Finding new cookies for holiday baking is a passion. While all of us in this house enjoy traditional cookie recipes, sometimes we’ll find one – or two – that seem to be stand-outs. This recipe for a twist on the Mexican sweet bread, concha, was published in the Washington Post food section and comes via Isabel Coss, pastry chef at Washington DC’s Lutèce.
The cookie is made in two parts: a buttery sugary base flavored with orange blossom water and orange rind while the craquelin crust is a vanilla infused butter-sugar crust. The trademark shell swirl is created with the help of a 2 1/2 inch Concha cutter. My cookies were quite a bit rounder and less flat than the recipe photographs – something to work on for next time around.
From Isabel Coss
Ingredients for the crust
- 1 c (125 grams) all-purpose flour
- 2/3 c (133 grams) granulated sugar
- Generous 1/3 cup (80 grams) vegetable shortening (may substitute softened unsalted butter) [I used unsalted butter]
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 to 2 drops pink gel food coloring (optional; may use other color of your choice)
Ingredients for the cookie
- 2 -1/3 c (300 grams) cake flour, plus more as needed
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/4 tsp fine salt
- 11 TBSP (155 grams) unsalted butter, softened
- 3/4 c (150 grams) granulated sugar
- 1 large egg, at room temperature (I used an egg substitute to accommodate allergy)
- 1 tsp orange blossom water (online or Middle Eastern Markets)
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- Finely grated zest of 1 orange (about 1 tsp)
Making the Crust
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or using a large bowl and a hand mixer, beat together the all-purpose flour, sugar, shortening and vanilla on medium speed until a soft dough forms, 3 to 4 minutes.
- Add the food coloring, if using, and mix again on medium until evenly distributed. (You can also divide the crust in half and add the coloring to one portion to get conchas of two colors.) You need the fat to emulsify, so don’t worry about overmixing.
- Transfer to a medium bowl and wipe out the mixer bowl to make the cookie dough.
Making the Cookies
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the cake flour, baking powder and salt until thoroughly combined.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the butter and sugar on medium until smooth, creamy and somewhat fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the egg and beat again on medium until combined, followed by the orange blossom water, vanilla and orange zest, and mix again until incorporated; scrape down the bowl.
- Add the flour mixture to the bowl and mix on medium-low until a soft dough forms, 1 to 2 minutes. Cover the bowl and refrigerate the dough for 1 hour.
Assembling and Baking
- Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Line two large, rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.
- Use your hands to pull off heaping 1-tablespoon (25-gram*) portions of dough and roll them into smooth balls about 1 inch wide, setting them about 2 inches apart on the prepared sheets. Using your palm, gently press to flatten until they are a little less than 2 inches width
- Pull off 2-teaspoon (10-gram*) portions of the crust mixture and roll into smooth balls. Press between your hands and flatten into something like a small tortilla, placing each portion on top of the individual dough balls.
- Aim to have the crust portions slightly wider than the cookie balls so that when placed on top, they drape over the sides somewhat.
- In a bowl or in a little pile on the counter, dip the concha cutter in a few tablespoons of cake flour. Use the cutter to press the seashell pattern on top of the dough balls. Press just hard enough to flatten the cookies a bit more and leave an imprint on the surface. Don’t cut all the way down. Be sure to dust the cutter before you press each dough ball.
- Bake the two sheets for 9 to 12 minutes, just until the edges of the cookies start drying, rotating from top to bottom and front to back halfway through. You don’t want to add much color to the cookies.
- Let the cookies rest on the pan for a few minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
* Highly recommend using a scale to weigh out the 25- and 10-gram portions for the cookie and crust respectively. I think this is why my cookies ended up a bit too large.