Double Pecan Thumbprint Cookies
These classic Double Pecan Thumbprint Cookies are made with buttery shortbread dough studded with chopped pecans that are then topped with homemade caramel icing and a toasted pecan. They’re the perfect balance of sweet, salty, and crunchy and are the ideal pairing for a mug of something warm and cozy.
Why I Love This Shortbread Thumbprint Cookie Recipe
Now that baking season is in full swing, I couldn’t wait to share this recipe for my decadently buttery, pecan-studded thumbprint cookies. This simple thumbprint cookie recipe has endless filling options and is perfect for the holidays or any occasion!
These tasty morsels are perfectly short and crumbly without being fragile. They make a great dessert to place on your home altar for Dia de los Muertos as offerings for your dearly departed or for boxing up and giving as sweet treats for the upcoming holidays.
These easy thumbprint cookies are inspired by my grandma and her love for dulce de leche candy, a popular Mexican candy and the country’s own version of milk fudge. (If you have ever been to Mexico, Texas, or any southwest border city you might know the Mexican candy I’m referring to!)
My grandma introduced me to this candy that she called jamoncillo and now every time I see it, it reminds me of her buying some from street vendors in Juarez, Mexico and enjoying it while we were in the car crossing back over to El Paso. These cookies remind me of jamoncillo, in part because of the homemade caramel icing, if the caramel confection were crossed with butter pecan cookies, which my grandma also loved.
Amazing taste aside, these cookies are incredibly easy to make! The dough for this recipe is made with just ten ingredients (most of which are pantry staples) and comes together in just a few minutes. There’s no chilling required so you can just prep the cookies and pop them into the oven.
They’re also a great make-ahead cookie option since you can also refrigerate the dough before or after forming the thumbprint cookies. As an added bonus, you can choose your own flavor adventure and fill these cookies with either caramel, melted chocolate, or jam to give them a whole new flavor. Honestly, what’s not to love?!?
Ingredients & Substitutions
As promised, you don’t need many ingredients to make these classic thumbprint cookies. Here’s what to grab:
- Unsalted Butter – You can also use salted butter if needed, but be sure to cut back or omit the added salt as needed if you do. Dairy-free butter is also welcome!
- Granulated Sugar – Feel free to swap in cane sugar, caster sugar (extra fine sugar), or even a sugar substitute if needed.
- All-Purpose Flour – Regular ol’ AP flour is all you need. You can also use a cup-for-cup gluten-free flour mix if you need.
- Salt – I use table salt for most of my cooking. If you’re using a different type (e.g. sea salt or kosher salt), please refer to a conversion chart for proper measurement.
- Ground Cinnamon – For warmth.
- Vanilla Extract – For richness. Feel free to swap in an equal amount of vanilla paste or vanilla powder, or use half as much ground vanilla.
- Egg – Let it come to room temperature for easy mixing.
- Pecans – Pecan halves are much more expensive than pecan pieces, so only grab a small bag of the perfectly shaped ones for the tops of your thumbprint cookies.
- Milk – I used 2% because that’s what we usually keep in the house. Feel free to use skim, 1%, whole, or unsweetened plant-based milk instead.
- Confectioner’s Sugar – Also known as powdered sugar, this is an essential element for making the caramel icing for your thumbprint cookies. If you don’t have any on hand, you can make your own with granulated sugar, cornstarch, and a food processor.
How To Make Pecan Thumbprint Cookies
This recipe for thumbprint cookies comes together in just about 30 minutes. Here’s how to make them:
Step 1: Prep. Preheat oven and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Step 2: Cream Butter and Sugar using a hand- or stand-mixer.
Step 3: Complete Dough. Mix in egg and vanilla until fully incorporated. Next, add flour, salt, and cinnamon until combined. Gently stir in nuts.
Note: After you add the flour the cookie dough will be a little crumbly at first, this is normal! As you continue mixing, the dough will come together.
Step 4: Shape Dough. Working in batches, scoop out tablespoon-sized amounts of dough and roll into balls between your hands.
Make-Ahead Tip: After shaping the dough into balls, feel free to freeze in a single layer until firm. Pop in an airtight zip-top bag or freezer-safe container and freeze for up to 3 months. When you’re ready to bake them off, allow them to defrost at room temperature for 15-20 minutes or overnight in the fridge until they’re soft enough to indent with your finger.
Step 5: Add Thumbprint. Transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet, spacing 2-inches apart. Make an indentation in each cookie with your thumb.
Step 6: Bake for 6 minutes. Re-indent cookies if needed (sometimes they puff up a lot) using a wooden spoon and continue to bake for an additional 12 to 16 minutes, or until the bottoms are golden brown. Cool for 2 minutes and then remove to wire rack to finish cooling.
Step 7: Make Caramel Icing. While the cookies are baking and/or cooling, make the icing. In a small saucepan over medium heat, heat the milk and butter until melted. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in confectioners sugar, ground cinnamon, and vanilla.
