Celebrate the season with these citrus coconut cookies

Citrus coconut cookies: the perfect way to celebrate citrus season. All photos: Moriah VanVleet

My desire to celebrate citrus season usually merges with an urge to bake, and this year was no exception. With a craving for something simple and shortbread-like, this time I reached for coconut oil in place of butter. Alongside citrus 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. A bit of boiling water would help bind the ingredients, while a splash of vanilla would offer a warm flavor. The barely sweet cookies invited a crisp glaze that balanced perfectly with the whisper of salt within.

Rich and zesty, these crunchy coconut cookies are perhaps just as tasty as traditional shortbread—even without the butter. Their quaint, bite-sized form delivers a burst of bright tang together with mellow, creamy coconut. 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.

Citrus coconut cookies

Makes 24 to 26 small cookies

1/3 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
Citrus fruit of your choice (2 lemons or limes; or 1 large orange or grapefruit)
1/3 cup melted coconut oil
1/4 cup granulated sugar*
1 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons scalding hot water
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2/3 cup firmly packed powdered sugar*


Preheat the oven to 325 F.  Spread coconut in a thin, even layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake the coconut until fragrant and edges are becoming golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside.

Increase the oven to 350 F. Rinse, dry, and finely zest peel of the fruit. You’ll need about a heaping tablespoon of zest, loosely packed. Set zest aside; keep the fruit nearby for the glaze.

In a large bowl, whisk together the melted coconut oil and granulated sugar. Sift the flour and salt over the sugar mixture, and stir until a crumbly dough begins to form. Add the scalding hot water and the vanilla. Mix for a few minutes, until the liquid is incorporated into the dough and no traces of flour remain. Add the zest and 1/4 cup of the toasted coconut (set aside the remainder of coconut). Knead the dough with your hands until the ingredients are equally dispersed and the dough sticks together.

Make little cookie spheres using about two teaspoons of dough per cookie; they should each weigh 1/2 ounce (15 grams). Place the cookies on a second parchment-lined cookie sheet, firmly pressing the tops down with the back of a spoon as you go. To prevent the edges from cracking, brace the sides of cookie with your thumb and index finger while pressing with your other hand. This will create little round cookies about 1/3 inch tall and roughly 1 1/3 inches in diameter.

Bake at 350 F until the bottoms of cookies are toasty brown, 15 to 17 minutes. Let cool on the baking sheets, then transfer to a wire rack. The cookies will come to their desired crisp consistency as they cool.

Once the cookies are no longer warm, make the glaze: Juice the fruit (half of it will likely yield plenty). Strain the juice and measure out 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons. Into a medium bowl, sift the powdered sugar. Whisk the measured juice in gradually, stirring well between additions. The glaze should be thick, smooth and pourable but not watery or translucent.

Place the rack of cooled cookies over wax paper, parchment, or a large washable plate or board. With the cookies spaced at least 1/4 inch apart, drizzle each one with about 1/2 teaspoon icing, letting it run off the edges. If needed, scrape up the glaze from under the cookie rack and reuse. While the glaze is still wet, sprinkle each cookie with a pinch of the remaining toasted coconut. Let the cookies dry completely before moving, serving or storing. Keep in sealed containers away from moisture for up to three days.

*For vegan cookies, use sugar that’s labeled vegan, which ensures that its processing does not include the use of bone char.

Moriah VanVleet is the voice behind butter, sugar, flowers where this recipe first appeared.