Even back when I still believed there just might be a Santa (or feared that any dis-belief might result in NO Christmas!), I had real sincere doubts about Santa being able to eat cookies at EVERYONE’S house. And when my mother would say, “That’s why he’s so fat.”, I knew there was something seriously wrong with this whole story – in fact, I think the cookies were the beginning of the end for me!
My mother was a big Christmas cookie baker, and we had plenty to share every Christmas season – however, the funny thing is that I have trouble associating Christmas with any traditional Christmas cookie. Even so, I’m sure my mother had a basic butter/sugar cookie base that she used to make all the decorated types that I remember made up the bulk of her repertoire. But in those days, the chocolate chip cookie was becoming famous, and I’m sure that we never let a Christmas season go by without asking again and again for chocolate chip cookies – and I can remember thinking that there was nothing else that tasted quite as good as hot chocolate chip cookies, right out of the oven … and a cold glass of milk! Pretty soon, chocolate chip WAS our Christmas cookie.
I’ve outgrown that annual love affair, and my current Christmas cookie selections tend more to the tender, little buttery/nut cookies, such as those we baked this year. I did three kinds: the Biscotti of my last post; a Pecan Butter Drop (very nutty and buttery tender, but a bit too labor intensive for me to share here); and a Butter/Walnut Thumbprint Cookie, that we filled with current jelly or Hershey’s Kisses – this last one was our favorites of the year, and it’s our pleasure to share the recipe today.
Thumbprint Butter/Nut Cookies
(adapted from Susan Loomis’ cookbook, Farm House Cookbook)
makes about 2 dozen cookies
- 8 Tablespoons of unsalted butter (1 stick) at room temp
- 1/4 cup (packed) of brown sugar
- 1 lg. egg, separated
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup AP flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 cup pecan or walnut halves, finely chopped
- 1/4 cup red current jelly (or any other preserves of choice)
1- Preheat oven to 350 degrees, F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
2- In a medium mixing bowl, mix the butter until it is pale yellow and light. Add the brown sugar and mix vigorously until it is fluffy. Add the egg yolk and the vanilla extract and mix well. Then stir in the flour and the salt by hand, just until combined. Be careful not to over mix – but if you do, and the dough starts to become soft, cover and refrigerate the dough for 30 minutes or so until it firms up.
3- In a shallow bowl or pan, whisk the egg white with a pinch of salt just until it begins to foam – place the finely chopped nuts in another shallow bowl or pan.
4- Using your hands, make 1 inch balls of dough – Roll the balls in the egg white, then quickly in the chopped nuts. Place them 1 inch apart on the prepared baking sheet – and proceed to bake them in the center of the oven for 5 minutes. Remove them from the oven and using your thumb, make an indication in each cookie, slightly flattening it – work quickly to avoid burning your thumb. Return them to the oven to continue baking for an additional 15 minutes or so, until they are golden brown. When done, transfer the cookies to a rack to cool.
5- While the cookies are cooling, put the red current jelly (or chosen preserves) in a small, heavy pan over very low heat just to melt (I used the microwave and a plastic cup for this!). Allow the jelly to come to lukewarm.
6- When the cookies are cool, fill each indentation with a half teaspoon of warm jelly – leave the cookies out on the rack until the jelly has solidified a bit before moving them to a storage container.
This is a very small recipe! Seems hardly worth the fuss to make two dozen small cookies – I quadrupled the recipe, thought I followed the instructions well, and got about 65 cookies – but then, I can’t ever remember a recipe actually making the amount it suggested it would! Have you?
When chopping your nuts with the food processor, be very careful – do not do more than a half cup at a time, and use the Pulse button – and as soon as they start to slow down, STOP. Of course you know why I’m giving these words of caution – yes, I so finely ground my nuts (I used walnuts) that they almost became “butter” – in that state, you will not be able to coat anything with them. But I have two suggestions, if you ever experience this problem:
1- Simply add the ‘butter’ to your cookie dough and mix well – this will give you a richer cookie, and I can’t see how it would be bad if you avoid over mixing the dough.
2- If you add some granulated sugar to your over-chopped nuts, it will serve to soak up a bit of the nut oil, and if you mix it in well, you’ll have a mixture that will coat your cookies. This is what I did, and it worked very well, even giving the exterior of the cookies a crispier bite – as I started to run low, I even added some unsweetened cocoa to the mixture, and used that with my Hershey’s Kiss cookies – I think it gives them a nice look!
I’ve made thumbprint cookies before, and never remember having to put the print in after 5 minutes of baking – However, it’s a low risk effort, and you will not burn yourself, but I have no idea what may happen if you instead indent them prior to baking – ? Someone must have thought this way was better, but why I don’t know.
All I know is that these are some delicious Christmas cookies, and worthy of the effort.