Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Black-Walnut Sandies

Black-Walnut Sandies with Glass of Milk

Punch Up the Flavor of a Classic Cookie with this Native American Walnut

Say “sandies,” and we usually think pecans.  But you can use almost any type of nut to make these wonderful shortbread-like cookies.

Walnuts make scrumptious sandies.  They’re less sweet than pecans, but they have a more robust taste.  And when you’re making cookies, there’s always enough added sugar, so sweetness isn’t a big concern anyway.

Most supermarkets carry two varieties of walnuts:  the so-called English walnut (which actually originated in Persia) and the black walnut, which is native to eastern North America.  English walnuts tend to be more abundant (and much less expensive), in large part because they’re easier to cultivate — they are grown commercially, while black walnuts often are harvested wild (by hand).  And the shells of English walnuts are much easier to crack, making them less costly to process.  But black walnuts deliver especially good flavor — bold, rich, and earthy. 

If you don’t want to splurge on black walnuts (or have trouble finding them), you can substitute English walnuts — or use a mix of the two.  Any way you make them, these cookies are so good, you’ll want to eat more — OK, quite a few more — than you really should.  Don’t say you haven’t been warned.


Black-Walnut Sandy Cookie, overhead view

Recipe:  Black-Walnut Sandies

Sandies are really gussied up shortbread cookies.  Traditional shortbread contains nothing more than butter, sugar, and flour.  This recipe adds other ingredients, including nuts (which provide fat as well as flavor), so it isn’t true shortbread.  But it’s a close cousin. 

You’ll find some recipes for sandies that contain egg.  Sorry, but that’s a no, IMO — the egg adds too much richness to the dough, changing its character. 

With all the butter and sugar these cookies contain, no one would call them “healthy.”  But at least walnuts add some protein, omega-3 fatty acids, minerals, and vitamins. 

There are loads of recipes available for sandies.  Mrs. Kitchen Riffs is the baker in our family, and she adapted this one from Martha Stewart’s recipe for pecan sandies. (When you see “I” in most of the Notes, that’s Mrs K R talking.)

It takes about 10 minutes to mix the sandies, and maybe half an hour to bake them (assuming you’ll need to do the baking in a couple of batches). This recipe yields about 60 cookies (depending on how big you make them). Leftovers store well in an airtight container for a few days.

Ingredients
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • 1½ cups dark brown sugar, packed (light brown or granulated sugar also work; see Notes)
  • 3 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • ~2 cups black walnuts, chopped coarsely (may substitute English walnuts, or a mix of the two)
Procedure
  1. Preheat oven to 350° F.  Line baking sheets with parchment paper (see Notes).
  2. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together flour and salt.
  3. In the bowl of stand mixer (or in a mixing bowl, using a hand mixer), beat butter and brown sugar until creamy.  Add vanilla extract and mix in.  Then gradually add black walnuts, mixing until fully incorporated.  Gradually add the flour mixture, beating at low to medium speed until fully incorporated.
  4. Roll dollops of dough into balls measuring about 1 inch across.  Place dough balls on baking sheets and flatten them with a spoon. 
  5. Bake the cookies for 10 to 12 minutes, or until they just are just becoming firm.  Don’t overbake — if in doubt, take them out.  Cool cookies on a wire rack for about 5 minutes before serving or storing.
Black-Walnut Sandies with Glass of Milk

