be a very faint golden brown. Pour the pecan-coconut filling over the top of the warm crust and bake the whole thing for another 20 minutes.

While the bars cool in the pan set on top of a wire rack, make the frosting. Beat the butter for a few seconds, just until creamy. Then add the sugar and the vanilla and beat for about 2 minutes on medium-high, until the mixture is fluffy and light.

Now spread the frosting evenly over the top of the cooled bars. I suggest you tent the bars with aluminum foil and refrigerate them for about 20 minutes before cutting, so that the frosting will firm up a bit and be easier to neatly slice.

Passion Cookies

recipe from My Nepenthe by Romney Steele

makes 24 small squares

Crust:

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature (original recipe only calls for 3/4 cup butter, I think more is better for a firmer crust)

3  tablespoons granulated sugar

3 cups all-purpose flour

Filling:

2 cups packed brown sugar

3 eggs, beaten

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

3/4 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt (original recipe does not call for salt, but I recommend it)

1 1/2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups chopped pecans or walnuts

3/4 cup shredded sweetened coconut (the original recipe calls for unsweetened; do what you like)

Topping:

1/2 cup butter, at room temperature

1 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

whole pecans or walnuts for garnish (optional), about 18-24

Preheat your oven to 350°F. Begin by greasing a 9×12″ pan (or 9×13″, which is more standard) with melted butter. You want to really coat the bottom and the sides of the pan so that the bars don’t stick after baking.

Make the crust: In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar. Add the flour and stir until just combined (the dough will be crumbly). **A note about the recipe: I decided, after baking the bars according to recipe instructions, to add more butter to the crust, because I just didn’t feel the amount called for was enough because my bars *made as directed) turned out very crumbly and this shortbread crust didn’t hold together as well as I think it could with the addition of a few tablespoons more butter.I’ve added more butter to my ingredient list below.
Press the mixture firmly and evenly into the pan. Set it in the oven to bake for 20 minutes, or until it’s just beginning to turn golden.

While the crust is baking, make the filling. In a large bowl, beat the sugar and eggs until well combined.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. **A note about the recipe: I added a bit of salt here, but the recipe called for none. As a rule, I add salt to my baked goods because it tends to heighten the sweetness of things, and really round out flavors well. You can omit it if you’d like.

Add the flour mixture and beat until just combined.

Stir in the vanilla, shredded coconut, and pecans. **A note about the recipe: I used sweetened coconut flakes, rather than unsweetened as the recipe called for, because I never have unsweetened on hand, and because I absolutely adore the sweetened variety.

Pour the pecan-coconut filling over the top of the warm crust and bake the whole thing for another 20 minutes.

While the bars cool in the pan set on top of a wire rack, make the frosting. Beat the butter for a few seconds, just until creamy. Then add the sugar and the vanilla and beat for about 2 minutes on medium-high, until the mixture is fluffy and light.

Now spread the frosting evenly over the top of the cooled bars. I suggest you tent the bars with aluminum foil and refrigerate them for about 20 minutes before cutting, so that the frosting will firm up a bit and be easier to neatly slice. Cut into 24 small squares and garnish the top of each with a pecan or a walnut.

{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

Jennifer@Jane Deere November 10, 2010 at 10:54 am

These look to-die-for delicious! They are going on my menu pronto~! Thanks for the great post!

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Can You Stay for Dinner November 10, 2010 at 10:57 am

Thanks Jennifer!

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ihearteggs November 10, 2010 at 10:59 am

Wow… these look amazing!

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Leah @ Why Deprive? November 10, 2010 at 11:04 am

I SAY PEE-CANS too!! lol

Seriously, I would like to live in your kitchen. I imagine it as this wonderful fairy land that is full of nothing but deliciousness. I promise not to take up very much space. :)

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Can You Stay for Dinner November 10, 2010 at 11:22 am

Leah, you are cordially invited to a slumber party in my kitchen in the future. It will be like playing Candy Land.

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spabettie November 10, 2010 at 11:24 am

oooh, these look AMAZING !! (I am starting to feel like I say that Every Time… )

…and can I be Leah / Why Deprive’s kitchen room-mate? :) I wont take up much space either, and I’ll taste test everything!! :D

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Can You Stay for Dinner November 10, 2010 at 11:29 am

You, my friend, are more than welcome to join in the kitchen shenanigans!

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KatieG November 10, 2010 at 1:03 pm

Alas, you are not alone. I also pronounce it PEE-can. I don’t know why, but I just can’t bring myself to say pe-CAHN. But then again, I’m from New Jersey and I transplanted to Florida, where I’m naturally resistant to any type of southern phrases or pronunciations.

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Can You Stay for Dinner November 10, 2010 at 1:10 pm

Ahh, Katie, I’m from Massachusetts, so maybe PEE can is the northeasterner in us?

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Peggie November 10, 2010 at 1:20 pm

Do you know how well these freeze? They look so good I would want to make enough to put in all my holiday gift packs so I would want to make them ahead of time and be able to freeze them until I make up the packages.

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Can You Stay for Dinner November 10, 2010 at 1:25 pm

Hmmm, good question Peggie! I really don’t know that they’d freeze too well because of the frosting layer. Maybe freeze the crust and filling layers (wrapped tightly) and then let thaw and frost them just before you’re ready to package them? That’s all I can figure. Best of luck if you do freeze them! Let me know what happens!

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Sagan November 10, 2010 at 3:26 pm

Shortbread makes my mouth happy.

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jterrill November 10, 2010 at 3:46 pm

I am so excited to have found your blog. Your recipes and your photographs are amazing. I have been sharing your recipes with my facebook friends. I am looking forward to putting a spin on some of our traditional favorites with your help.

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Can You Stay for Dinner November 10, 2010 at 4:19 pm

Thanks!! So glad you like them!

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Shanna, like Banana November 10, 2010 at 3:48 pm

I’m right on board with these cookies / bars / delish yums! Love them for a holiday treat!

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Stephanie @cookinfanatic November 10, 2010 at 5:23 pm

What a fabulous holiday sweet treat! These look so good!

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Kristy November 11, 2010 at 4:43 am

Have I mentioned that I’m loving this dessert series? :-)

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Gabriela @ Une Vie Saine November 11, 2010 at 5:12 am

Oh WOW. Those look like such a perfect treat for a holiday table….gooey and sweet and crunchy and…just wow.

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RhodeyGirl November 11, 2010 at 6:15 am

Don’t worry- I say PEE-cans too. I also say WHOLE Foods, which Kath made fun of me for saying!

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Can You Stay for Dinner November 11, 2010 at 6:25 am

No way! I absolutely put the stress on the WHOLE in Whole Foods. That’s the correct way!!

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MelissaNibbles November 11, 2010 at 7:25 am

I say pee-cans. These look so yummy!

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Megan (Braise The Roof) November 11, 2010 at 8:33 am

Ooh I can’t wait for Thanksgiving baked goods!! And I love that this recipe has a history! I think I pronounce pecans differently every time I say it- my Southern boyfriend gets very annoyed by it. What can I say?

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thereflectiveself November 11, 2010 at 12:18 pm

This looks so scrumptus. I will try anything with pecans or coconut. Thanks for sharing this!!

Dandy

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Can You Stay for Dinner November 11, 2010 at 12:25 pm

Thanks!!

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theEclecticLife November 13, 2010 at 8:41 pm

Incredible! I found your blog through “Then Heather Said” and I’m putting this recipe on my “must-bake!” list! Thanks for sharing. You’ve got a lovely blog here!

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Can You Stay for Dinner November 13, 2010 at 10:03 pm

Thank you so much! So glad you said hello!

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