That Tonya Council reproduced the flavors of pecan pie in a cookie was natural, because baking has a strong place in her memory.
She remembers as a child, sitting with her grandmother, Mildred “Mama Dip” Council, to shell pecans for holiday pies. Mildred Council, a tall and strong woman, would take two pecans in one powerful hand and crush them until the shells fell away. The child tried, but her little hands couldn’t do the same. So her grandmother showed her how to crack the shells on the fireplace hearth.
The experience was an early time that Tonya Council helped her grandmother cook, even in a small way. And she often ate as many pecans as she shelled.
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Tonya Council started with that pie when developing Pecan Crisps, the first of her line of Tonya’s Cookies. Then she took inspiration for other flavors from a notebook of dessert recipes in the kitchen of her grandmother’s restaurant, the classic Mama Dip’s in Chapel Hill.
She started Tonya’s Cookies as a business in 2010, but began by making cookies in between waiting tables at the restaurant. Others might be intimidated by the idea of putting their baked goods up against those from a mother and grandmother who have been in the restaurant business for years. (Tonya Council’s mother, Spring Council, manages the restaurant now.)
But nature and Tonya Council abhor a vacuum.
“The bakery case in the restaurant was empty, and I got tired of looking at it,” she says.
She aimed high by trying to reproduce her grandmother’s pecan pie recipe in cookie form. And they received high praise from customers and the original inspiration, her grandmother.
“Oh, yeah, she likes the cookies. She’s always saying, ‘You going to bring me some cookies?’ ” Council says.
In September, Council opened a pop-up store at Crabtree Valley Mall called Sweet Tea & Cornbread, which features products made in North Carolina and the South, including Tonya’s Cookies. The store will be open through the holidays.
Debbie Moose is a freelance food writer and cookbook author. She can be reached at debbiemoose.com, Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.
Tonya Council offers these tips for home cookie bakers. For more on Tonya’s Cookies, go to tonyascookies.com.
▪ Refrigerate dough before baking. Chilling helps them hold their shape as they bake.
▪ Cookie scoops, which look like small ice-cream scoops, save time and offer more consistency than spoons.
▪ For all your holiday baking, use the best ingredients that you can get. “Pay top dollar for your ingredients if you want it to be good,” Council says.
▪ Don’t be afraid to experiment. It’s easy to add items such as white chocolate chips or chopped nuts to basic cookies.
▪ Non-stick silicone mats are worthwhile investments. Unlike parchment paper, they’re reusable and guarantee cookies won’t stick.
Grandma’s Pumpkin Pie with Tonya’s Cookies Pecan Crisp Crumbles
Tonya Council was inspired to make her cookies from the baking of her grandmother, Mildred “Mama Dip” Council. For this recipe, she combines a family classic with her Pecan Crisps. Tonya Council adds pecans to the topping as well because, “If you’re like me and love pecans, you can never put too many.” Place the pie on a cookie sheet before putting it in the oven to prevent spills on the oven floor.
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin puree
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 (9-inch) pie crust, unbaked
1 (4-ounce) bag Tonya’s Pecan Crisps, coarsely crumbled
1/4 cup chopped pecans (optional)
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
In a large bowl, whisk together the pumpkin puree, sweetened condensed milk, sugar, eggs, spices and salt until smooth, then pour into the pie crust. Bake for 20 minutes.
At the end of 20 minutes, carefully pull out the oven rack with the pie and sprinkle on the crumbled cookies and chopped pecans, if using. Push the rack back into the oven and continue baking for 20 to 25 more minutes or until the filling is set. Cool to room temperature before serving.
Yield: 8 servings