I was introduced to thumbprint cookies when I landed in the US during Christmas time over twenty years ago.
At first trial, they didn’t taste anything exceptional, for a good reason. The combination of vanilla infused sugar cookies filled with jam, made them so similar to some Egyptian cookies, which I grew up eating around Christmas and Easter time. That explained why I was never motivated to bake them, until New York Times published a revolutionary recipe that took the Thumbprint cookies multiple levels higher. It is the Thumbprint with Dulce de Leche .
The New York Times recipe elevates the mundane cookies with freshly toasted nuts that go into the cookie dough, and instead of regular apricot or strawberry jam, the cookies had unusual and trendy fillings like Dulce de Leche and Nutella. I instantly realized that those cookies stand a good chance to shine on of my Christmas cookies’ tray.
It happened that around the same time of stumbling on this recipe, I also received from a friend a Christmas gift from Bacha, a Moroccan coffee boutique . The gift was an elegant box with an exotic assortment of coffee flavors, which came along with a 100 gram gilded jar of Coffee Caramel spread. I had a light bulb moment, when I saw the coffee-caramel spread. A day later, I found myself in the kitchen making the nutty thumbprints and using the Caramel-Coffee spread as filling.
Two hours later I was striving to keep those cookies intact as many hands in my household flocked toward the buttery toasty smell wafting from my oven.
I was under the impression that these cookies were America made, until I figured that thumbprint cookies hail from Sweden.
According to some online resources such as Sweetooth and Seasoned Mom, thumbprint cookies they are found under different names such as: Sunny Thumbprint Cookies, Hallongrotta (means “Raspberry cave” in Swedish), bird’s nest cookies, butter ball or Polish tea cake.
The name, thumbprint, came from the way of making this cookie, in which one will press with the thumb in the center of the cookie dough for jam filling later. The jam is either filled while baking the cookies or after it has been baked.
THE NUTS OF YOUR CHOICE
The original recipe of New York Times gives three nuts options to go into the cookie dough, either pistachio, hazelnuts, or pecans. I went with the hazelnut as I strongly believe that hazelnut, caramel and coffee are a match made in heaven. Seriously, who can say no to the three of them in one sweet bite!
In my book. filling the thumping cookies with caramel coffee spread was the perfect move. The spread is creamy but not too sweet as the coffee granules imparts a subtle bitterness that tames the caramel sweetness.
When it comes to fillings those nutty cookies, I recommend that you venture unto new flavors such as Biscoff spread, Nutella. Try to pan it from different flavors from your pantry and you will be surprised how fabulous those cookies will turn out.
The Christmas cookies’ season in somehow extended. Actually, we celebrate a prolonged version of Christmas as I am copt (Christian Egyptian) who celebrate Christmas on January 7th, and Epiphany on January 19th. So our Christmas tree is up until the last week of January.
Typically, I bake for Christmas the traditional Egyptian cookies such as Kah7k and Ghoryeba, yet I would venture into some sort of foreign cookie and that one seemed so enticing.
I tweaked the recipe of The New York Times slightly, by using light brown sugar instead of white sugar, hoping for less calories to burn.
Also, I added a pinch of cinnamon to spike the hazelnut and caramel flavor. To save time, I skipped the use of shelled hazelnuts (as the original recipe mandated it) and used instead peeled hazelnuts.
As an alternative to Nutella and Dulce de Leche, I used the caramel-coffee spread.
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Thumbprint Cookies Filled With Caramel Coffee Spread
Recipe credit to Susan Spungen
Makes 12-15 cookies
- 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons whole hazelnuts, blanched and shell off
- 2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour, plus 2 teaspoons
- 1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks), softened
- ⅔ cup light brown sugar
- 2 large egg yolks, at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon powder
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ⅓ cup caramel Coffee, or Nutella
- Flaky sea salt, for sprinkling
- Heat a cast iron or a frying pan on medium heat, and dry toast the hazelnuts until they are fragrant and tanned.
- Once cooled, transfer the nuts to a food processor, preferably a mini one. Add 2 teaspoons flour and pulse just until nuts are finely ground, being careful not to overprocess.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter and light brown sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes, scraping bowl as needed. Add egg yolks and vanilla, and beat on medium-high speed until well combined, about 2 minutes, scraping the bowl a few times as needed.
- Add 1/2 cup ground nuts, the salt and the remaining 2 1/4 cups flour; beat on low speed just until combined, then increase speed and beat until dough starts to clump together. Scrape the bowl and fold a few times to make sure everything is well mixed. Wrap dough in plastic wrap, flatten into a disk, and chill until firm, at least 1 hour and up to 3 days.
- Heat oven to 350 degrees. Use a cookie scoop of 1.6 inch/4 cm to shape equal small pieces of dough. Place a few inches apart on parchment. Chill in the freezer until firm, about 10 minutes.
- Bake for 8 minutes, remove from oven and make a thumbprint in each cookie. Bake until golden brown on the bottom, and nuts are looking toasty but not burned, 6 to 8 minutes longer. Let cool a few minutes on the baking sheets and transfer to wire racks to cool further. While the cookies are still a little warm, fill each one with about 1/2 teaspoon of filling, and cool completely. Sprinkle with flaky sea salt. Cookies will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.