Julie and I made thumbprints today. They are her favorite Christmas cookies, although that is not the only reason we made them. This year, we will have three different kinds of Christmas cookies: thumbprints, nutballs, and sugar cookies. We really only bake cookies at Christmas time in our house, so needless to say, they are very special and very much anticipated.
We made the thumbprints pretty much the way my mother and I did when I was a girl. I have never really liked to bake, but sitting at the kitchen table and chatting with my daughter as we rolled the dough into little balls and dipped them in egg whites, then ground nuts, didn't seem like such a bad way to spend a winter afternoon.
After we baked the cookies, I stacked them in a square plastic container with wax paper between each layer. I remembered how we used to stack the different boxes of cookies on the bench in the office of our house on Denison Avenue. Because they were right by his food dish, Bobo thought the cookies were his, and would guard them fiercely from Tom and Julie, growling and even nipping if they got too close. Just because he couldn't get at them didn't mean that anyone else could.
Julie wanted to try a slight recipe variation this year, and I was game. For half of the ground walnuts, we substituted ground flaxseed. We only tasted one cookie each, but the result seemed to be a much lighter and more delicate cookie. Just when we thought they couldn't get any better. I include my recipe here, although I'm sure any good cookie cookbook would have a similar one.
1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 eggs, separated
1 tsp. good vanilla extract
2 cups sifted flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1&1/2 cups ground nuts (or 3/4 cup ground nuts & 3/4 cup ground flaxseed)
1/2 cup sugar
raspberry preserve (with seeds)
In a large mixing bowl, combine butter, brown sugar, egg yolks, vanilla, flour and salt until well mixed. Your hands will work best for this, so just dig in. Form dough into a large ball. If dough is very soft, you may want to chill it before rolling it into small balls. (We did not and it was fine.) Take a pinch of the dough and roll it into a ball, then place the ball on a sheet of wax paper. We like these cookies to be bite-sized, and so made ours pretty small. Our yield was 80 cookies. You can make them bigger if you want larger cookies, but remember to increase baking time. Continue until all the dough has been rolled into balls.
In a medium-sized mixing bowl combine ground nuts/flaxseed and sugar. Place the egg whites in a small bowl. Dip each ball into the egg whites, then drop it into the nut and sugar mixture. Roll it around until well coated, then place it on a cookie sheet, 20 cookies to a sheet if they are small. I used parchment paper this year, and highly recommend it. To make the "thumbprint" in the cookie, use the round bottom end of a wooden spoon to press a hole into the center of each cookie. Do not break through the dough at the bottom of the cookie. The cookie should look like a miniature birds' nest.
Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 12 to 15 minutes, depending on size of cookies. (12 minutes was plenty of time for the petite cookies we baked.) To check for doneness, turn a cookie over and see if the bottom has turned a golden brown. If so, they are done. Remove cookies to cool on paper towels. When they have cooled, store in an airtight container, with wax paper between the layers of cookies.
To serve cookies, put a very small dollop of raspberry preserve in the center of each cookie, right before you are ready to serve them. Do not fill ahead of time and store. Thumbprints are wonderfully attractive on a plate with other holiday cookies, and are best served with Constant Comment tea.