Thumbprint cookies are a classic for the holidays, and I am so excited to share my 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 gather up 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. This is truly amazing to me and I’m so glad she did this. She has let me hang on to her cookbook for the last few years and it is so precious to me.
But, to be fair, some of the instructions and ingredients are a little imprecise. (There isn’t even a bake time!) So, I took a crack at pinning down some of the details on this old thumbprint cookie recipe, while adding in a bit of my own flair.
These thumbprint cookies may have been around a long time but they are far from boring! The cookie has a soft but crumbly texture, kind of like a shortbread but more tender. The cookie flavor is delicate and not too sweet, but a bit complex thanks to the brown sugar (and cinnamon – that’s my addition!). The tangy jam (or cranberry sauce) center complements the buttery cookie, and the simple glaze adds some interest and an extra bit of sweetness. And finally, the chopped nuts provide some added crunch. If you’ve never made thumbprint cookies before, or if it’s been a while, I hope you like this (slightly updated) classic recipe!
Thumbprint Cookie Ingredients
Here are the basic ingredients you will need to make this recipe:
- Butter: unsalted
- Brown sugar: the original recipe doesn’t specify, but I like using dark brown sugar
- Vanilla: you can also substitute a different extract; almond extract would be nice here!
- Flour: all purpose. The original recipe calls for “1 cup sifted flour.” I’m not sure if the sifting is done before or after measuring. But, I actually really don’t like sifting and avoid it when I can! I just measured 1 cup of flour, no sifting, and this worked perfectly.
- Salt: my mom’s recipe doesn’t even specify how much salt, but I found 1/4 teaspoon was just enough. I used regular, fine grain salt.
- Chopped nuts: I used almonds, but feel free to use whatever kind you prefer. If you want a nice green/red holiday look, try using pistachios.
- Jam/Jelly/Cranberry Sauce: The most important part of the cookie! I know it’s not traditional, but I used canned cranberry sauce here (the smooth kind) instead of jam. It has a beautiful color and a nice Thanksgiving/Christmas vibe. But you can use any kind of jam or jelly you like, except I recommend not using a low-sugar type jam, as these tend to be more watery and could make the cookie too soggy.
- Powdered sugar: this is mixed with water to make a glaze and squeezed over the top of the baked cookie. Again, this was not in the original recipe, but I think it really adds some nice visual interest. And, the added sweetness works well too because the cookie itself isn’t super sweet.
- Cinnamon: this is an optional addition – I think it pairs nicely with the cranberry sauce if using, giving the cookie some extra “holiday” pizzazz!
Tips for Making Thumbprint Cookies
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.
How to Make a Thumbprint for Thumbprint Cookies
So, you could use a teaspoon, and this would make very beautiful, even depressions. But, it’s called a thumbprint cookie! So, I like to use my thumb because it’s more fun. Rather than pressing straight down with a flat thumb, however, I like to go in on a more upright angle, like this:
This makes a more rounded indent, therefore lessening 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.
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 so it doesn’t start to dry out.
- 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 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.
How to Store Thumbprint Cookies
First of all, you should always store cookies in an airtight container; this keeps the cookies fresh and prevents them from getting stale. 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.
Do You Need to Refrigerate Thumbprint Cookies?
Obviously, my mom’s recipe doesn’t say anything about storing. When my made these when I was a kid, we always left them out at room temperature for a few days. (They didn’t last more than that in our house!) But I started to wonder about whether this was safe. I mean, I always store jars of jam in the fridge, not the counter.
So, I did a lot of research on this, and it seems like the general consensus is that if you are using a high sugar, low moisture jam without a lot of fruit chunks (or smooth, canned cranberry sauce like I’m using here, which has a LOT of sugar haha), it’s ok to store the cookies at room temperature in an airtight container.
For example, this recipe for Butter and Jam Thumbprint Cookies from Food Network says they can be kept on the counter for 5 days, and I trust in the authority of the Food Network! In my experience, my recipe for thumbprint cookies taste the best if eaten within 3 days when kept at room temperature. Although I will say, if you are at all unsure or uncomfortable about the idea of leaving them at room temperature, just go ahead and keep the cookies in the fridge. No harm no foul!
(Also, in my research, it seems like some people maybe do store jam on the counter? Jam is included on this article’s list of 22 Foods You Don’t Have to Store in the Fridge.) What do you all think? Do you or would you store jam on the counter? I’m dying to know!
Freezing Thumbprint Cookies
You can freeze these cookies too! Once they are cool and the glaze has fully set, stack them in a food storage container, separating the layers with parchment paper just as you would to store them on the counter, and then freeze.
Or, lay them out on a cookie sheet and freeze them. Then, once they are frozen through, you can transfer them into a large zip top bag. The cookies should last between 2 – 3 months in the freezer.
If you’ve tried this recipe for Thumbprint Cookies, please let me know what you thought about it in the comments down below, I would love to hear from you! You can also follow me on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest to see more delicious recipes from Nibble and Dine!
For more delicious easy dessert ideas, check these favorite recipes out:Print
Buttery cookies are coated in chopped nuts and filled with your choice of jam (I like to use cranberry sauce!) and drizzled with a simple glaze for added sweetness.
- 1/2 c. (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
- 1/4 c. packed dark brown sugar
- 1 egg, separated
- 1/2 tsp. vanilla (can substitute almond extract)
- 1 c. all purpose flour
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 1/4 tsp. cinnamon (optional)
- 1/2 c. finely chopped almonds or other nuts
- 3 tbsp. jam or canned jellied cranberry sauce
- 6 tbsp. powdered sugar
- 2 tsp. water
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
2. Line a baking pan 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 until evenly incorporated into the butter and sugar mixture.
4. Add the vanilla to the mixture and stir to combine.
5. Add the flour, salt, and cinnamon (if using) 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 1/2 inches in diameter, place on the baking tray.
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 baking tray.
8. Press thumb at an upward angle into the center of each ball to make an indent. (If any of the cookie edges split when making the indents, press the split edges back together gently.)
9. Fill each indent with about 3/4 tsp. cranberry sauce or jam.
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 baking tray for about 5 minutes, then move onto a cooling rack.
11. In a small bowl, mix together the powdered sugar and water. 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.
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