Notes
  • I’ve used all sorts of baking sheets for making cookies over the years, including expensive insulated sheets.  Nowadays, I just use 11 x 17-inch (half-sheet) pans with 1-inch sides, and line them with parchment paper.  They provide ample surface space and the sides keep the cookies from slipping off.  I can’t say I’ve noticed much difference in quality.  Although some of the fancier sheets theoretically make for better results, none of them are likely to perform as advertized in the typical home oven, where baking conditions are sub-optimum at best.  (The temperature of my own home oven tends to be off by 20 degrees or more, for instance.)  So I just go with what’s easiest to use — and quickest to clean up.
  • You can substitute granulated or light-brown sugar in this recipe, but I think dark brown yields the best flavor.
  • I prefer black walnuts in this recipe, but they’re expensive.  English walnuts make a perfectly good substitute.
  • How expensive are black walnuts?  Even online (where they tend to be cheaper), black walnuts often cost about twice as much as English walnuts.  In the supermarket, the price differential tends to be even larger.
  • Although black walnuts grow throughout much of eastern North America, about 65% of the wild commercial crop comes from Missouri.  It’s common to find black walnut trees in wooded areas of Missouri, particularly in the southeastern part of the state.
  • Walnuts have a fairly high oil content, which means they can become rancid after being shelled (though not right away — it takes a while).  So after opening a bag of walnuts, it’s best to store them in the freezer (in an airtight container) if you don’t expect to use them all immediately.
  • Even if you don’t store nuts in the freezer, it’s probably a good idea to store them in an airtight container.
  • You should use high quality (pure) vanilla extract in this recipe.  Its flavor is so much better than the imitation kind.
  • Pure vanilla extract is made by soaking vanilla beans in a mixture of water and alcohol for several months.  BTW, the FDA requires that pure vanilla extract contain at least 35% alcohol.  If the label doesn’t say “pure,” that means it’s made from synthetic vanilla.  The artificial kind is usually derived from the sapwood of several species of conifers — or from coal extracts!  How appetizing (not).
  • The flavor of some imitation vanillas can be nasty.  You don’t have to spend a fortune on pure vanilla extract, but getting decent quality does mean spending a bit more for something that’s not loaded with sugar or imitation flavoring.  Do yourself a favor and get the real stuff.
Black-Walnut Sandies with Glass of Milk

Putting My Money Where My Mouth Is

“So, which kind do you prefer?” asked Mrs. Kitchen Riffs, pointing to the two platters of cookies she had placed on our kitchen island.

“They’re both good,” I said, reaching for another round of cookies to confirm my first impression.  “Though I think this first one is better.”

“I thought so!” she beamed.  “That’s the one with the black walnuts.  The other’s made with English walnuts — the more commonly available kind.”

“There is a difference in flavor,” I admitted.  “Although I’d be happy with either one of these.”

“But the black walnuts are better!” said Mrs K R gleefully.  “I thought they would be — it’s important to test these things.  I wanted to be sure before I ordered a bunch of walnuts.”

“Order?” I wondered.  “Can’t you just get them at the supermarket?”

“Sure,” she said, “but black walnuts tend to be expensive, and supermarkets slap premium prices on them.  Much cheaper online.”

“How expensive?” I asked, suddenly wondering about our bank balance.

“Have another cookie,” said Mrs K R sweetly.  “Not too expensive — nothing to worry yourself about.  Besides, you’ve always said that when it comes to food, quality, not cost, should be our main concern.”

I nodded as I bit into another cookie.  Sometimes my big mouth gets me into trouble.

You may also enjoy reading about:
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Walnut Apple Crisp
Microwave Peanut Butter Fudge
Chocolate Fudge with Nutella
Peanut Butter Cookies
Ultimate Chocolate Brownie
Chocolate Drop Cookies
Chocolate Pepper Cookies

88 comments:

  1. I love shortbread John! And I agree, there should be no egg, it's all about the butter. I don't think I've come across black walnuts on my grocery runs, I've heard about them but never had a chance to try any. Providing my bank balance can handle it, I will seek them online.
    Thanks to Mrs KR for a great cookie recipe. It will go perfectly with my afternoon tea.

    Nazneen

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    1. Hi Nazneen, you should definitely try black walnuts sometime - they're wonderful! But regular walnuts are pretty darn good, too! Thanks for the comment.

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  2. Hi John ,your walnut sandies look addictive. Very nice presentation and excellent click.

    Thanks for sharing the notes, always enjoy reading them.

    Have a great week ahead,regards.

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    1. Hi Amelia, glad you enjoyed the post! And thanks for the comment.

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  3. Believe it or not, the best source for black walnuts in Missouri is Sam's Club -- though not available year-round because they run out. The "season" for black walnuts is late fall -- that's when you're most likely to find them. I l-o-v-e black walnuts. To my taste, they really don't need to be toasted, which English walnuts really do. Fun recipe, guys!

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    1. Hi Alanna, that Sam's Club tip is a good one! Don't black walnuts have wonderful flavor? Mrs K R ate them a lot in her youth (a relative had a tree) so she's addicted, and has in turn addicted me! ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  4. Buttery shortbread is the best, and these walnut sandies sound divine. Love all the baking Mrs. K R is doing! I'll have to look for black walnuts. Also, I've been making my own vanilla at home for the past couple of years...it's cheaper than buying pure extract if you find a good price on vanilla beans (usually online). My favorite is to soak the beans in bourbon - adds a warm, toasty flavor to baked goods!

