Lemon Lime Thumbprint Cookies
I love Jewish holidays for the food, so the glutton in me is pretty much devastated when I let one slip by without celebrating (i.e., eating) properly… but the jew in me just can’t remember when the holidays are! (My younger sister always seems to know, but I think she’s given up on reminding me.)
Typical typical… I forgot it was Purim this past weekend, and when I should have been making hamantaschen, I accidentally made these instead. Eerily similar though, right? Instead of lemon-lime curd, they just need to be filled with sweet poppyseed goop or fruit jam, and then squeezed into triangular shapes…
The photos are not from this past weekend, but are actually from about a month ago when I first planned to post this recipe, but then other things took precedence—I guess I was too excited about sharing the past few dishes with you (especially the momos!) so I just kept pushing these off until later.
And wouldn’t you know it, I somehow LOST all the notes I’d taken on the recipe!
So this weekend, when I sat down to write up the recipe, I instead ended up baking another 4 dozen thumbprints, just to take extra good notes this time about how I (think I) made them in the first place!
Too bad I missed my chance to make (timely) hamantaschen. And too bad I chose a day when it was over 80 degrees in Santa Barbara… I know, everyone who is still snowboot-deep in winter doesn’t want to hear about it, so I’ll just say that with the oven on, my apartment was uncomfortably hot (<== an understatement) and leave it at that.
My first time making thumbprints was back when my parents were visiting in December. I think it was all of the “holiday cookie” issues/features of food magazines (and food blogs) that convinced me to finally try my hand at them.
I also saw them as the perfect solution for an over-accumulation of jam—mostly homemade—in our pantry and fridge. (It was actually quite discouraging to find out that you can make 4 dozen thumbprint cookies and still use up only 1/2 cup of jam! I think I need some more jam solutions, short of baking it into phyllo-wrapped brie; we just don’t use it up fast enough on sandwiches and toast.)
Since I come from a non-thumbprint household, my parents were as new to thumbprints as I was, but far less enthusiastic. Even Paula joined my parents in suggesting that I bake a different kind of cookie, or perhaps no cookie at all. (If you think all three of their reactions sound totally bizarre, then yes, I’m right there with you!)
But then, somehow, the prototype thumbprints, filled with a homemade fig jam and a storebought raspberry one, started to miraculously disappear from the cooling racks. I think about half the cookies had disappeared within a few hours of them coming out of the oven, and believe me, I wasn’t the only one eating them.
I guess there’s something about thumbprints—you’d think maybe the cookie-to-filling ratio would be too high, but the concentrated dollop of super-sweet jam makes up for that, and somehow you just keep going back for more.
I’ve made the cookie-to-filling ratio even better (I think; no bias here…) by keeping the lemon-lime curd very tart, so you can use even more of it. I also reduced the sugar in the (America’s Test Kitchen) cookie dough recipe, so nothing is too overpoweringly sweet.
With their thumbprint cookie recipe, America’s Test Kitchen figured out how to do what I couldn’t accomplish for the life of me: incorporate cream cheese into a solid, sturdy cookie recipe. It turns out ATK does so by using a LOT of flour. But then, a lot of flour goes a long way—this recipe makes plenty of cookies for sharing with friends (or bringing to work, as I keep having Paula do).
I love the subtle flavors of cream cheese and almond extract in the cookies. I also sometimes add citrus zest to the cookie dough (although to be honest, I don’t think it makes that much difference, flavor-wise…).
The ATK thumbprint recipe calls for 1/2 cup of jam, but when I’ve made these with exactly 1/2 cup of citrus curd, it was stressful trying to get every last bit of it out of my plastic (ziploc) piping bags. So I’ve increased the ingredients of my lemon-lime curd recipe so that it yields a few tablespoons over 1/2 cup. That way you can pipe generously (although not so much that it spills out of the cookies…), and you can pipe sloppily, and you’ll still definitely have enough to fill each cookie full of deliciousness. (Not all of us are experts with piping bags… sometimes things backfire. Literally.)