Step 8: Decorate. When cookies have cooled enough to be easily handled, carefully add a dollop of caramel icing into the center of each, and place a single pecan in the center of each. Let set for about 10 minutes for the caramel icing to harden and hold the nut in place.
Expert Tips & Tricks
- Make perfectly sized cookies without a fancy kitchen scale! I recommend using a simple tablespoon to measure out dough; scoop the dough, level it against the side of the bowl, and use your finger to remove what’s left, then roll it into a ball. You can also use a small cookie disher (they look like tiny spring-loaded ice cream scoops) instead if you want to keep your hands clean.
- Keep your thumbprint cookies from cracking. This pecan shortbread dough is firm enough that you should be able to roll it into balls right after mixing it together (no chilling). Roll the balls between your hands until they are really smooth without any lines or cracks in the pecan shortbread dough. Gently use your thumb to press an indent into the cookie. And if they crack, no biggie — they still taste spectacular.
- Prevent spreading. A good rule for any cookie recipe is to never place your cookie dough on a hot cookie sheet. Make sure your baking sheet has cooled completely before placing your next batch of cookies; otherwise they’ll start melting and spreading before they can start baking.
- Toast your nuts for the best flavor. To enhance the flavor of pecans, I recommend toasting them beforehand. Just add pecans to a skillet and toast over medium-heat until browned (one shade darker than they originally were) and fragrant, which will be about 2 minutes. Or to make things even easier — simply purchase pre-toasted pecans!
- Use the scoop & sweep method. When measuring the flour for these cookies, make sure to spoon it into the measuring cup and level it off with the back of a knife.
- Make sure not to over bake the cookies. They’re done when the bottoms are *just* golden brown.
- Allow the filling to set for 10 to 15 minutes, and then serve or store in an airtight container for up to a week.
I think these buttery, pecan shortbread numbers are the best thumbprint cookies around, but there’s plenty of room to customize them. Here are a few Muy Bueno variations to consider:
- Sugar-Free Thumbprint Cookies – I’ve made this recipe using sugar alternatives like Truvia Sweet Complete cup-for-cup sugar and powdered sugar substitutes to make diabetic-friendly treats.
- Gluten-Free Thumbprint Cookies – Feel free to swap in your favorite cup-for-cup all-purpose gluten-free flour blend.
- Eggless Thumbprint Cookies – Use a liquid egg substitute like JUST Eggs or Trader Joe’s Simply Eggless brand.
- Vegan Thumbprint Cookies – Use your favorite dairy-free milk and butter substitutes and use a vegan egg substitute to make these cookies totally plant-based!
- Use a different filling. This filling combines confectioners sugar, warm butter, milk, cinnamon, and vanilla for an easy homemade caramel icing that’s the perfect “glue” for the toasted pecan. If you prefer, feel free to use store-bought caramel, dulce de leche, or melted chocolate. Another idea is to simply fill cookies with jam or preserves before they go into the oven. You can also add a Hershey’s kiss in place of the pecan half if you prefer.
- Use a different nut. Almond thumbprints, macadamia thumbprints, walnut thumbprints… the sky is the limit! Mix and match based on your flavor preferences.
Frequently Asked Questions
Depending on who you ask, these double pecan thumbprint cookies might also be called pecan butterballs, nutty bird’s nest cookies, or Polish tea cakes.
They’re so named because you use the broad tip of your thumb to make the indents on these cookies! That said, you can use any finger or even a wooden handle instead.
More Recipes For Dia de los Muertos
- Polvorones (Tri-Color Mexican Cookies)
- Pumpkin Spice Tamales
- Pan de Muerto
- Calabaza en Tacha (Candied Pumpkin)
- Conchas (Mexican Sweet Bread)
Double Pecan Thumbprint Cookies
- 1 ounce milk
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 1/4 cups powdered sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
- Cream butter and sugar in mixer.
- Mix in flour, salt, cinnamon, vanilla, and egg.
- Stir in nuts.
- Working in batches, scoop out tablespoon-sized amounts of dough and roll into balls between your hands.
- Transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet, spacing 2-inches apart.
- Make indentation in each cookie with thumb.
- Bake for 6 minutes. Re-indent cookies if needed with a wooden spoon and continue to bake for an additional 12 to 16 minutes until bottoms are golden brown.
- Cool for 2 minutes and then remove to wire rack to finish cooling.
- When cookies have cooled enough to be easily handled, carefully spoon caramel icing into the center of each, and place a single pecan in the center of each.
- In a small saucepan over medium heat, warm milk and melt butter.
- Remove from the heat and stir in powdered sugar, ground cinnamon, and vanilla.
- When measuring the flour for these cookies, make sure to spoon it into the measuring cup and level it off with the back of a knife.
- After you add the flour the cookie dough will be a little crumbly at first, this is normal! As you continue mixing, the dough will come together.
- Make sure not to over bake the cookies.
- Feel free to use your favorite caramel or icing in these cookies. I think they would be delicious filled with jam or dulce de leche too!
- Allow filling to set for 10 to 15 minutes, and then serve or store in an airtight container for as long as a week.
Photography by Jenna Sparks
Originally published: October 2020