Memphis family found perfect Hanukkah tradition with pecan cookie recipe 'old as the hills'

From left to right, Aaron Kanowtiz, Mary Kanowitz, Josephine Kanowitz and Ari Kanowitz form Pecan Dream cookies at their home on Friday, Aug. 26, 2022, in Memphis.
Jennifer Chandler
Southern Kitchen

Memphian Mary Kanowitz had a Hanukkah baking dilemma. 

Powdered jelly doughnuts called “sufganiyot” are a traditional treat for the holiday around the world. The fried treats symbolize the miracle of the burning oil lamps in the ancient Holy Temple in Jerusalem. 

Because jelly doughnuts can be labor-intensive to make, many people opt to buy the sufganiyot for their holiday table, rather than make them from scratch.

But Mary wanted to offer a treat at the holidays she could make with her young children.

A recipe that she cooked with her grandmother provided the solution.

“My grandmother’s Pecan Dreams cookies remind me of the powdered doughnuts," she said. “They are crispy and covered in powdered sugar.”

Mary has fond memories of baking these cookies with her grandmother, Myrtle, who said they had been in their family for generations and was "as old as the hills."

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The recipe is also meaningful for her husband, Aaron Kanowitz.

“I first had this cookie the first holiday season I spent with Mary, and we have had them every year since,” he said. “I was blown away by them the first time I tried one. They are so simple, yet they have something so special about them.”

As the Kanowitzes' elementary school-aged children Josephine and Ari each took a bite of the Pecan Dreams, it was obvious from the smiles on their powdered-sugar-covered faces that these cookies are special to them, too.

The two children bake with their mother year-round and take turns on each step in the process so they equally contribute to the fun task.

Ari giggled as he said he enjoys cracking eggs and measuring dry ingredients — then admitted with a mischievous look, “I really just love eating the cookies.”

Josephine said she loves the process of learning.

“I really want to be on a baking show,” she said as she carefully shaped each cookie into a perfect oval.

Now Mary enjoys making these cookies just as much with her children as she did her grandmother.

Josephine Kanowitz, left, and her brother Ari Kanowitz, right, mix the ingredients for Pecan Dream cookies at their home on Friday, Aug. 26, 2022, in Memphis.

"I feel the warmth and spirit of my dear grandma with us every time we make them," she said.

The recipe for this tasty cookie was featured in the Memphis Temple Israel community cookbook "Shalom Y'all: The Jewish Cookbook for Every Generation," published in 2021.

The Pecan Dreams cookies are reminiscent of Southern pecan sandies cookies.  Each bite is buttery, crispy and full of pecans.

Have a napkin handy. Just like with a powdered doughnut, expect to get powdered sugar on your face.

Jennifer Chandler is the Food & Dining Reporter at The Commercial Appeal. She can be reached at and you can follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @cookwjennifer. 

Pecan Dreams

Pecan Dream cookies sit on a platter at the home of Mary Kanowitz and her husband, Aaron Kanowitz, on Friday, Aug. 26, 2022, in Memphis.

Serves 24

½ pound of butter (or a plant-based option)

6 rounded tablespoons powdered sugar

2 cups flour

2 teaspoons vanilla

2 cups coarsely chopped pecans

2 teaspoons water

Preheat oven to 250 F. Mix all ingredients well and roll in the palm of your hand to about the size of a date, yielding approximately 72 cookies. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake slowly in the oven for at least 1½ hours. Test a cookie — they are done if it’s crunchy like pie dough. Roll in powdered sugar while still warm. Cool and serve.

Printed with permission from Mary Kanowitz.