I love grapefruit, especially in the winter. Its unique flavor and tangy, juicy qualities are refreshing like no others. I’d been itching to make a new dessert with it recently — and since I usually have numerous baking daydreams going simultaneously, it was no surprise that my citrus craving merged with another yummy yearning: shortbread. So indulgent yet so simple, flour, sugar and a whole lot of butter are baked into cookie bliss. But this time, I wanted to make shortbread with coconut oil instead of butter; I had a fresh jar of it ready, and a dairy-free friend of mine was back in town.
Alongside the grapefruit zest, adding some toasted coconut seemed like a perfect match — one that would offer a soft balance to the tartness while echoing the oil’s essence. Still, I was skeptical about how the oil would behave in a dough that normally depends on butter to hold it together. Far more than butter, coconut oil liquefies almost instantly when heated, just as is solidifies quickly when chilled. I’ve enjoyed baking with it many times, but mostly in cakes that also contain eggs and other liquids to bind the ingredients. As for shortbread, I pictured little puddles of dough once it hit the oven. But then I pondered a simple solution: could water (missing from oil but present in butter) help do the trick? Well, it worked: a bit of boiling water made for successful (and utterly scrumptious) cookies that held their shape well. And without any eggs or butter, they were vegan, too.
- 1/3 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/3 cup melted coconut oil
- 3 tablespoons scalding hot water
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 and 1/3 cup flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 medium to large grapefruit (about 10-12 ounces)
- 2/3 cup firmly packed powdered sugar** (for glaze)
Preheat oven to 325 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Spread coconut in a thin, even layer on lined baking sheet. Bake coconut for about 3 – 5 minutes, until fragrant and edges are becoming golden brown. Remove from oven and set aside. Increase oven heat to 350 F. Rinse, dry, and finely zest the peel of the grapefruit. You should have about a heaping tablespoon of zest, loosely packed. Set zest aside; keep the zested grapefruit nearby for the glaze (see below).
In a large bowl, whisk together the oil and sugar until even. Sift the flour and salt over the sugar mixture, and stir until a crumbly dough forms. Add the scalding hot water and the vanilla. Mix for a few minutes, until liquid is incorporated into dough. Add the zest and 1/4 cup of the coconut (set aside the remainder of the 1/3 cup). Knead dough with hands until ingredients are equally dispersed and dough sticks together.
Make little cookie spheres using two teaspoons dough a piece; they should each weigh 0.5 ounce or 15 grams. Place them on the parchment lined cookie sheet, firmly pressing tops down with the back of a spoon as you go along. To prevent the edges from cracking, brace sides of cookie with thumb and index finger while pressing with the other hand. This will create little round cookies about 1/3″ tall, with a roughly 1 and 1/3 inch diameter. Bake at 350 for about 15-17 minutes, until bottoms of cookies are toasty brown. Let cool on baking sheets, then transfer to wire racks. Cookies will come to their desired crisp consistency as they cool.
Once cookies are no longer warm, make the glaze: Juice the grapefruit (half of it will likely yield enough juice). Strain juice and measure out 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons. Into a medium bowl, sift the powdered sugar. Whisk the juice in gradually, stirring well between additions: 1 tablespoon, then 1 teaspoon, then the second teaspoon if glaze doesn’t seem too thin already. It should be pourable but not water-like or clear. Whisk until smooth and even.
Place the racks of cooled cookies over wax paper, parchment, or a large washable plate or board. Make sure cookies are spaced at least 1/4 inch apart from one another. Drizzle each cookie with about 1/2 teaspoon icing, pouring the spoonful directly over each cookie and letting it run off edges. If needed, scrape up the glaze from under the cookie rack and reuse. While glaze is still wet, sprinkle each cookie with a tiny pinch of the remaining toasted coconut. Let glaze dry completely before eating.
Crisp, rich and citrusy, these creamy coconut cookies are perhaps even tastier than traditional shortbread—even without the butter. Their satisfying crunch is perfectly delivered a beautiful, bite-sized format. The hint of tangy grapefruit and the soft, toasty coconut prove to perform a well-balanced and delicious duet to every last crumb. They’ve been happily devoured by both vegans and butter-addicts, coconut lovers and citrus fanatics, sweet-toothed and savory snackers. I hope you enjoy them, too.
** Maybe next time…If keeping these cookies vegan is important to you, look for vegan powdered sugar for the glaze (much conventional powdered sugar is apparently exposed to animal products when processed). If another citrus fruit is calling to you over grapefruit, feel free to use lemon, lime or orange in its place — any of these would be fantastic and would complement the coconut wonderfully. This cookie dough is a little bit lumpy by nature, but it holds its shape well; so if you don’t mind slightly bumpy tops, you could roll and cut these cookies into shapes if you wish. These cookies are truly tiny at only two teaspoons of dough each; if you want to make them larger, feel free — but remember that the recipe will yield fewer cookies and they’ll need to be baked longer.