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Christmas Thumbprints: The Most Popular Cookie at Our House

Christmas Thumbprint Cookies are traditional shortbread-like party cookies formed into balls, rolled in pecans and then add an indentation. Fill the cavity with marbleized frosting instead of the more traditional jelly for a festive touch.

This post re-photographed, polished up, questions answered and republished December 2019.

Christmas Thumbprint cookies with cooling rack and frosting bowl in the background

When I started this blog ten years ago, my husband of 43 years asked when I was going to post the recipe for thumbprint cookies. He kept asking again and again. I think he was just wanting to eat some.


Betty Crocker's Cooky Book

Christmas is almost here. So are Christmas Thumbprint Cookies.  My husband is happy.

The original recipe is simple–straight out of the Betty Crocker Cooky Book, copyright 1963.

This book was obviously my mom’s. I was too young to be cooking anything this fancy in 1963. Wasn’t I???

Questions about making Christmas Thumbprints:


How many cookies does this recipe yield?

That depends. If you like larger cookies (a tablespoon or more of dough), you won’t even get 2 dozen.

I think most people prefer smaller cookies when they’re looking at a cookie tray as is usually the case on Christmas. Using a 2-teaspoon spring-loaded cookie scoop will give you exactly 28 bite-sized cookies.

thumbprint cookies and milk

Another reason to make these cookies smaller is that they can be a little crumbly. One bite is much neater to eat.

Need lots of cookies? Double the recipe. I’ve done it many times.


What can I substitute for the frosting?

  • A teaspoon of jelly (placed in the indentation before baking)
  • Chocolate ganache
  • Chocolate frosting
  • If you have a different idea, please leave it in the comments.


What can I substitute for the pecans?

If you have someone with a nut allergy in the family, try rolling the cookies in sugar. It will be a completely different cookie but still delicious.


Can I freeze these cookies?

Yes. Wrap well (double-wrap) and keep in the freezer for up to three months. They will stay fresh on the counter in a sealed container for three to four days.


How do you keep the cookies from cracking?

  • Use a small cork instead of your finger for the neatest indentation.
  • Make your indentation before baking the cookies.
  • Press your finger or cork into the cookie gently so as not to crack the dough. If it cracks, push it back together.
  • Don’t chill the dough or allow it to dry out before you make the balls.
  • Measure your flour carefully. Too much flour will make the dough dry.

Cook’s Secret:

Don’t worry too much is you get some cracks or drip icing over the side. The pecans camouflage the cracks much better than sugar does when making traditional thumbprints. Also, perfect cookies look like they came from the store. Imperfect homemade cookies = love!

How to form Christmas Thumbprint Cookies :

chopping pecans finely
Chop the pecans finely and whip the egg white until frothy.
portioning cookie dough with a spring-loaded ice cream scoop
Portion dough. I use a spring-loaded ice cream scoop that holds 2 teaspoons.
rolling portioned dough into balls
Roll the dough into balls.
coating balls with egg whites
Place several balls at one time into the egg whites. Stir gently until balls are covered with egg whites.
coating balls with pecans
Fish them out with a fork. Then roll balls in the chopped pecans.
cookies on cookie sheet ready to be baked
Place on a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper or a silicone mat.
cork used to make indentation
Find a small cork in your junk drawer. If you can’t, use your finger.
using a cork to make indentations
Use the cork or your finger to make an indentation in the middle of each cookie ball. Bake.
re-indenting cookies
When cookies are done and slightly browned, remove them from the oven and use the cork or your finger to re-press the cavity where the icing will go. Allow cookies to cool.

How to make marbleized icing:

Instead of using a solid color icing, drop the tiniest amount of liquid food coloring into a bowl of icing.  (Don’t miss the video to see this in action.)

preparing frosting for to make marbleized icing
using spoons to make icing

Without stirring, carefully use a spoon to pick up a little of the color. Try to get mostly white icing.  Then use a second spoon to push the icing on to the cookie. 

