Almost all of my earliest memories in the kitchen—and I think this is true for many people—involve baking. There's something about it that's so inclusive, especially around the holidays. There are so many jobs to be assigned: sifting the flour and leveling it off just so; packing the brown sugar tightly into the measuring cup; chopping the nuts, testing the batter for quality, and so forth.
That's why these cookies are so perfect for the holidays. Aside from being totally indulgent, there's a lot going on. You can delegate tasks to your friends or family while you all catch up over a glass of eggnog (or three). There's all kinds of stuff to measure, pecans to chop, dough to roll and dip, thumbprints to press, caramel to melt and pour...
The point is, these can be very social cookies (and they happen to be delicious). Plus they're ripe for variations: obviously, you can substitute any nut you like for the pecans; use a boozy bourbon ganache for the center to make it more grown-up; or roll the cookies in peanuts and fill them with strawberry jam for a chocolaty take on a PB&J.
I made two tweaks to this recipe, which is from America's Test Kitchen. First, I added some chocolate extract to the dough along with the vanilla. I'll have to do a side-by-side comparison sometime, but I have to say, I did notice a difference in the taste. It's hard to describe, but it offered a broader spectrum of chocolate flavor. These turtles are lively.
Secondly, I upped the salt significantly. Seriously, if you ever wondered what made a fancy restaurant dessert or an upscale bakery treat soooo tasty, it's almost certainly one of two things: lots and lots of salt, or lots and lots of butter. Both of these things are what make these cookies so tasty, and so very perfect for the holidays.
Well, that, and the fact that they taste even better with eggnog.
About the author: Liz Gutman co-owns the Brooklyn-based candy business Liddabit Sweets, which means she spends a lot of time around chocolate (and a lot of time eating it). She moved to New York in 2001 to go to, wait for it, acting school. But when the acting life wasn't for her, she wound up in the French Culinary Institute's pastry program while working at Roni-Sue's Chocolates in Manhattan's Lower East Side. She befriended Jen King, aka the other half of Liddabit, at FCI and founded Liddabit in May of 2009.