Arizona: Prickly Pear Orange Pecan Shortbread Thumbprint Cookies

Arizona’s cookie features ground pecans in its shortbread, a vanilla-orange glaze, and a gem-bright dollop of prickly pear jelly.

Recipe source:

What a mouthful of a recipe name for a cookie that’s a pretty small mouthful itself! I’m going to refer to these as Prickly Pear Thumbprints and that’s about it. There’s something to be said for brevity in recipe names. No need to list every ingredient in the name, right?

Besides, the most Arizona ingredient is the prickly pear jelly, which as I mentioned an entry or so ago, I had to special order from Etsy because I live in New England and they just don’t carry that around here. To be fair, though, I bet if someone in Arizona needed real maple syrup for a recipe, they might have to do something similar.

I’ve been meaning to make these for weeks now but something seems to come up every weekend. My timing tends to be lousy too, with the cookies going in the oven just when my baby gets hungry or needs a nap. But usually​ I can at least get stuff mixed while he’s playing or even in his highchair in the kitchen watching me, so maybe I’ll try the next recipe during the week sometime. 

But on to this recipe! It’s similar to cookies my mother makes, a to-die-for, much-requested almond-flavored shortbread thumbprint cookie with raspberry jam and an almond glaze. It’s one of my favorites.

Like most shortbread recipes, this calls for cold, cubed butter. If you do a lot of baking, I can’t recommend this tool highly enough:

It’s called a bench scraper or a bench knife and you can do so much with it: chop nuts or bust up chocolate into smaller pieces, cube butter, cut bread or scone dough, smooth cake frosting, cut brownies or bar cookies, or even just scrape up the mess into a pile and off your counter into the trash. Much better than​ trying to cube butter with a butter knife anyway.

“Chop pecans until fine.”

How fine? This was about when I said “looks good to me.” For such a precise science as baking is, there’s a surprising amount of “good enough” or “looks good to me” going on. We’re not looking for pecan butter, after all. Plus, the baby was giving me the concerned look he gets when I turn on one of my various processors. The only way I can grind coffee without tears is in the bathroom with the fan on or if I look over at him smiling and waving as assurance that no one is getting maimed.

I don’t remember ever using the mixer in a cold butter recipe; usually I’m cutting butter in by hand with a pastry blender (a bench scraper also does this job in a pinch. I’ll never understand why even occasional bakers would use the “two butter knives” method when you can buy at least a cheap pastry blender at the supermarket. I’d rather use my hands to “rub in” the butter – yes, that is a thing – than two knives).

Eventually it does come together.

Another time when the imprecision is mildly annoying: “small cookie scoop.” How small? I have a tablespoon one and a teaspoon one. I went with the tablespoon. Very rarely is the teaspoon one big enough.

This is the part I look forward to sharing with the kiddo when he’s old enough to help in the kitchen. I remember my sister and I helping our mom roll peanut butter blossoms. 

I have found that these skinny little, long-handled “iced tea spoons” are perfect for depositing a little bit of filling right where you need it.

Baking was where things got a little tricky again: “just until cookies are set.” Hard to tell when they’re set. It’s a very dry, clay-like dough and those often seem still raw, then you bake longer and longer, then when they cool they turn into rocks. The same happens with crumb crusts. This recipe has no eggs so butter is basically the only thing holding it together.

I couldn’t remember if this was a before or after baking photo, for instance, until I spotted the green handle of my letter opener in the upper right.

The thing about jelly is it really holds its shape. Jam is more amorphous; it’ll spread into the thumbprint. I thought the jelly would melt in the oven and sink in but either 350°F or 10 min isn’t hot/long enough. So whatever shape the spoon made the chunk of jelly, it stayed that way.

Either 12 min (the length I baked the first tray) isn’t enough time, or these were too big/thick or the moisture of the jam affected it, but the center of the cookies were moister (still raw?) They had a clayey rather than sandy mouthfeel. Tasty, but not what I expect from shortbread. And yes, I did use the correct amount of butter this time. 😛

I could’ve gone with​ a half recipe on the glaze, but I guess some amounts get too small to handle at that size, specifically the extracts. I’m not sure if it’s because my orange extract is a little old (and maybe concentrated with age/evaporation) but the flavor of the glaze was pretty strong. I also had to add more water because with only one tablespoon to a cup of confectionery sugar made it closer to spreadable than drizzly.

They said to use a spoon for a more “rustic” look; I always use a fork. More drizzle.
Overall impression: Tasty but such a small batch! My husband wanted me to make another batch so he could bring more to work (my strategy to avoid us gaining a ton of weight from these experiments is to keep a dozen or so and send the rest in with him). At half a pound of butter each batch, that’s not the cheapest proposition.

I mentioned the clayey mouthfeel. The prickly pear jelly is a unique treat to my New England palate. I’m not sure they really need the glaze, but I forgot to try one without before I glazed them all. They sure are pretty. They’d look nice on a cookie plate.

Next time: Berry Baked Alaska cookies. These are going to be a doozy: they​ involve scoops of ice cream, stuffed with mixed berries, then put onto the cookies, covered with meringue and broiled. They’re “serve immediately” and it only makes six of them! The hubs won’t be taking these in to work…

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