Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line three baking sheets with parchment paper.
Chop the pecans into small pieces.
Use a hand mixer to cream together the softened butter, vanilla and brown sugar in a large mixing bowl until well mixed and slightly fluffy, 3-4 minutes.
Add the flour and pecans to the bowl and stir together with a spatula.
Once the dough starts coming together, finish by kneading it with your hands for a minute or two until it holds together. It will still be loose and sandy.
Roll the dough into 1-inch balls and place on the parchment lined baking sheets. Use a the bottom of a small glass (or your fingers) to gently flatten the cookies to about ¼ inch thickness. The edges will spread and be rough, the cookies will not remain perfectly round. This is lovely because the rough edges get crispy and delightful.
Bake one sheet pan at a time on the center rack of the oven for 12-14 minutes, until the edges are just beginning to turn golden. As soon as the cookies come out of the oven, sprinkle with flaky sea salt.
Cool the cookies on the baking sheet on top of a wire rack while the next batch bakes. Then gently transfer the parchment with the cookies on it to the rack to finish cooling.
I buy my pecans from Millican Pecan. They are the mother pecan orchard in the U.S. and only sell pecans from the most recent harvest. You can absolutely taste the difference! (Pecans in the grocery store can be up to two years old!! Yuck!)
Even if you are using pecans that are already chopped, I want you to chop them more. You want both small pieces of pecans and those finely ground little bits that happen when you chop them yourself. Those bits get distributed throughout the cookies and act almost like pecan flour, resulting in even more pecan flavor.
When rolling to cookies into balls, you might find that the dough doesn't want to hold together initially, but keep going until it does.
If you find that the cookie wants to stick to the bottom of the glass when flattening, push the glass away from you slightly once you've reached the desired thickness. This should result in the cookie letting go and staying on the parchment. If not, just peel it off the bottom of the glass and put it back on the baking sheet. It might break apart a bit, but just bring it back together with your fingers. These are rustic, they don't have to be absolutely perfect.
Store pecan sandies cookies in an airtight container in a cool place for up to 5 days.
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