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Silkworm is looking for: (1 recommendation)
While recently in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico I fell in love with "Cuca" (or "Cucas" if plural… according to locals), which are VERY hard, about ¼” thick… or thin, lightly browned with darker brown around the edges, 6" or so in diameter round cookies, found, as far as I know, only in Old San Juan. They are often sold by candy vendors who set up booths along the streets during weekends and festivals, and I could find them nowhere else in all of Old San Juan. These vendors make what they sell themselves, including the cookies, which they sell in a stack of about 8 cookies in clear unmarked plastic bags closed with a twist tie. I finally located a similar cookie at the San Juan Airport just before departing. The similar type of bag they were in, although this time printed, said “Cuca de Jengibre” (ginger) and contained slightly thicker browner cookies flavored with ginger instead of cinnamon, but they were close. It seems I may be seeking “Cuca de Canila (cinnamon)? The ginger flavored airport cookies were overpowering. The original cinnamon-ish cookies were delicious despite the lack of an overwhelmingly defined flavor. I have searched and searched for the recipe, as have many others it appears. I did post another recipe search on here for the same cookie, which contains more specifics about them, to which many kind folks replied. By piecing together all that I have found out from them, and through other sites online, particularly the replies to the searching of others for the same cookie, as well as the list of ingredients on the bag of cookies I found at the airport, I think I have enough information to make my first attempt at recreation. One of the replies to my last post asked that I create a new post and keep everyone informed, although being new here I'm not sure where to post… so here I am. If there is somewhere I should write down my recipe tries and hopefully the correct attempt, and at the same time be able to receive feedback, please let me know where that would be. Side Note- I was a chef long ago but have never been a great baker. Being unsure, At All, of the science of baking I would appreciate any advice anyone can provide. Here goes... continued below...

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Last updated: Feb. 8, 2013 6:52 pm
Posted: Feb. 7, 2013 7:54 pm
Commented by: Silkworm
Feb. 7, 2013 7:57 pm
~All of the info/suggestions/potential recipes I used to piece together my mock-recipe stated wheat flour, but from the color of the originals I knew it wasn't entirely wheat. The ones from the airport, which were ginger not cinnamon, were entirely wheat, so I tried a combination (I am attempting to recreate the “original” cinnamon). ~Lard was listed in many of the potential-kind-of-like recipes I saw, and knowing that it has its place in baking despite my dislike for its flavor, I took a chance that it was an important authentic ingredient… but added some butter for part of what I determined was called for. (The lard was a mistake, by the way, at least in larger quantities!) ~I substituted cinnamon for the ginger called for in most of the somewhat-like recipes, added a bit more vanilla than they called for, and added a little almond extract due to my recall of the flavor. ~Some like-recipes called for a little molasses so I added a smidgen of Sorghum Molasses for the sweetness. The original had a unique taste and molasses may have been part of it. ~Recipes I used varied, a majority calling only for baking soda. I added a little baking powder with the primary soda, just because my gut told me to. What I Ended Up With: 2 ½ C. whole wheat flour 1 C. all purpose, unbleached flour ½ t. baking soda ¼ t. baking powder 1 ½ t. ground cinnamon 1/8 t. salt ¾ C. lard ¼ C. softened butter 1 C. packed golden brown sugar 1 egg 1 3/4 t. vanilla extract 1/2 t. almond extract 1 t. sorghum molasses Combined dry. Creamed sugar/lard/butter. Added egg, extract and molasses. Added dry to wet in 4 parts. Formed large ball, wrapped in plastic and placed in freezer until thoroughly chilled (most recipes call for rolling out this dough after chilling and cutting with cookie cutters. The originals were not cookie cut, but I chilled anyway). Rolled cold dough into 1 ½” in diameter balls, placed on insulated cookie sheet, squished as flat as I could, to 1/8” thick (about 1 ½-2” in diameter), baked for approx. 10 minutes at 350 F. I got closer on my first try than anticipated but some adjustments definitely need to be made. HELP! They looked pretty good. Just like the original… thin, very lightly browned in the center with the darker browned crispy edges, although the wheat flour was a mistake (color & texture off from the original). I had read that they needed baked twice to achieve the crispiness. I tried that as well but it made no difference. They were adequately crispy with one baking, although this may be important once I get the recipe right. Problems: Continued again...
