Thumbprint Cookies

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These colorful thumbprint cookies are a classic holiday treat to share! The crisp, buttery texture is perfect for adding your favorite flavor of jam.

Thumbprint cookies with red and yellow centers.
Table of Contents
  1. Cream the butter and sugar
  2. Properly incorporating the eggs
  3. Flour selection
  4. Shape and indent the dough
  5. Add the jam
  6. Baking tips
  7. Ways to customize the cookies
  8. Frequently asked questions
  9. Thumbprint Cookies Recipe

When you’re thinking about what sweet treat to share for this year’s cookie exchange or holiday party, thumbprints are a classic option! They are straightforward to make. It’s very similar to a shortbread cookie, just a combination of butter, sugar, flour, and egg. That’s it!  

Once you make the cookie dough base, you can have fun customizing the flavors, like making a peanut butter and jelly version. I’m a fan of using a variety of colorful jams like strawberry, apricot, raspberry, or orange marmalade to fill the tiny pockets. The surface of the fruit filling slightly caramelizes during baking and provides a nice chewy texture with each bite.

Portions of ingredients with labels above each to make cookies.

Cream the butter and sugar

It’s vital to soften the butter to just below room temperature, between 65 to 67ºF (18 to 20ºC). This process is essential for the structure of the cookies. The butter should be malleable enough to whip together with the sugar and firm enough to form air pockets. The fat from the butter will give a light and crisp texture without adding baking soda or powder.

Properly incorporating the eggs

It’s best to use room-temperature eggs so that it’s easier for the egg whites and yolks to incorporate quickly into the batter. Cold eggs will make the butter very clumpy. The eggs add additional fat to complement the buttery flavor. The whites bind all the ingredients together and help trap air during mixing for a natural leavening agent.

You don’t want the cookies to spread out or puff up like chocolate chip cookies, so we skip the chemical leavening agents. The salt and vanilla extract are added to the wet eggs to help them dissolve quicker.

Flour selection

The dough should have a clay-like texture and be soft enough to roll and shape into a ball. I use all-purpose flour because it has a moderate level of protein, 10 to 13%. This amount will help with gluten-formation in the dough while providing flexibility. Although, when adding in the flour to the stand mixer, slowly incorporate it and don’t over mix! You want the texture light and crisp, not hard.

Shape and indent the dough

The great thing about this recipe is you don’t have to chill the dough. Measure out 1 tablespoon-sized balls and roll them between your palms. You have a few options to press an indent in the center of the cookie. The easiest method, which the cookie is named after, is to press your thumb straight down into the dough. This technique creates a little pocket for the jam. I make sure the well is even all around. 

The cookie should spread out to about 1 1/2-inches in diameter. If needed, gently press the surface to flatten it out slightly. The goal is to get about ½ teaspoon of jam in the center. Too little, and it will dry and taste chewy. So don’t be shy. Make a larger indent as needed. Other options are to use the bottom of a 1/4-inch round teaspoon or the bottom of a wooden spoon. 

Pressing a thumb into a sheet tray of dough balls.
Step 4. Indent the cookies

Add the jam

Lots of options for this. I use jam because it’s mixed with small chunks of fruit. Strawberry, apricot, guava, or raspberry jam are popular choices, or you can use a variety for a colorful presentation. If you find it hard to pipe, you can strain the jam through a small strainer before using it. Jelly is also a good option for a completely smooth texture. 

Not that preserves will be chunkier, so I would save that for muffins and toast. If you like seeds, go ahead and leave them in the jam, it will give a nice texture contrast. When filling the indent, add enough, so it’s a little higher than the rim, about ½ teaspoon. The jam loses moisture and shrinks slightly as the cookies bake. Adding in extra creates an area underneath the surface that’s still soft and jammy.

Baking tips

When ready to bake, these cookies will not get golden brown on the surface. They stay more ivory in color because there is no baking soda accelerating the browning process. The moisture released from the jam also causes the top to be paler in color. The edges and bottoms will get lightly golden since they directly contact the hot baking sheet. They are ready once the tops set, about 12 to 14 minutes.

Let them sit on the warm pan for 5 minutes for a crispier texture. Although eating them immediately is tempting, they taste better when cooled completely on a wire rack. The cooling duration gives the butter and sugar time to meld together and solidify, giving a more pronounced buttery, sweet taste and snappy texture.

Ways to customize the cookies

  • Roll the dough in granulated sugar, colored sanding sugar, round nonpareils, or jimmies for a more festive look.
  • Finely chop up nuts like pecans, walnuts, peanuts, or almonds and roll the dough balls in them.
  • Add different fillings like chocolate ganache, lemon curd, unique jams like fig and guava, or apple butter.
  • Drizzle some icing on top!
  • Sprinkle a dusting of powdered sugar.
Colorful thumbprint cookies on a parchment paper lined sheet pan.

Frequently asked questions

Do you fill thumbprint cookies before or after baking?

Before baking! Adding the jam after baking will be very wet and cause the cookies to get soggy in the center. Baking the jam sets the filling in the cookie.