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    1. Hi Hannah, we really should try making our own vanilla. We often buy vanilla where bourbon is the alcohol, so we know how great that is! Thanks for the comment.

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  5. Nice cookies John. Black walnuts are SUPER expensive but I bet they really take this cookie over the edge!

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    1. Hi Alyssa, black walnuts can be awfully pricey, alas. But they're so wonderful, they're worth buying, at least sometimes. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  6. I LOVE sandies. I made toffee ones years ago and this reminds me that I need to make them again. How delicious looking!

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    1. Hi Ashley, toffee ones sound terrific! Such a great cookie. Thanks for the comment.

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  7. I didn't know that there were 2 different kinds of Walnut, I guess I never paid attention. That was a great info!!! The Sandies looks delicious!!!

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    1. Hi Shibi, most of the walnuts we see in stores are English walnuts, but the black ones are really worth trying, IMO. Thanks for the comment.

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  8. Your Sandies remind me of my mother, they are her favorite cookies. We also ate the pecan version but your walnut one sounds terrific! Thanks John!

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    1. Hi Nancy, it's really worth trying walnuts (especially black walnuts!) in sandies - a bit better flavor than pecans, IMO (although I do love pecans). Thanks for the comment.

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  9. I never heard of black walnuts. I always learn something new in your posts! Yes, we Persians love our nuts and use them in so many things. Send some of those sandies my way!

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    1. Hi Lara, lots of English walnut trees in California, so it makes sense that's mainly what you see. It's worth trying the black ones sometimes, just for fun. You may become a convert! Thanks for the comment.

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  10. These look a whole lot better than Keebler! I love sandies. And now I've got to find black walnuts. Haven't had those in a really long time!

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    1. Hi Abbe, much better than Keebler! You definitely need to find some black walnuts. And make these. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  11. They look buttery delicious.

    I had to look up "black walnut". Didn't know them and now I'm curious about them - as much as pecans, which are also almost impossible to find here in Portugal.

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    1. Hi Alex, I'll bet it will be hard to find black walnuts in Portugal, alas. In the US you can get them through Amazon. But this cookie is good with regular walnuts, too. Thanks for the comment.

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  12. I want to have them in a jar on a shelf, so I can always come and grab one or two :)

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    1. Hi Marta, the problem with having them in a jar is that one or two become four - or eight! Thanks for the comment.

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  13. Mmmhhh, surely extremely addictive! Irresistible.

    Cheers,

    Rosa

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    1. Hi Rosa, irresistible indeed! Thanks for the comment.

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  14. Wow, I've learned a lot about walnuts today! and I love love love sandies! My favorite cookies! I could eat them with all kinds of nuts!

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    1. Hi Julia, I don't think there's a nut that doesn't work in sandies. Maybe I should do exhaustive research. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  15. I can never resist sandies. They have that wonderful melt-in-your-mouth quality. They're cookies meant to be savored bite by bite.

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    1. Hi Carolyn, sandies are sinfully seductive, aren't they? Great cookie. And you owe it to yourself to try them with black walnuts sometime. ;-) Thanks for your comment.

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  16. Thanks for the little walnut tutorial. I prefer English walnuts to black but wouldn't turn down either. I adore sandies, especially with a cut of tea . . . speaking of English. These look wonderful.

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    1. Hi Karen, any walnut is OK in my book. ;-) And these would go wonderfully well with tea! Thanks for the comment.

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  17. I have not heard the term, 'sandies'. I thought this might be a type of sandwich! I also haven't heard of black walnuts. Where have I been? But, these cookies (biscuits) look very good. My mother used to make walnut biscuits. I shall seek out her recipe and see how it compares xx

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    1. Hi Charlie, English walnuts are plentiful enough that I can well imagine black walnuts haven't made their way to your part of the world. You'll just have to make a trip to the US so you can taste them! ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  18. I love a good tea cookie and this is definitely one of it. Thanks for sharing, John :)

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    1. Hi Kiran, this definitely is a great tea cookie! Thanks for the comment.

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  19. I haven't had black walnuts since I lived in Tennessee. They'd fall from the tree and we'd put them in the driveway and drive over them to get the husks off before cracking and freezing. As I recall they don't last as long as English walnuts before going rancid. I love black walnuts and I would love one of your sandies!

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    1. Hi Maureen, driving over the black walnuts is how a lot of people get the husks off! These definitely are a tough nut to crack, literally. Thanks for the comment.

