Jaggery can be either made from palm sap or sugarcane juice. Either should be fine in this recipe so long as it is fairly dark rather than golden in color, and the lumps or cubes are relatively hard, rather than soft or squishy (the latter will contain too much moisture). Or try granulated jaggery that looks and feels similar to regular dark brown sugar. I used the Anand brand (made from cane juice, according to the label) and chose the dark rather than light cubes.
Dusting the tops of cookies, shortbread, or brownies (even chocolate truffles!) with freshly grated or crushed spice adds a layer of fragrance and flavor—like a top note—that creates a sequence of cumulative flavors rather a single blend. It’s a great trick that also lets you experiment by spicing a single cookie before committing to the whole batch! —Alice Medrich
Line the bottom and four sides of and 8x8-inch baking pan with foil. In a medium bowl, combine the melted butter with the grated jaggery, rum, vanilla, and salt. Add the flour and half of the pecans and mix just until incorporated. Pat and spread the dough evenly in the pan. Let stand for at least 2 hours, or overnight (no need to refrigerate).
Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 300° F.
Sprinkle the remaining pecans over the top of the shortbread and press them firmly into the dough. Bake for 45 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven, leaving the oven on. Grate the jaggery over the top and, if desired grate or sprinkle one or two or all of the spices. Let the shortbread cool for 10 minutes.
Use the foil to remove the shortbread from the pan, being careful not to break it. Use a thin sharp knife to cut it into squares. Place the pieces slightly apart on a baking sheet lined with parchment and return to the oven for 15 minutes to toast it lightly. Cool on a rack.
Shortbread keeps for several weeks in an airtight container.
My career was sparked by a single bite of a chocolate truffle, made by my Paris landlady in 1972. I returned home to open this country’s first chocolate bakery and dessert shop, Cocolat, and I am often “blamed” for introducing chocolate truffles to America. Today I am the James Beard Foundation and IACP award-winning author of ten cookbooks, teach a chocolate dessert class on Craftsy.com, and work with some of the world’s best chocolate companies. In 2018, I won the IACP Award for Best Food-Focused Column (this one!).