Feb. 7, 2013 7:58 pm
Problems: ~Mine were too light and almost “airy”, despite the crispiness (In other circumstances they may have been the perfect crispy cookie consistency). The original was VERY dense and heavy… and for the sake of description… as hard as a rock… almost. No airiness. ¼” or so thick, perhaps slightly thicker, and Large at 6” or so in diameter when baked. I wish I could think of an example, but the best may be a recipe you think turned out wrong. Too hard, too dense, impossible to bite into (at least for me!). Others might crunch into one but likely by using the side of their mouth, the bigger teeth. The original, if you dropped on the floor may have been too thick and dense to break into pieces, but it may have broken once or twice, but it would not have shattered. To eat one most would, with some definite effort, break off a piece by hand and pop it into the mouth for a bit of softening. My cookies turned out with some little air pockets, and though thin enough to snap, they snap easily and melt in the mouth without much effort. Not to keep repeating myself but the key for making these really is to achieve a heavier, slightly thicker and far denser than my recipe provided. I can adjust the flavorings without much difficulty if I can get this right. I wish I had an example but they are unique. Biscotti are NOT a very good example. They are hard and something you wouldn’t really bite into, which is about right, but they have air pockets, if you follow me. The original cuca required some effort to break or chew, even after soaking in the mouth for 10 seconds. They almost appeared to be a batter which had spread in the pan, yet a definitive cookie. That probably doesn’t make any sense. I am wondering if the cookie dough was dough but thinner dough, which made them spread causing thinner outer edges that browned more than the inside. So… *How Do I Achieve Such Dense Heaviness? ~The original was not made of wheat flour, I know now, or at least not entirely. Will use all un-bleached next time, or perhaps ¾ unbleached and ¼ wheat. ~Lard was a mistake. All I can taste is the lard. The flavor could be about right but is impossible for me to tell until I make another batch with No Lard. Hopefully some is not important. Should I Use Crisco, Butter Crisco, Just Butter, or a Combination? Do You Think Some Lard is Important? From what I can tell the dough was close although a thick dough, which I did not anticipate. The edges did brown but were not as wide of an edge as the original. I think it possible the original was dropped by tablespoon while at room temperature and not chilled, balled and squished. I would try this next time but the entire recipe needs some work if the whole wheat flour and lard is to be changed, so I will wait and see what you all have to say. Hopefully I gave you enough information! Thank you to all of you who know what you are doing and are willing to share your experience!
Feb. 8, 2013 2:44 am
I would try some white wheat flour. In another country, they don't have the same standards for milling the flour, and that may help you achieve the heaviness you seek. I would also try to switch the lard/butter amounts, as you probably really want to keep that in there. Instead of sorghum, I'd use molasses, probably increasing the amount to 2 T. Let us know how your next attempt turns out!
Feb. 8, 2013 3:58 am
I would use piloncillo instead of brown sugar, stick with lard but find a good quality product, and omit all the leaveners.
Feb. 8, 2013 4:00 am
Feb. 8, 2013 6:48 am
This is so GREAT! Exactly what I was hoping for. I never thought of using white wheat flour and appreciate hearing an opinion about the lard. I would like to loose it entirely but have a feeling it's important, at least in some amount, and appreciate hearing what others think about it. And the Piloncillo I never knew about! I saw this same cone of sugar (didn't know what it was) sold many places in Old San Juan so that may very well be what was used. Awesome tip! Thank You! That would also account for the slight molasses taste. The pieces of the puzzle are coming together. So many people who are looking for this recipe will be thrilled if we can figure this out... myself included!
Feb. 8, 2013 7:33 am
Cutting back on the leavening agents might solve the density problem. And as you probably know, King Arthur has White Whole Wheat flour, and I noticed that when I subbed it for white flour in my biscuits, they didn't rise quite as much and were a tannish color. Good luck with your experiments. I'm going out now to shovel snow (I live in Maine)!
Feb. 8, 2013 6:52 pm
I am sorry I am not familiar with the hard candy you mentioned. Cucas are definitely a cookie, at least they sure looked like one to me, just far larger than most. Round, very, very lightly browned, kind of like the color of a home made chocolate chip cookie when just barely done (without the chips of course... just relaying the color... nothing else was like a chocolate chip cookie, unless a really, really stale one that was dense and without any nuts and chips!). The edges were darker (browned) and in some cases a bit thinner than the center. You could tell they had not been cut with a cookie cutter but had spread a bit on the pan while baking. Their large size likely made the baking process take a bit longer, causing the edges to brown. One trick may be finding the right method/temperature for baking these so the edges and bottom do not brown too much. I am wondering if they puff while baking and flatten and harden while cooling. One of the somewhat-like recipes I found said this would happen. What I liked the best was the hardness. I liked breaking off a almost rock hard piece and savoring the flavor while it softened in my mouth until I could chew it (Ok, sometimes I crunched fairly quickly despite my dental work).... and it takes a minute to really taste the flavor. My traveling companion didn't like them saying that they didn't taste like anything, but to me, after a little soak, yum! In my original post I may have added something extra about the flavor, but at first they seemed to have no flavor, then a unique taste, and a very subtle combination, or perhaps a lack of combinations actually! It may be the lack of many ingredients that make them so good! That's entirely possible. Just a cookie (not a sugar cookie) with a tiny hint of probably vanilla, a little cinnamon, and maybe almond or molasses? I think these are simple cookies made by simple people in a simple way. I did not meet one vendor who made these who spoke more than broken English, and they all had tons of other candies and confections that they made, all authentic. This has to be a recipe that has been passed down through the generations, but I did locate them from more than one vendor, and did find something similar at the airport, so more than one person knows how to make them. It can't be one families' secret. The tip about the Piloncillo may be exactly the type of thing I need to learn. These cookies are likely inexpensive to make , fairly easy, and made with common-to-the-area ingredients. I need to do some research on their common baking ingredients and spices, their molasses, if they use that, etc... My guess is that we need to think "simple." No leavening at all may be the solution to the incredible heaviness and denseness, and the Poloncillo and maybe some vanilla and cinnamon may be all that is needed to produce the flavor. I sure do appreciate the help! My next batch will be with white wheat flour, no leaving, Piloncillo as the sugar, some vanilla and cinnamon, and will drop by tablespoons while batter is at room temperature. I have no idea what to do about the lard/butter concern. I guess I'll need an egg and salt. What do you think about the lard? I am SO thankful so many are interested... and helping. Thank You!
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