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  20. Mmmmmm.... these look great! We had a huge black walnut tree on our neighbor's property when I was a kid. The ground was always covered in black walnuts during the season. I wish I could go grab some of the up now and make these!

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    1. Hi Amy, lucky you! Mrs K R also had access to a big black walnut tree when she was a kid. Thanks for the comment.

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  21. Flawless texture, warm tone, smells-good cookies :) Pictures are PERFECT :)

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    1. Hi Suborna, these really are great cookies. ;-) Thanks for the kind words, and comment.

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  22. Shortbread is high on my list of loves, these cookies look absolutely divine. The photography just makes my mouth begin to water, thanks for the inspiration!

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    1. Hi Chris, these are really great cookies. And I agree about shortbread - such incredibly good stuff! Thanks for the kind words, and comment.

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  23. These sound wonderful, John, and I will be baking a batch. I've all the ingredients for a change, even the black walnuts. They can be bought on a farm near Zia's home in Michigan. Thanks for all the tips in the Notes section. I buy my baking sheets from an online restaurant supply house. They're not insulated but they never warp in the oven and are relatively cheap. I've no problem replacing them like I would if I'd purchased their insulated cousins. Being I'm not much of a baker, these sheets work fine for me. This was another good post, John, like always. Thanks for sharing your recipe.

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    1. Hi John, we usually hit restaurant supply houses for a lot of our kitchen stuff, too. Good quality, relatively inexpensive. And you'll enjoy these cookies - loads of flavor, and the black walnuts work particularly well in this recipe. Thanks for the kind words, and comment.

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  24. Although I'm not a cookie lover, I had much fun reading this post! I find it very inspirational and will make these cookies for my child; it's a long weekend right now in Europe, I'd like to make a surprise for the kids around, and that cookie recipe would be it. The pictures are so inviting! Thank you again and have a good weekend, too!

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    1. Hi La Torontoise, kids love this cookie! You'll be a star. ;-) I hope you have a great weekend, and thanks for the comment.

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    2. Mrs KR, I made them and they turned out well. Thank you so much for your encouraging words. I do feel like a star:-)
      And it took some determination to get back walnuts, they are not so common in my geographic zone, but I got some from a American colleague who knew a speacialty food shop, in another town... So, was quite a project but I'm over it and the result is fantastic. I look forward to the Mother's day event!!
      Have a good weekend!

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    3. Hi La Torontoise, so glad you enjoyed them! You are indeed a star. ;-) And I'll bet finding black walnuts took some doing in Europe! But they're worth it, aren't they? Thanks for letting us know you enjoyed the cookies.

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  25. I'm not sure if I had black walnuts already. But I remember growing up we only have walnuts during Christmas. Although I think now, walnuts are available all year round, nevertheless I still I hold walnuts special :)
    I would love to have these buttery sandies right now. I'm sure the 60 pcs will disappear fast in my household :)
    I love reading your notes John. Thank you!
    Malou

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    1. Hi Malou, when I was growing up we mainly had walnuts during November and December, too. Now we have them much more often! A good thing. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  26. I personally prefer walnuts over other nuts. These look great, and as you pointed out they have wonderful omega-3 health benefits! A delicious yet healthy treat :D

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    1. Hi Kristi, aren't walnuts delish? Super flavor, and tons of nutrition. Thanks for the comment.

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  27. Oh beautiful cookies, John! And that second picture is a killer! I can see just how buttery crisp these cookies are! I will have to pick up black walnuts at Trader Joe's next time I'm there. I don't believe I've baked with them before. But if Mrs. K R's thinks they're better...I believe her! : )

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    1. Hi Anne, black walnuts really do have a wonderful flavor. Not that there's anything wrong with the flavor of English walnuts, but black walnuts turn it to 11. ;-) Thanks for the kind words, and comment.

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  28. Buttery rich and delicious. That close up shot makes me want to take a bite through my computer screen. Thanks for the advise on the walnuts. It is wet rainy and miserable this weekend a great weekend to bake. I also use parchment paper when I bake. I love the less time for cleanup. Have a great weekend and say hello to Mrs. Riff. Take Care, BAM

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    1. Hi Bam, we're using parchment paper for a whole lot of different things these days, mainly to avoid or at least minimize cleanup. But lining cookie sheets with it is a no-brainer! I hope your weekend is great too (if you're baking, I know it will be!). Thanks for the comment.

