Of all the cookies I make each year for Christmas, thumbprints are the ones that disappear the most quickly. I think it’s because they’re the only ones on the Christmas cookie plate that wink – or at least the red currant jelly in their center makes them seem to!
Christmas cookies are a novelty in France, because the French don’t make special cookies at Christmas (except in Alsace whose shared history with Germany has left in its wake a Christmas cookie tradition).
They don’t really make cookies at all and, in fact, the definition of “cookie” for the French is a flat, gooey version of the chocolate chip cookie.
It isn’t that the French repertoire doesn’t include delicious cookies – it does. There is the flat, narrow “langue de chat” (it does sort of resemble a cat’s tongue) or the rolled “cigarette,” both of which melt on your tongue before you have a chance to bite into them. Then there are madeleines, and sablés, financiers and chouquettes, among others.
But the Christmas cookie as we know it, filled with jam like these thumbprints, or dipped in chocolate and nuts, or frosted with minty chocolate, or sprinkled with colorful sugar and painted with frosting, simply don’t issue from the French kitchen.
So when they issue from mine, they create a minor sensation. I never tell my friends how simple they are to make, though if they want a recipe I’ll share it. But rarely does anyone ask. They’re thrilled to eat them, they love to receive them, and my own secret stays with me.
Here is my version of this Christmas favorite. I highly recommend them, and if you make them now, they’ll be perfect for Christmas day!
You can use any jelly you like, the only red currant jelly has a sparkly wink!
1-1/4 cups (180g) all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
8 tablespoons (120g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup (100g) brown vanilla sugar
1 large egg
1-1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
The white from 1 large egg
1 scant cup (140g) pecans, ground
1/3 cup (75ml) red currant jelly
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (180C). Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. Sift the flour and salt onto a piece of parchment paper. Whisk the egg white in a medium-sized bowl.
3. Place the butter and 1/2 cup of the sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix until pale yellow and light, about 3 minutes. Add the whole egg and mix well then mix in the vanilla until thoroughly combined. Quickly add the dry ingredients, mixing just until combined.
4. Using 1 tablespoon of dough, form a ball and place it in the whisked egg white. Roll it in the egg white until it is completely covered, then transfer it to the ground nuts. Roll it in the nuts until it is covered, then transfer it to the prepared baking sheet. Continue with the remaining dough, placing the cookies about ½-inch (1.25cm) apart on the prepared baking sheets. Bake in the oven for 5 minutes. Remove the cookies from the oven and, using your thumb or the end of a wooden spoon, make indentations in each cookie. Return to the oven and bake the cookies until they are deep golden, 12 to 15 more minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool.
5. While the cookies are baking, melt the currant jelly over low heat, and keep it warm.
6. When the cookies are nearly cooled, drop enough jelly into each indentation to just fill it. Let the cookies cool completely, and store them in a single layer in an air-tight container. They will keep for about one week. They freeze beautifully.
Makes about 2 dozen cookies