Last weekend Jeff and I went on a Christmas Light tour with the some of the seniors at our church and our young adult group. We spent two weeks searching Kansas City to find the best light displays and ended up creating a 1.5 hour bus tour that included the Plaza lights, a wonderful street dubbed “Candy Cane Lane“, the terrifically festive and terrifying Falmouth House, and several other lovely spots. Afterwards we had cookies and hot cocoa.
I volunteered to make cookies for the Christmas light tour “after-party”. I made a quadruple batch (by hand – NOT recommended) of my grandma’s chocolate chip cookies and added red and green M&M’s to make them Christmasy. I also made a batch of thumbprint cookies.
I’d never made thumbprint cookies before, so I didn’t have a go-to recipe to use. I spent at least an hour googling recipes on line, comparing ingredient lists, reading reviews, and try as I might, I just couldn’t find a recipe that I thought sounded right. My criteria wasn’t too far fetched. I wanted to find a recipe for a cookie that was: 1). Delicious, 2). Beautiful, 3). Easy to make, 4). Sturdy, 5). Not too sweet, and 6). Obviously made from scratch. Surprisingly, several of the first recipes I looked at called for store-bought sugar cookie dough – NO. And, most of the made-from-scratch cookie reviews complained of crumbly delicate cookies that weren’t worth the time and effort – NO.
I was out of luck.
After several minutes of pouting, a thought crossed my mind – “I wonder if I could come up with a recipe on my own?”. Of course I took myself up on my own challenge.
I decided that in order to be successful I’d have to dissect the thumbprint into two parts – COOKIE and FILLING.
Figuring out the filling seemed like the easiest thing to start with. My initial thought was to make a raspberry or blackberry jam. But neither really screamed CHRISTMAS to me. So, naturally, my thoughts wondered over to a ham or goose filling.
Okay, just kidding. Growing up my family never did a Christmas ham or goose. Instead, we had Christmas tacos or lasagna or pizzas.
BACK TO THE COOKIES… Cranberry is what came to my mind. And how easy is that? Toss a few fresh cranberries in a pot with water, sugar and orange peel and you’ve got a fast and easy and DELICIOUS jam. Done.
Once I had the filling figured out, I got to work on the cookie. I needed a dough that would be easy to work with, was firm enough to keep it’s shape but not delicate and crumbly after it baked. I also wanted to make sure it wasn’t going to be too sweet since I was planning to top it with jam. Sugar cookie dough just seemed like a bad idea – in addition to being too sweet it just isn’t firm enough. But…
…What about the Angeletti Cookie dough? It’s super easy to work with, clearly holds it shape, has a wonderful texture and isn’t overly sweet. It was a perfect solution to my thumbprint cookie problem. The addition of orange zest to the dough to compliment the cranberries would change the flavor of the Angeletti Cookie completely. And, rolling them in chopped pecans would make them even more tasty and festive! I was very very excited to give them a try.
The first batch I made was just a half batch. While I believed in the idea, I didn’t want to put all of my butter in one basket. I’m happy to report that the very first batch was a success – so much so that I ended up eating 4 of them for my dinner that night. It wasn’t planned to work out that way. I was going to have chicken stir-fry. But really, after four cookies who’d have room for stir-fry? Right?
I ended up making another batch — a double batch — after I finished baking the first round of cookies. I rolled most of the cookies in pecans but left some without, just in case anyone preferred their cookies nut-free. And I immediately separated out the cookies I needed for the the Christmas Light tour and for our 12 Days of Cookies so that I’d know exactly how many were left to eat… I mean, share with Jeff.
This recipe was everything I had hoped it would be. Beautiful, so delicious, festive, easy, and well worth the time and effort (not that it took much of either). The dough is SOOOOO simple to work with. And the cookies are nice and sturdy. They are a wonderful addition to our Christmas cookie collection, if I do say so myself…
CRANBERRY PECAN THUMBPRINT COOKIES
Inspired by the Angeletti Cookie.
- 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 TBSP grated orange zest (one orange)
- 2 cups all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled, plus more for rolling the dough
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- finely chopped pecans
- 1 c fresh cranberries
- 1/2 c water
- 1/2 c white sugar
- 1 (2-inch) strip orange zest
- Heat oven to 375° F.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the butter, granulated sugar, vanilla, eggs and grated orange zest until blended. Add the flour, baking powder, and salt and mix until just combined (do not overmix).
- With floured hands, roll level tablespoonfuls of the dough into balls. Then roll balls in chopped pecans and place on parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing them 2 inches apart. Gently press the center of each ball using your finger or thumb or end of a round wooden spoon. Bake until puffed and the bottoms are pale golden, 7 to 8 minutes. Using the end of a wooden spoon, gently indent each cookie again and then transfer to a cooking rack.
- Make the filling: In a small saucepan, bring cranberries, water, sugar, and orange zest to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat, and simmer, gently mashing cranberries, until thick and jamlike, 5 to 6 minutes. (If mixture is too thick, add a little water to thin.) Transfer to a bowl, and let cool completely. (Filling can be refrigerated for up to 1 week.)
- While the cookies are still warm, drop enough cranberry mixture into the center to fill completely. Store in even levels with sheets of waxed paper between each layer.