Old-Time Coconut Jumbles

Jumbles are a very old cookie, mentioned in lots of early American cookbooks. This particular version is based on an 1825 recipe for “Jumbals” in Mary Randolph’s The Virginia Housewife (University of South Carolina Press). Food historian Karen Hess notes that their name derives from European versions of the cookie—the Italian ciambelline and the French gimblettes. Usually, the dough was rolled out and cut into thin strips, which were then twisted in knotted forms, such as pretzels or figure eights. Later, ring shapes were more common. The Jumbles in this recipe are simple buttery rounds, topped with coconut, which toasts gently as the cookies bake.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 drops almond extract
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 cups shredded coconut, sweetened or unsweetened
  • ¼ teaspoon nutmeg, preferably grated fresh
  • 1 egg white, lightly beaten

Method

  1. Cream the butter and the sugar in an electric mixer at medium speed until very light, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the vanilla and almond extracts, then the eggs, one at a time. Lower the speed and add the flour, 1 cup of the coconut, and nutmeg, mixing just until well blended, no longer. Chill overnight, or at least 2 hours.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350°F. lightly butter four baking sheets (or sheets of aluminum foil). Divide the dough in quarters. Place one portion of dough on a lightly floured surface, keeping the remainder refrigerated. Roll out the dough to a thickness of ⅜ inch. Cut out 3- to 3½-inch circles with a fluted or plain cookie cutter dipped in flour. Place the cookies on the baking sheets, spacing them about 1 inch apart. Repeat with remaining dough, and reroll chilled scraps.
  3. Brush the cookies with a light coating of egg white; then sprinkle them with the remaining coconut, dividing it evenly. Bake until the edges are lightly golden, about 11 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely; then store.