My mother, Pauline, made really nice thumbprint cookies, but I never wrote down her recipe. I knew the ingredients, but unless you have the right proportions, you won't get that perfect melt-in-your-mouth texture. So, I did an image search and found a recipe that looked very similar, credited to a great-grandma named Mitzi. Since my last name is Mitzewich, that pretty much sealed the deal. In case you can't decide between a shortbread-focused cookie and a more jammy one, here's how to make both.

Recipe Summary

15 mins
15 mins
20 mins
50 mins
20 to 24 cookies


Original recipe yields 20 servings
The ingredient list now reflects the servings specified
Ingredient Checklist


Instructions Checklist
  • Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C).

  • Mix butter and powdered sugar together with a rubber spatula until creamy. Add vanilla extract, almond extract, salt, and egg yolk. Mix with the spatula. Add flour and blend until just combined.

  • Use a sorbet scoop to portion dough into 1/2-ounce (1-tablespoon) balls. Roll balls in a plate of white sugar to coat; roll again between your palms. Place several inches apart on a silicone-lined baking sheet. Flatten balls lightly with your fingers.

  • To make shortbread cookies with a little jam, poke a well into each cookie using the end of a thick wooden spoon dusted with powdered sugar or using one of your fingers. Fill cookies with fruit jam. Tap baking sheet against the counter to let jam settle.

  • Bake in the preheated oven until tops are barely blonde and bottoms are slightly golden, about 15 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack before icing.

  • Meanwhile, mix powdered sugar with a little milk until you have a consistency that will hold its shape when piped. Pipe icing on top of cookies in a zigzag pattern. Let sit for 15 minutes before serving.

  • For a more jam-forward cookie, press your thumb into the cookies to make large, shallow indentations. Spoon in jam. Tap baking sheet against the counter.

  • Bake until not quite golden brown, about 15 minutes. Let rest on pan for 5 minutes before transferring a wire rack. Dust with powdered sugar.

Chef's Notes:

For best results, do not chill the dough.

For the icing, feel free to use water instead of milk.

Nutrition Facts

139 calories; protein 1g; carbohydrates 22.8g; fat 4.9g; cholesterol 22.5mg; sodium 33.2mg. Full Nutrition

Reviews (44)

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Most helpful positive review

Rating: 5 stars
These are amazing I have made these cookies about 4 times and every time someone has always complimented them. I always forget that jam is hot and it will burn your tongue if you eat them right after you take them out of the oven but who can really resist. ;) Read More
58 Ratings
  • 5 star values: 43
  • 4 star values: 9
  • 3 star values: 4
  • 2 star values: 2
  • 1 star values: 0
Rating: 5 stars
These are wonderful. The powdered sugar gives the cookies a very soft texture and they're not overpoweringly sweet so they pair very nicely with the jam (we used lemon and fig). If you live at a high altitude or have an older oven you should expect to bake them for a little longer--ours took about 22 minutes to fully cook through. Read More
Rating: 5 stars
These are amazing I have made these cookies about 4 times and every time someone has always complimented them. I always forget that jam is hot and it will burn your tongue if you eat them right after you take them out of the oven but who can really resist. ;) Read More
Rating: 5 stars
I was looking for a quick thumbprint cookie that didn't require refrigeration and here was Chef John's recipe to save the day! Perfect shortbread tastes fantastic and looks beautiful! The texture of the shortbread is perfection and the buttery not-too-sweet flavor compliments the jam wonderfully. Can't say enough good things about these cookies! I used apricot and blackberry jams and skipped the icing. I got 16 cookies out of this recipe and they took about 17 minutes to bake. Thank you Chef John! Read More
Rating: 5 stars
Possibly the best thumbprint...ever. The dough is to die for. It's tender and melts in your mouth. I have tried many others over the 20 years of baking and giving special holiday bakes as gifts. In fact I had all but abandoned the prospect of finding a good thumbprint dough recipe. After 5 years of experimenting I stopped trying because of the irritation with the waste of home made jams and jellies in the trial process. This recipe has changed my attitude toward these beautiful and colorful cookies. I even went out and purchased some high-end jelly for a second batch!! Love it!! Thanks for sharing. Read More
Rating: 4 stars
I really liked how these turned out albeit they were a bit dry. Going to try again with a little less flour! Read More
Rating: 5 stars
Nothing changed. Read More
Rating: 5 stars
Super easy to make and they came out delicious only minus is that they where gone that fast! Read More
Rating: 5 stars
The cookies are amazing although I typically need to add more butter to get them to where they are the right texture. Following the recipe for me seems to have them turn out too dry when trying to form them into balls. Read More
Rating: 5 stars
I just want to say...chef John i love you. these are fantabulous! Please keep making food porn... Read More