Thumbprint Cookies

Below is the recipe as it appears in A Baker’s Field Guide to Christmas Cookies. I like them equally with pecans or walnuts, so you truly can make that decision per your taste. The photo shows walnuts, which will look a bit lighter in color. As you can see, I used two flavors of filling, which is really just as easy as one, so plan on it, if not even three or four flavors! Depending on how chilled the dough is when it goes in the oven, the indentation may or may not remain as defined as you would like. Halfway through the baking time, re-press the indentation for good measure if it seems to be disappearing. The photo shows homemade/homegrown fig conserves from my dear friend Diane Neas and a gorgeous, deep purple damson plum jam, which my cousin Judith Jackson made. The plums were from her Massachusetts garden and she left the skins on, which I found to be fabulous for texture.

Habitat: United States

Description: These are a rich pecan cookie that you roll into a ball, roll in extra chopped pecans and then make a “thumbprint” indentation in the center of each cookie. After baking you can fill them with jam, lemon curd or chocolate. Kids seem to have a special affection for them.

Historic Notes: Many countries have cookies that involve making an indentation, or thumbprint, which are then filled with jam or other sweet filling. The Austro-Hungarians have Hussaren cookies, which were named for the buttons on Hussar’s military uniforms.

Special Characteristics: Dough may be frozen, Fun to make with kids


2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 cup pecan or walnut halves, finely chopped

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into tablespoon-sized pieces

1/2 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 large egg


1 3/4 cup pecan or walnut halves, finely chopped

Jam, marmalade, lemon curd or chocolate ganache


Whisk flour and baking powder together in a small bowl to aerate. Stir in nuts; set aside.

Place butter in bowl of mixer and beat with flat paddle on medium-high speed until creamy, about 2 minutes. Add sugar gradually and continue beating until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes, scraping down the bowl once or twice; beat in vanilla extract. Beat in egg.

Turn machine off, add about one-third of the flour mixture, then turn machine onto low-speed. Gradually add remaining flour, mixing just until blended, scraping down bowl once or twice. Scrape dough onto large piece of plastic wrap. Use wrap to help shape a large, flat disc then cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least 1 hour or until firm enough to roll. Dough may be refrigerated overnight. (You may freeze dough up to 1-month double wrapped in plastic wrap; defrost in refrigerator overnight before proceeding).

Position racks in lower third and upper third of oven. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line two half-sheet pans with parchment paper.

For the Topping: place chopped nuts in a small bowl.

Roll dough between your palms with lightly floured hands into 1-inch balls, then roll in chopped nuts to cover completely. Place on prepared cookie sheets 2-inches apart. Make an indentation with your thumb or finger in the center of each cookie to make a deep well going about three-quarters of the way down into the cookie.

Bake about 15 minutes or until the cookies are very light golden brown and dry to the touch. They should retain their shape if you lift them up to look at the light brown bottoms. Place pans on rack and immediately fill the indentations with jam or filling of your choice. Allow cookies to cool completely on the pans. (Cookies may be stored at room temperature in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks; these are best stored in single layers separated by waxed or parchment paper).

Yield: 64 cookies

Good Cookie Tip: These are best filled in one of two ways. Most simply, you can use a teaspoon or a tiny demitasse spoon to help get the filling into the wells of the cookies. Or, you can fill a parchment cone with your filling of choice, snip the end to make a large hole and pipe the filling in.