I suppose this is a high maintenance cookie recipe, as cookie recipes go, since you need to bake each sheet of cookies both before and after you fill them with citrus curd. But if you start out just baking one sheet at a time, then you can get into a nice rhythm of alternating which sheet you’re focusing on, with time to spare for washing dishes (and eating cookies) during the few minutes of downtime in between. (I call nearly all of it “active time” in the recipe below, though, since the downtime breaks are short!)
But trust me when I say that these cookies are worth it—however much I wish I’d baked hamantaschen last weekend instead.
Print this recipe. (PDF)
Lemon Lime Thumbprint Cookies
(Cookie Dough recipe barely adapted from the ATK Family Baking Book.)
(Makes about 4 dozen cookies)
Active time: 1 hour 45 minutes; Total time: 2 hours 15 minutes.
Lemon Lime Curd Ingredients (makes ⅔ cup):
~ 2 eggs
~ 3 Tbsp. butter, cut into small pieces
~ ⅓ cup fresh strained lemon-lime juice (from about 1 lemon + 1 lime; reserve zest for cookie dough)
~ ¼ cup sugar (or ⅓ cup if you plan to eat the curd on its own)
Cookie Dough Ingredients:
~ 2¼ cups all-purpose flour
~ ½ tsp. salt
~ ½ tsp. baking soda
~ ¼ tsp. baking powder
~ 1½ sticks (12 Tbsp.) butter, softened
~ ½ cup sugar
~ 3 oz. cream cheese, softened
~ 1 egg
~ 1 tsp. vanilla extract
~ 1 tsp. almond extract
~ zest of 1 lemon and 1 lime
How to make it:
0. Start your butter and cream cheese softening for the cookie dough. To speed things along, you can chop them up into small cubes and leave them out in a warm place—near/on the stove or in the sun.
1. Make the lemon lime curd: Place a fine mesh strainer over a medium bowl and set aside. In a heat-proof bowl, whisk the eggs until smooth and set aside. In a small saucepan, start to melt the butter over medium heat. Once about half of the butter has melted, add the lemon-lime juice and the sugar. Stir gently and allow to come to a simmer. Then—whisking the entire time—slowly pour the mixture into the eggs to temper them. Pour everything back into the saucepan, and continue whisking, over medium-low heat, until it thickens. Then pour through the strainer, using a silicone spatula to gently push the curd through, without pushing any of the bits of solid-cooked egg whites through. (Scrape the citrus curd from the bottom of the strainer, too!)
2. Make the cookies: Arrange two oven racks near the center of the oven. Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees, and line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silpats. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder, then set aside.
3. In a large bowl, use an electric hand mixer to cream together the butter and sugar until fluffy—for at least 2 minutes. Beat in the cream cheese until smooth. Then beat in the egg, vanilla extract, almond extract, and lemon and lime zest.
4. Gradually add the flour mixture (in thirds) to the large bowl, beating until well combined after each addition. Either before/after shaping the cookies, scoop the lemon lime curd into the corner of a small ziploc bag (or for a less-messy option, use two bags and scoop half of the curd into each); seal the bag(s) and set aside.
5. Roll the dough into small balls (about 1½ tsp. of dough each) and place them an inch or two apart on the cookie sheet. (About 12 cookies per baking sheet.) Use your thumb to make indentations in the center of each ball of dough. Bake the cookies on the top rack of the oven for 10-11 minutes, then remove and use the back of a round teaspoon-measure to push on and re-shape the thumbprints.
6. Squeeze the curd into the corner of the ziploc bag, then use scissors to snip off a tiny part of the corner. Pipe about ½ tsp. of the curd into the center of each cookie. Return to the oven—on the lower rack—for 10 minutes. Allow cookies to firm up on the baking sheet for at least 5 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.
Note: These cookies will come out mostly smooth and rounded around the edges. For a rustic “cracked” look, in Step #5, do not indent with your thumb; instead bake the round cookie balls for 6 minutes, then remove and gently indent with the back of a round teaspoon measure. Return to the oven for 5 minutes, then reshape with the teaspoon. (Then fill each cookie with citrus curd, and finish baking for 10 min. as usual.)
Print this recipe! (PDF)
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