This process will slightly mix and swirl the color.  It doesn’t take much extra effort.

Alternative Method for the Frosting:

You could also scoop the frosting into a small plastic bag, snip a tiny hole in the corner and squeeze the frosting into the cavity. This way is neater for me.

Pin the picture below to save for later.

Did you try this recipe and enjoy it? Consider helping other readers (and me) by returning to this post. Leave a rating on the recipe card itself underneath the picture. Although always appreciated, comments aren’t required.

If you have a question or tip to share, please leave it in the regular comments after the recipe so I can answer back. Or, email me privately: paula at

Thank you for visiting!

Christmas Thumbprints

Christmas Thumbprint Cookies

Yield: 28 cookies
Prep Time: 45 minutes
Cook Time: 12 minutes
Total Time: 57 minutes

A shortbread-like cookie covered with chopped pecans and filled with marbleized icing for a festive look


  • 1/4 cup shortening
  • 1/4 cup butter, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 egg, separated
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup (120 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup pecans, finely chopped


  • 1/2 tablespoon butter, melted
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1-2 tablespoons milk
  • Food Coloring


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

  1. Cream shortening, butter, brown sugar, egg yolk, and vanilla. Add flour and salt. Combine well.
  2. Roll dough into balls. Using a small ice cream dipper will aid in uniformity.
  3. Beat egg white slightly with a fork. Dip balls in egg white, then roll in chopped pecans.
  4. Place balls on an ungreased baking sheet, (I use a silicone baking mat) about 1 inch apart.
  5. Remove and use a small cork or your finger to gently press an indentation into the center of each cookie. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until the cookies are set. Remove from the oven and immediately use a cork or your finger to repress the indentation into the middle of the cookies.
  6. Make the icing while cookies bake. Add color using the process described above. Or leave the icing uncolored. Or stir in food coloring to make a uniform color. It's your preference. Many people do jelly--but not at my house.
Nutrition Information:
Yield: 14 Serving Size: 2
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 186Total Fat: 12gSaturated Fat: 4gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 7gCholesterol: 25mgSodium: 75mgCarbohydrates: 19gFiber: 1gSugar: 11gProtein: 2g

Did you make this recipe?

Please leave a comment on the blog or share a photo on Pinterest

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Friday 4th of December 2015

next time fill the "prints" with maraschino cherry frosting!

Ingredients 1 cup butter, room temperature 2 lbs powdered sugar 2 Tbsp chopped maraschino cherries 6 Tbsp juice from maraschino cherry jar (plus more if needed) 1 tsp almond extract Instructions Beat softened butter in a large mixing bowl until completely smooth and fluffy. Add the chopped cherries. Gradually beat in about two cup of powdered sugar. Beat in the maraschino cherry juice and almond extract until completely combined. Gradually beat in the rest of the powdered sugar, about a cup at a time. If your frosting is too thick, beat in additional maraschino cherry juice one teaspoon at a time.


Saturday 15th of December 2012

Hi Paula, I made these for a Christmas party last night and they were delicious! I made two batches: one rolled in pecans with green swirl frosting and one rolled in shredded coconut with red swirl frosting. Both looked beautiful and tasted great. I have always done thumbprint cookies with jam but I like the frosting much better. Thanks for the good idea and good recipe.


Saturday 15th of December 2012

Hi AlyB, Your comment reminds me I haven't made these yet but I must. My family would revolt without them on Christmas.


Wednesday 14th of December 2011

I love these cookies.....but missing the brown sugar in the direction. Great idea with red and green icing!

Tena Fitch

Sunday 4th of December 2011

What if you stirred peppermint flavoring into the icing. I thought these were peppermint toppped cookies when I saw the photo - might be good!?!?

Kitchen Butterfly

Tuesday 29th of December 2009

Fantastic. Love the swirl icing....and glad you made them for him!!!! Have a blessed holiday