As an American expat living abroad, I think it’s only natural to draw comparisons between the food I grew up with in the U.S. and the cuisine that I encounter in my adopted country, Argentina. The first time I saw pepitas at a bakery here, I felt a twinge of nostalgia; I was instantly transported back to my childhood and cookie baking sessions with my mom.
Although her jam thumbprint cookies – the American answer to a pepita – usually cradled a dollop of apricot or raspberry jam, the bakery’s tempting version of the confection, crowned with deep-red dulce de membrillo, looked just as appealing. The rich, subtly sweet shortbread cookie and the quince paste combine for the perfect pairing, and it’s not hard to understand why pepitas have earned a spot as a favorite in Argentine households. Bake up a batch, and they might just become a favorite at your house, too.
Pepitas (Quince Jam Thumbprint Cookies)
2½ cups all-purpose flour 2 Tbsp. cornstarch 1¾ sticks (14 Tbsp.) butter, cold and cubed ½ cup sugar 1 whole egg 1 egg yolk 1 Tbsp. lemon zest 1 tsp. vanilla extract roughly 1 cup quince jam or paste (dulce de membrillo)
In a large bowl, sift the flour together with the cornstarch. Add the cold butter and work it into the flour with two knives or a pastry blender until the dough resembles coarse meal. Add the sugar, the whole egg and the yolk (beat lightly first), the lemon zest, and the vanilla extract, and stir to incorporate. Turn the crumbly dough out onto a clean work surface and knead very lightly – just enough to bring the dough together and evenly distribute the ingredients. Do not overwork the dough.
Divide the dough in half and form two smooth logs. Work on a sheet of plastic wrap or wax paper, and use it to help shape the logs. Wrap the logs and chill them for a minimum of 30 minutes in the refrigerator.
Preheat the oven to 325ºF. If you’re using the firmer quince paste instead of jam, mash it with a fork to a spreadable consistency in order to fill the cookies.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator and unwrap it. Using a sharp knife, slice the logs into rounds that are ¾-inch thick. Place the rounds on an ungreased baking sheet, spacing them about an inch apart. Make an indentation with your thumb in the center of each cookie, and fill with about ½ teaspoon of quince jam or paste.
Bake the cookies for approximately 20 minutes. The cookies are done when they are lightly golden around the edges and pale on top. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack.