Classic thumbprint cookies get an even more festive holiday twist with the addition of cranberry sauce as the filling! To make these cranberry thumbprint cookies even more special, they are rolled in nuts and drizzled with a sweet glaze.
Note: this post was originally published in 2019 and was updated in 2020 with new photos and improved instructions.
Thumbprint cookies are a classic for the holidays, and I am so excited to share this thumbprint cookie recipe with you, because it's definitely a classic! Check this out:
This is a page from my mom's homemade cookbook! Back in the 70's, my mom had the great idea to collect family recipes from her mother, aunts and other family members and typed them all out to preserve them. She actually hand-typed each page herself (with about 50 pages total!). And, then she typed up two more copies for each of her sisters. She has let me hang on to her cookbook for the last few years and it is so precious to me.
If you want to see another adaptation from my mom's family cookbook, check out my recipe for Crazy Crust Apple Pie!
But, to be fair, some of the instructions and ingredients are a little imprecise. (There isn't even a bake time!) So, I pinned down some of the details on this recipe, while adding in a bit of my own flair, including a tangy cranberry center and a touch of cinnamon for an extra-special dash of holiday flavor.
These thumbprint cookies are a classic for a reason, they are so tasty! The cookie is soft but crumbly, kind of like a shortbread but more tender. The flavor is delicate and not too sweet, but a bit complex thanks to the brown sugar. And of course, it's all rounded out by that tangy and sweet cranberry sauce. If it's been a while since you've made thumbprint cookies, or haven't tried a cranberry thumbprint cookie, I hope you like this (slightly updated) classic recipe!
- Brown sugar: the original recipe doesn't specify, but I like using dark brown sugar because it adds just a little bit deeper flavor than light brown sugar.
- Vanilla: you can also substitute a different extract; almond extract would be nice here!
- Chopped almonds: feel free to substitute whatever kind of nuts you prefer. If you want a nice green/red holiday look, try using pistachios!
- Cranberry Sauce: you will need the smooth (not whole-berry) canned cranberry sauce. If you like, you can substitute jam instead.
Step by step photos
1. Cream together softened butter and brown sugar.
2. Mix in the egg yolk and vanilla.
3. Add the flour, cinnamon and salt. Mix together until the flour is fully incorporated.
4. Roll the dough into 12 balls and place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.
5. Roll each ball in the egg white, then the chopped nuts.
6. Press your thumb into the center of each cookie dough ball to make the indent. I like to go at a more upright angle to get a more rounded indent. This will lessen the chance that you will split the edge of the cookie when pressing down.
If that does happen, however, don't worry! This dough is pretty soft so you can just go back and press that broken part back together.
7. Spoon a small amount of the cranberry sauce into each indent, then bake in the preheated oven until the nuts look toasty and the bottoms of the cookies are browned.
8. While the cookies are baking, mix up the water and powdered sugar and place in a zip-top bag.
9. After the cranberry thumbprint cookies have cooled, drizzle on the glaze and enjoy!
Tips and tricks
These cookies are easy to make, and would be a fun project to do with kids! But, here are a couple tips to help you make this recipe perfectly the first time:
How to soften butter in the microwave
This recipe calls for softened butter, but what if you forgot to take your butter out of the fridge ahead of time? Happens to me all the time! Here is what I do to soften butter in the microwave:
- Cut the butter up into small chunks and place into a microwave-safe bowl. If you want to save yourself a dirty dish, use a large bowl so you can mix the rest of the cookie dough right in the same bowl.
- Microwave on 30% power for 15 seconds, remove and stir.
- Continue microwaving in 15 second increments at 30% power, stirring in between, until the butter is softened. For 1 stick of butter, this took me three 15 second increments.
Other helpful tips
- Roll all of the cookie dough into balls before dipping into the nuts. That way, if you realize you made some of the balls too big or small, you can pinch some off the larger balls and reshape. This will be much harder to do if you've already coated the cookie balls in nuts!
- You can prepare the glaze while the cookies are baking. But, put it into the zip-top bag right away (or cover the bowl) so it doesn't start to dry out. If you don't have or want to use the bag, you can just drizzle the glaze over the cookies with a spoon.
- Here is an easy way to get the glaze into the zip-top bag without making a mess. Grab the corner of the bag with one hand, making a cup shape with your fingers. Then fold the top of the bag over your hand and spoon the glaze into the corner of the bag. When all the glaze is in, fold the top edges of the bag up.
- I like to drizzle on the glaze when the cookies are on the cooling rack, because the glaze wraps around the edges of the cookie nicely and the excess will drip down rather than pooling. But, I recommend having a piece of parchment paper underneath to catch the mess!
- If you want to get a perfect glaze drizzle, only snip a very small hole in the corner of the bag. And squeeze some out on the parchment paper first so you can test the flow of the glaze.
I know many people store their thumbprint cookies made with jam at room temperature, but I like to store these cranberry-filled ones in the fridge. I've got my bases covered from a food safety perspective that way, since I don't know for sure whether cranberry sauce performs the same way as jam in terms of safety at room temperature. Plus, the cookies seem to stay fresher for a bit longer that way. My cookies have been staying fresh for about 3 days when stored in the fridge.
Make sure you keep the cookies in an airtight container so they don't dry out. If you want to stack the cookies, make sure the glaze is completely hardened first. Then add parchment paper between each layer to keep the cookies from sticking together.
Yes you can freeze them! I will say that sometimes the cranberry sauce can bleed into the edges of the cookie a little bit once it thaws, so it may not look "picture perfect" as if they were fresh. But, they will still taste delicious.
To freeze the cookies, wait until they are fully cooled and the glaze has totally set. Then, stack them in a food storage container, separating the layers with parchment paper. Alternatively, you can wrap the cookies individually in plastic wrap. These cookies should keep well in the freezer for up to 3 months.
Yes, as I mentioned in the Ingredient notes section, you can use any type of jam or jelly you like instead of the cranberry sauce. You could also use homemade cranberry sauce instead of canned if you like. However, if your homemade sauce is wetter than a typical jam, for instance, I would strain it first, because if the filling is too wet it can make the cookie soggy.
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Buttery cookies are coated in chopped nuts and filled with cranberry sauce, and then drizzled with a simple glaze for added sweetness.
- ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
- ¼ cup packed dark brown sugar
- 1 large egg, separated
- ½ teaspoon vanilla (can substitute almond extract)
- 1 cup all purpose flour (spooned and leveled)
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
- ½ cup finely chopped almonds or other nuts
- 3 tablespoons canned jellied cranberry sauce
- ½ cup powdered sugar, plus more if needed
- 2 teaspoons water
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
2. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
3. In a large bowl, cream butter and brown sugar together with a wooden spoon. Separate the egg and place the yolk in with the creamed butter and sugar. Place the egg white into a separate small bowl. Stir in the egg yolk into the butter and sugar mixture until fully incorporated.
4. Add the vanilla to the mixture and stir to combine.
5. Add the flour, salt, and cinnamon into the wet ingredients and stir to combine, using your hands to incorporate the final bit of flour if necessary.
6. Roll the dough into 12 balls approximately 1 ½ inches in diameter, place on the cookie sheet.
7. Dip each ball into the reserved egg white and then into the chopped nuts. Roll the cookie ball around in the nuts until evenly coated and place back on the cookie sheet.
8. Press your thumb at an upward angle into the center of each ball to make an indent, but stop before pressing all the way through to the bottom. If any of the cookie edges split when making the indents, press the split edges back together gently.
9. Fill each indent with about ¾ teaspoon cranberry sauce.
10. Bake in the preheated oven for 13 - 15 minutes or until the nuts are golden brown and the bottom of the cookies are a medium brown color. Let sit on the cookie sheet for about 5 minutes, then move onto a cooling rack.
11. In a small bowl, mix together the powdered sugar and water. The glaze should be pourable but not watery. If needed, you can add 1 - 2 additional teaspoons of powdered sugar or a couple more drops of water to obtain the correct consistency. Add glaze to a small zip top bag. When the cookies are cool, snip a tiny hole in the corner of the bag and drizzle glaze over top of the cookies.
You can use your favorite type of jam or jelly instead of the cranberry sauce. If you would like to substitute homemade cranberry sauce, strain out the liquid first to prevent the cookies from getting soggy.
If you don't want to use a zip top bag to drizzle the glaze, you can just drizzle it on with a spoon instead.
I like to store these cookies in the fridge, in an airtight container. You can also freeze the cookies. To package them for the freezer, wait until they are fully cooled and the glaze has totally set. Then, stack them in a food storage container, separating the layers with parchment paper. Alternatively, you can wrap the cookies individually in plastic wrap. These cookies keep well in the freezer for 2 - 3 months.
Keywords: thumbprint cookies, thumb print cookies, cranberry thumbprint cookies, cranberry almond thumbprint cookies