Sr. Lenore Steilen with a tray of her Pecan Fingers cookies. (Photo courtesy of the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi)
Sr. Lenore Steilen of the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi spends much of her time in November over a mixing bowl, creating her delicious Pecan Fingers for the holidays. Over the years, the treats have graced the Christmas dessert tables of countless numbers of families who have purchased them during cookie sale fundraisers at the congregation’s motherhouse in St. Francis.
“People are so fond of the pecan fingers,” she said recently as she mixed up a batch. “They always tell me they are so good, they melt in your mouth.”
The active 98-year-old baker makes approximately 40 dozen each holiday season.
Sr. Lenore’s talent for baking goes back to childhood, when she learned how to bake while growing up on a farm in South Dakota. She credits her mother for teaching her how to make cookies from scratch, and always by hand. She learned how to make a variety of baked goods, including homemade donuts.
Sr. Lenore discovered the recipe for the sought-after Pecan Fingers seven years ago while working in the kitchen at St. Ann Center for Intergenerational Care in St. Francis, a sponsored ministry of the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi. One day, there was a surplus of powdered sugar in the kitchen, and Sr. Lenore was asked to find a use for it.
She began looking through cookbooks and found the Pecan Fingers in Taste of Home’s “Best of Country Cookies.” She tried the recipe, and it’s been a favorite ever since. She says one of the secrets to baking the cookies just right is to chop the pecans by hand for the desired consistency. As a general rule, she encourages novice bakers to “know your ingredients and always carefully read directions.”
While at St. Ann’s, Sr. Lenore was also known for her scones. Her specialties were almond, lemon, rhubarb raspberry and cherry nut.
These days, Sr. Lenore bakes primarily during the holidays. She is an active resident of Elizabeth Hall, a wing of St. Francis Convent on Lake Drive in St. Francis.
1 cup butter, softened
½ cup confectioners’ sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup finely chopped pecans
Additional confectioners’ sugar
In a mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar. Combine flour and salt; gradually add to creamed mixture. Stir in pecans. Shape tablespoons into 2-inch fingers.
Place 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets. Bake at 350 degrees for 15-18 minutes or until lightly browned. Roll warm cookies in confectioners’ sugar; cool on wire racks. Yield: About four dozen.