These buttercream thumbprint cookies with nuts have a very special place in my heart! When I was a little girl, my grandma Anne would send a huge Christmas box to our family every year. The contents were always the same, including a present for each of us, a cinnamon bread loaf, and a few varieties of homemade cookies. These scrumptious nutty thumbprint cookies were dependably in the box each year.
It wasn’t until my grandma passed away and I made her thumbprint recipe that I realized how good they were fresh! They were much less crumbly than I remember and had the texture of biting into a soft shortbread cookie with nuts. Only then did it occur to me that she had always frozen them, and then they spent a few days in the mail to get to us!
Anyways, I would be delighted if you added these into your family’s Christmas cookie traditions. They make the perfect cookie exchange gift or feel free to color the frosting for any occasion.
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Variations of this classic thumbprint cookie
Choose your nut: This cookie can easily be adapted to use your favorite kind of nut. I used pecans, however my grandma traditionally rolled her thumbprints in walnuts, and I’ve also tried sliced almonds which worked well and gave it a slightly less crunchy mouthfeel and a hint of almond.
Choose your filling: I prefer a traditional vanilla buttercream frosting, but you could make an almond buttercream frosting, a jelly, or simply drizzle in some Nutella! Thumbprint cookies with icing would taste great if you like it less sweet overall and prefer a drizzled look.
Favorite tools for baking
My favorite Cuisinart stackable mixing bowls. These get used daily for everything from mixing cookies to storing salad to holding leftover pasta. I’ve used them every day for almost 10 years!
If you are in the market for some new spatulas, I love my green silicon spatulas! They make cookies easy to mix and I don’t have to worry about wooden handles soaking in water.
How to make easy buttercream thumbprint cookies with nuts
It’s so easy to make these pecan thumbprint cookies! Simply cream the softened butter, sugar, egg yolk and vanilla. Then mix in the flour. Once the dough is formed, roll small 1 inch balls with your hands and dip them into the egg whites. From there, you will roll them into the finely chopped nuts and place them on the pan. No need to grease the pan either.
While the cookies bake, you can whip up frosting. I frosted the cooled thumbprint cookies with a butterknife, but for a different finish you could use a piping bag with fancy tip.
Tip: Make sure your butter is all at room temp for the dough and the buttercream frosting. If it’s too melty, it’s hard to make the balls rounded enough to keep their shape when rolling in the nuts.
Best ways to let small kids help make thumbprint cookies
- Let them stir, they can’t over mix it!
- Have them roll the balls you form into the nuts. My 2.5 year old was able to do this fairly well, to my surprise!
- Older kids can make the “thumbprint”. I did not let my toddler do this because the pan was hot out of the oven.
- Kids can easily stir in the food coloring.
When to press the thumbprint into the cookie
My grandma’s recipe had minimal directions on it and when to make the thumbprint wasn’t specified. The first time I made this I mistakenly pressed the thumbprint in before baking. After they baked, you could hardly see an indent, and my frosting just sat on the top of a flat cookie. So don’t do it that way!
For a perfectly rounded thumbprint: Let the cookie balls bake about 8 minutes and take them out. Use a 1/4 tsp (my preference for smaller holes) or 1/2 tsp for larger holes, and slowly press down about half way through the cookie. Put them back in the oven for 2 minutes and then take them out. These are best not overcooked so if your cookies appear done after 8 minutes, just call it good.
- 1/2 cup butter
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1 egg, separated
- 1/2 tsp vanilla
- 1 cup flour
- 1 cup pecan halves, chopped finely
- 1/4 cup butter softened
- 1 & 1/4 cups powdered sugar
- 1/4 tsp vanilla
- Preheat oven to 350°.
- Cream softened butter, sugar, egg yolk and vanilla. Save egg white in separate bowl.
- Add flour and mix thoroughly.
- Using hands, shape cookies into 1 inch balls.
- Roll each ball in egg white, and then set in bowl filled with finely chopped nuts.
- Cover each ball with nuts and place on ungreased baking sheet.
- Bake for 8 minutes and remove from oven. While hot, make indents into the center of the cookie using the bottom of a ¼ tsp. Bake for 2 more minutes and remove from oven.
- Mix ingredients for buttercream frosting in a separate bowl and frost the "thumbprint" of the cookie when partly cooled. Enjoy!
Feel free to experiment with cookie size. I found that 1 inch balls gave exactly 12 cookies. Also, I used 1 cup of nuts, which came out to about 3/4 cup once finely chopped.