For as long as I can remember, Thumbprint Cookies have been my favorite holiday cookie treat. My paternal grandmother started the Thumbprint tradition. The cookies soon became a favorite of her little son Ronny (my dad.) So, of course, my mom had to learn how to make them and carry on the Thumbprint tradition. My mom’s been gone for many years, so the Thumbprint tradition was left to me. I’m certain the tradition will be carried on for generations. My daughter-in-law makes them now, too.
Our Thumbprint cookies are made of a rich, buttery dough that is rolled into a ball, coated with coconut and poked in the middle to make a bowl to hold creamy frosting — red and green, of course. Long ago, my grandma may have used her thumb to push a shallow indentation into each little ball of cookie dough, thus the name Thumbprints. Somewhere along the line, though, my mom began using the end of a wooden spoon for the job. It may have been because the thumb-pressing process doesn’t take place until the cookies have baked for 5 minutes. It makes for a very hot, steamy thumb. Ouch! The end of a wooden spoon creates a space for frosting much too small for my taste. Over the years, I’ve started using the end of the handle on a small Swedish butter knife made of wood. It’s the only thing I ever do with that wooden tool. The rest of the year it stays tucked in a kitchen drawer. The end of that knife makes a large basin to hold lots of frosting. Perfect!
When I gathered with friends a few weeks ago to make Swedish Ginger Snaps, Judy, our host, pulled some holiday cookies from her freezer. At that time, she already had a good start on her Christmas cookie baking. They were not only beautiful, they were delicious. She was kind enough to share the recipes for two kinds of cookies that I wanted to add to my holiday baking list.
I’ve already tried one of the recipes Judy gave me. And, a couple of highly-regarded tasters have already decided these Chocolate Caramel Thumbprints will be granted a spot in our "Keep Forever" Christmas baking file.
Oh, I know they are a little bit putsy to make. But it’s that attention to detail that results in beautiful cookies, which is one of the requirements for any cookie that wants a spot on my Christmas cookie platter.
I’ve started to wonder how it happened that my grandma’s Thumbprint Cookies became a holiday tradition. Where did she get the recipe? Maybe one of her friends shared the recipe with her as they shared holiday treats with one another. Was it a tradition in that friend’s family? So, does that mean there could be other people out there using the exact same recipe at holiday time that my family has been using? I wonder.
Use your thumb or find something else that becomes the official tool for making Thumbprint Cookies. The bigger the indentation, the more caramel filling it will hold. Who knows? Chocolate Caramel Thumbprint Cookies may become one of your holiday traditions.
Chocolate Caramel Thumbprint Cookies
- 1/2 cup butter, room temperature
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 1 egg
- 2 tablespoons milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 16 vanilla caramels, unwrapped
- 3 tablespoons whipping cream
- 1 1/4 cups finely chopped pecans
- 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate morsels
- 1 teaspoon shortening
In a large mixing bowl, beat butter with an electric mixer until creamy. Add sugar and beat well.
Separate egg, setting the egg white aside to use later. Beat in egg yolk, milk and vanilla. In another bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder and salt. Add flour mixture to butter mixture and beat until wll combined. Chill the cookie dough in plastic wrap for at least 2 hours.
In a small saucepan, heat and stir caramels and whipping cream over low heat until mixture is smooth. Set aside.
Shape the dough into 1-inch balls. Slightly beat reserved egg white with a couple of drops of cold water. Roll the dough balls in egg white and then in chopped pecans. Place 1 inch apart on a lightly greased or parchment-lined cookie sheet. Using your thumb, (I use the end of a wooden Swedish butter knife) make an indentation in center of each cookie.
Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for abut 10 minutes, or until edges are firm. Remove from oven and spoon some melted caramel mixture into indentation of each cookie. Transfer cookies to wire rack to cool. (If necessary, reheat caramel mixture to keep it spoonable.)
In another saucepan, heat and stir chocolate morsels and shortening over low heat until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth. Let cool slightly. Transfer the chocolate mixture to a plastic zip-top bag. Close bag and cut a small hole in one corner. Drizzle cookies with chocolate mixture. Let cookies stand until chocolate is set. Makes 36 cookies.
Tips from the cook
- These cookies can be stored in a tightly sealed container in the freezer for a month or two.
- 1 (14-ounce) bag of caramels will be enough to make 3 batches of these cookies.
See the Thumprint Cookies that are a tradition in my family right here.