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  29. Nutty cookies and milk! One of my favorite comfort food!

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    1. Hi Peachy, cookies and milk is so iconic! Such a great combo. Thanks for the comment.

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  30. I love how you and Mrs. K R collaborate to share these really wonderful recipes. I love sandies! I might even have to use this recipe instead of the walnut roll for this Sunday. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Hi Ala, sandies are a good thing. ;-) Tough choice between these and the Walnut Roll, although the cake has more "wow" factor, IMO. Thanks for the comment.

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  31. I love buttery short breads. The ingredients in yours sounds great. Something to try.

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    1. Hi Lail, this is definitely worth trying. You won't be sorry! ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  32. I haven't had sandies in forever! And back then, they were never homemade. I know I'd like either of your walnut versions...just pass the plate quickly, please :)

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    1. Hi Liz, the homemade ones are quite nice. Although I like the black walnut ones, the English walnut version is great, too. Here's the plate - please have a handful! Thanks for the comment.

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  33. I love sandies but haven't try one with walnuts! I love these healthful little nuts. :) These cookies are perfect to munch on, any time! Thank you so much for sharing. Wish you and your family a wonderful weekend.

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    1. Hi Amy, I hope you have a great weekend, too! And you really should try walnuts in sandies sometime - really terrific! Thanks for the comment.

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  34. After reading your post, I became VERY interested in the black walnuts you are talking about! Love the cookies and milk shot!

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    1. Hi Nami, black walnuts are really worth seeking out - great flavor. We still use English walnuts much of the time, but for some recipes there's just no comparison! Thanks for the kind words, and comment.

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  35. Mrs. K is a wise woman. I was taught the same thing growing up: when it comes to food, quality, not cost, always comes first. I think she has herself a winner here. I can see myself finishing that whole plateful. I have to get myself some black walnuts from Amazon. You & Mrs. K have piqued my interest. Scrumptious as usual!

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    1. Hi Gomo, black walnuts are definitely worth trying if you haven't had them before - really good stuff! And this recipe is indeed a winner. Thanks for the comment.

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  36. The cookies look great. I hardly ever use walnuts but I'll look for black walnuts the next time.

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    1. Hi Karen, black walnuts are a really nice change. Definitely worth trying. Thanks for the comment.

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  37. Vanilla extract can come from coal extracts? Are you kidding me? Thank goodness I've never bought the fake stuff. My niece gave me a huge bottle of homemade vanilla extract for the holidays. It's so good and is going to last me quite a while. Now to the sandies - YUM! I love black walnuts but have only splurged once and that was a long time ago. Looks like it's time to splurge again. These sandies would be a hit in this house for sure. Thanks!

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    1. Hi MJ, imitation vanilla extract can be rather gross. The real stuff, though, is great. One of these days I do need to make my own. Or encourage Mrs K R to get interested in it. ;-) Black walnuts really are worth tasting every now and again - they have a unique flavor, and one that's so good. Thanks for the comment.

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  38. I am fascinated by the black walnuts since I have never tasted them. I do seem to go through a lot of vanilla with my baking but I always get the real stuff - the flavour is so different.

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    1. Hi Suzanne, if you ever have a chance to taste black walnuts, you really owe it to yourself to do so - they're wonderful. However, English walnuts are also pretty darn good, so not having black walnuts isn't a huge loss. Thanks for the comment.

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  39. I love that golden color on those cookies. My mouth waters just thinking about dunking one in my coffee.

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    1. Hi Kristi, these are great dunking cookies! And fun to make, too. Thanks for the comment.

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  40. I have never made sandies before. These looks scrumptious. I love black walnuts, but they are pricey.

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    1. Hi Dawn, black walnuts are a bit pricey, so we still use English walnuts quite a bit. But in cookies in particular, black walnuts can't be beat! Thanks for the comment.

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  41. Simply yum. I definitely gonna try this and put a version of mine in my blog. And surely will link to your post mentioning my inspiration! Keep up the good work!

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    1. Hi Akansha, glad you liked this! Thanks for the comment.

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  42. Cookies like this are meant to be dipped in milk. Yum!

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    1. Hi Raymund, these are wonderful with milk. Tea is pretty good, too. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  43. You had me at walnut. Seriously man, is there nothing you can't do.

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    1. Hi Kim, walnuts are wonderful, aren't they? And I'm sure Mrs K R could come up with quite a list of things I can't do! Thanks for the comment.

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