Why did my thumbprint cookies spread?

Most likely, the butter was too warm when creaming with the sugar. This makes the fat crystals less rigid, so they don’t hold the air and, therefore, their shape during baking. If this happens, you can briefly chill the dough before baking the next batch. Alternatively, you may not have used enough flour. The most accurate way to measure flour is with a scale using the dip and sweep method.

How do I keep my thumbprint cookies from cracking?

The dough should be soft, like modeling clay. If you’ve refrigerated the dough, let it come to room temperature for about 15 minutes before indenting. This technique will help to prevent the cookie from cracking. If needed, smooth the surface with your fingertips.

Can you freeze thumbprint cookies?

Yes! Place the cookies in a single layer between parchment paper in an airtight container or resealable plastic bag for up to 3 months. Defrost at room temperature before eating. The raw dough can be shaped, indented, then frozen for up to 3 months, and defrosted at room temperature before baking.

Thumbprint cookies with strawberry and apricot filling.

Don’t overmix the dough!

Molded cookies, like thumbprints, are meant to have a delicate, brittle texture that holds their shape after baking. Don’t overwhip the butter during the creaming process. Otherwise, you will make too many air pockets that will deflate and cause spreading. When incorporating the flour, add it in three additions so it has time to hydrate. Dumping it all in will require a longer mixing time, making the texture tough.

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Thumbprint Cookies

Colorful jam-filled thumbprint cookies are a classic holiday treat to share as they are light and crisp with a buttery texture.
4.89 from 9 votes
Prep Time20 mins
Cook Time30 mins
Total Time50 mins
Servings 34 cookies
Course Dessert
Cuisine American

Ingredients 
 

  • 8 ounces unsalted butter, softened to 65 to 67ºF (18 to 20ºC)
  • cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup jam, strawberry, apricot, apricot, or orange marmalade

Instructions 

  • Preheat the Oven – Set the oven rack to the center position and heat to 350ºF (177ºC). Line three large baking sheets with parchment paper.
  • Make the Dough – In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium-low speed (setting 4) until light and fluffy, about 1 minute.
    Add the egg, vanilla, and salt. Mix on medium speed (setting 5), scraping down the sides of the bowl halfway through, 1 minute.
    Gradually add the flour in three additions, mixing on low speed (stir) until just blended, do not overmix. The dough should be firm and not feel too sticky.
  • Portion the Dough – Roll the dough into 1 tablespoon (22g) balls. Transfer the cookies to the parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Leave 2" of space in between.
  • Indent the Cookies – Use your thumb, a measuring spoon, or the end of a wooden spoon to make an indent in the center of each cookie. They should flatten to about 1 ½" in diameter. Gently flatten the top if needed.
  • Fill the Indents – Stir the jam, then add it to a small resealable plastic bag or piping bag. If using thicker preserves, use a small measuring spoon to scoop it into the cookie.
    Cut the tip off the bag, then pipe a small amount of jam to fill the indent in each cookie, about ½-teaspoon.
  • Bake – Bake one tray at a time until cookies lightly brown around the edges, and on the bottoms. The surface will stay pale in color, 12 to 14 minutes.
  • Let Them Cool – Leave the cookies on the pan for 5 minutes, then transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely.

Notes

  • Make-ahead: The dough can be made, rolled, indented, and stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 7 days. Place on prepared baking sheets, and let them sit at room temperature for about 15 minutes before baking.
  • Storing: Store in an airtight container for up to 7 days.
  • Freezing: Baked cookies can be placed between parchment paper and stored in an airtight container or resealable plastic bag for up to 3 months. The shaped dough can be frozen for 3 months and defrosted before baking.
Nutrition Facts
Thumbprint Cookies
Amount Per Serving
Calories 102 Calories from Fat 45
% Daily Value*
Fat 5g8%
Saturated Fat 3g15%
Trans Fat 1g
Polyunsaturated Fat 1g
Monounsaturated Fat 1g
Cholesterol 14mg5%
Sodium 19mg1%
Potassium 13mg0%
Carbohydrates 12g4%
Fiber 1g4%
Sugar 5g6%
Protein 1g2%
Vitamin A 167IU3%
Vitamin C 1mg1%
Calcium 4mg0%
Iron 1mg6%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

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Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

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4 Comments Leave a comment or review

  1. Judy says

    Hi Jessica. Merry Christmas. My Grandma use to make these and I’m thankful you posted this recipe. She baked a lot but I never was with her when she did due to distance. She’d bake before we arrived. I’m have found several of her cookie recipes here. ?

  2. Don Prime says

    This recipe looks very sensible. I have looked at thumbprint recipes for 8 hours and created a spreadsheet to compare them. But the ingredient proportions are all over the place. This one seems to match how I used to do mine. I agree that the filling should go in the cookie before baking as I like the slight chewiness of the set jam after baking, plus they are easier to store. Do you think the texture will be modified much if I cut the sugar down to 1/2 cup?

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