Thumbprint Cookies with Icing: A Vintage Holiday Winner

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Sneak Preview: Thumbprint Cookies with Icing are traditional rolled cookies coated with pecans and filled with colored frosting. The taste and texture are similar to a buttery shortbread cookie. These are my husband’s favorite Christmas cookies!

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

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This vintage thumbprint cookie recipe is my family’s favorite holiday cookie. I bet your family would agree that these shortbread-type cookies are the best. Because they are a bit labor-intensive, we usually save them for Christmas Day.

Betty Crocker's Cooky Book

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???

Happy Bakers Speak Up

“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.”ALY B.

Ingredients and Substitutions

  • SHORTENING: We are talking about good old-fashioned Crisco. It helps these cookies to hold their shape. We only eat these cookies once a year, so I don’t feel guilty about it. Also, Crisco stays fresh in the pantry for a long time. Use 100% butter if you don’t want to use shortening.
  • BUTTER: You could substitute margarine for butter, but the buttery flavor is the biggest selling point of these cookies. I wouldn’t settle for anything but butter.
  • BROWN SUGAR: Brown sugar makes a denser, moister cookie. Dense is good when you have to bear the weight of those yummy pecans.
  • EGG: Use large-size eggs if possible.
  • VANILLA EXTRACT: You probably have this in your cabinet, but if not, you could leave it out.
  • FLOUR: I always use unbleached all-purpose flour, but bleached all-purpose flour is fine, too.
  • PECANS: Pecans are my family’s first choice. If you don’t want any nuts, you could roll the cookies in sugar–or nothing.

How To Form Thumbprint Cookies with Icing

chopping pecans finelyPin
Chop the pecans finely and whip the egg white until frothy.
portioning cookie dough with a spring-loaded ice cream scoopPin
Portion dough. I use a spring-loaded ice cream scoop that holds 2 teaspoons.
rolling portioned dough into ballsPin
Roll each portion into a ball of dough.
coating balls with egg whitesPin
Place several balls at one time into the egg whites. Stir gently until balls are covered with egg whites.
coating balls with pecansPin
Fish the balls out with a fork. Then, roll balls in the chopped pecans.
cookies on cookie sheet ready to be bakedPin
Place on a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper or a silicone mat.
cork used to make indentationPin
Find a small cork in your junk drawer; if you can’t, use your finger.
using a cork to make indentationsPin
Use the cork or your finger to make an indentation in the middle of each cookie ball. Bake.
re-indenting cookiesPin
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 icingPin
Add a couple of drops of food coloring to part of the icing.
using spoons to make icingPin

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 onto the cookie. 

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

Alternative Method for the Frosting

placing icing into the divot with a plastic bag.Pin
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.

Frequently Asked Questions

How many cookies does this recipe make?

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

Another reason to make these cookies smaller is that they can be a bit crumbly. One bit is much neater to eat.
small cookies on a serving platePin

Can I double this recipe?

If you need lots of cookies, double the recipe. I’ve done it many times.

What can I substitute for the vanilla icing?

A teaspoon of jam (strawberry jam or raspberry jam are always popular) or jelly–this is an opportunity to utilize your favorite flavors
Chocolate ganache
Chocolate frosting
If you have a different idea, please leave it in the comments.

What can I substitute for the pecans?

Walnuts are a good alternative. 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 thumbprint cookies from cracking?

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

Parting Thoughts: Don’t worry too much if you get cracks or drip icing over the side. The pecans camouflage the cracks much better than sugar when making traditional thumbprints.

Also, perfect cookies look like they came from the store. Imperfect homemade Christmas cookies = love!

Help at Your Fingertips: For questions or suggestions, email Paula at If you need help, I’m happy to troubleshoot via email (faster than leaving a comment). Attach pictures and as many details as possible for the best advice.

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Christmas ThumbprintsPin
Yield: 14 servings

Thumbprint Cookies with Icing and Nuts

These shortbread-like cookies are covered with chopped pecans and filled with marbleized icing for a festive look that never gets old.

Rate this recipe

(5 stars if you loved it)

5 from 19 votes


Prep time: 45 minutes
Cook time: 12 minutes
Total time: 57 minutes


  • ¼ cup (46 g) shortening
  • ¼ cup (57 g) butter room temperature
  • ¼ cup (55 g) brown sugar
  • 1 large egg separated
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup (120 g) all-purpose flour
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¾ cup (75 g) pecans finely chopped


  • ½ tablespoon butter melted
  • 1 cup (227 g) powdered sugar
  • 1-2 tablespoons milk
  • food coloring


  • Preheat oven to 350˚F (180˚C).
  • Cream 1/4 cup (46 g) shortening, 1/4 cup (57 g) butter, 1/4 cup (55 g) brown sugar until light and fluffy. Then, add 1 large egg (yolk only, save the white for later) and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract and mix until smooth. Finally, add 1 cup (120 g) all-purpose flour and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Combine well.
  • Roll dough into balls. Using a small ice cream dipper will aid in uniformity.
  • Beat egg white slightly with a fork. Dip balls in egg white, then roll in 3/4 cup (75 g) pecans
  • Place balls on an ungreased baking sheet, (I use a silicone baking mat) about 1 inch apart.
  • Place in your preheated oven for 3 minutes.
  • Remove cookies from the oven and use a small cork or your finger to gently press an indentation into the center of each cookie. Bake for an additional 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.
  • Make the icing while the cookies bake. Combine 1/2 tablespoon butter, 1 cup (227 g) powdered sugar, and 1-2 tablespoons milk. Add color using the process described in the post above the recipe. 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.


Serving: 2cookies | Calories: 188kcal | Carbohydrates: 20g | Protein: 2g | Fat: 12g | Saturated Fat: 4g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g | Monounsaturated Fat: 5g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 22mg | Sodium: 81mg | Potassium: 44mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 13g | Vitamin A: 135IU | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 13mg | Iron: 1mg

All images and text ©️ Paula Rhodes for Salad in a

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Recipe Rating


  1. Hi Paula. I love your new updates for your recipes. You have been very busy this Christmas 🎄 season. Love your icing recipe for the thumbprint cookies. Hope you and your family have a blessed Christmas fill with much love and joy as we celebrate the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

    1. Hi Connie,

      Thank you for your encouraging words. My granddaughter would agree with you on the icing. She can’t keep her fingers out of the icing bowl!! Merry Christmas to you, too.

  2. bonniejean says:

    next time fill the “prints” with maraschino cherry frosting!

    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
    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.

  3. 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.

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

      1. Do you have the receipe for the icing?

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

  5. Tena Fitch says:

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

  6. Kitchen Butterfly says:

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

  7. Definitely more festive! Love it. Happy Holidays!

  8. yummy cookies! always a “rhodes family favorite” at Christmastime! thanks for sharing them with me fresh out of the oven!

  9. When I first looked at your pic I thought the icing was one of those after dinner mints.

  10. I LOVE my BC Cooky Book (or, my mom’s – originally). It’s where I turn to first for “what to make”! These look great – I love how you improvised the the “thumb”! Innovative and festive – definitely worth a post! Happy Holidays!

  11. I’ve never made thumbprint cookies. Yours look easy. And very tasty.

  12. Christine @ Fresh Local and Best says:

    You are quite the baker! I hope your family has a Merry Christmas and happy holidays!

  13. My mom still has her original 1963 cookbook! It’s where I first learned how to make peanut butter cookies.

  14. These are so yummy! I love the swirly colored icing! Perfect Christmas post!