Variation on a Thumbprint: A Cheesy Favorite

Variation on a Thumbprint: A Cheesy Favorite

I wonder who came up with thumbprint cookies?  Was it intentional or a happy accident?  A baker grabbing a cookie sheet only to find she (he) had inadvertently stuck her thumbs in the cookies and thought, well heck might as well fill it with some jam.  And the rest is history as they say.  I actually googled thumbprints but alas no specific info on how they came about, just European in origin perhaps Swedish or Polish.  All I know for sure is the variations are infinite and each and every one is DELICIOUS.  It can be dolled up with nuts or not, filled with any flavor jam or jelly, or fancied up with lemon curd or chocolate ganache filling. Sky’s the limit. The cookie is buttery, with sandy texture like a shortbread and easy to make.  When my kids were little they were in charge of the very important task of making the “the thumb holes”.

While I was flipping through Vivian Howard’s book Deep Run Roots (love, love, love) I came across a cookie that had BAKE ME written all over it, Hot Apple Jelly Thumbprints.  The twist, no sugar in the dough? A savory thumbprint made with smoked gouda or sharp cheddar and filled with a spicy apple jelly. I stuck two post-it notes on the page to make sure I try this recipe.  Here is a link to the recipe when she made them for a Tabasco Sauce function, yep a hot sauce jam-get it?

Okay full disclosure.  I made the cookie but not the jelly. The jelly seemed infinitely more time consuming so I CHEATED.  A jar of Peachy Siracha Jam jumped out at me at the market.  It was fate.

As simple as thumbprints are to make a question arose while I was making the cookies.  Hmmm, 1-1/2 cup grated cheese.  Is that finely grated? Coarsely grated? Enquiring minds want to know.  What to do?  Fire off an e-mail to Ms. Howard hoping she will answer?  I did a search which did not turn up anything.  I then looked at Dorie Greenspan’s Cookie book knowing she had a savory section.  Bingo, Smoked Cheese Cocktail Cookies.  (She is my cookie hero).  Her process called for coarsely grated/shredded cheese which is then pulsed with cold butter in a food processor. The cookie becomes even easier to make.  Butter pulsed with the cheese and then add the flour and pulse into the dough starts to clump..done.  How easy is that?  The texture is similar to shortbread with a tiny bit of crunch which I am guessing comes from the cheese caramelizing as it bakes.  I posed the question about grating the cheese on Food52 Baking Club and another member told me she finely grated the cheese before mixing the dough in a Kitchen Aid.  The tip came from a Serious Eats article she had read, her cookies came out beautifully much like a shortbread.  I leave it to you to decide which method you use.

With a 2 teaspoon ice cream scoop I portioned the dough into balls and used my handy dandy thumb of course for the centers (sadly my kids have flown the coop so I had to use my own thumb).  The original recipe calls for piping the dough out with a pastry bag.  I opted for the scoop method.  The touch of sweetness and spice comes from the jam while the cookie is infused with a savory smokey flavor from the gouda.  A beautiful balance of flavors.  I plan to make these for my next happy hour to go along with that bottle of Cava parked in my fridge.  Can’t wait.

Hot Apple Jelly Thumbprints


  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 1/2 cups smoked gouda, shredded, at room temperature
  • Tabasco Jelly (recipe below)


  • Preheat oven to 350.
  • Sift the dry ingredients. Using a stand or hand mixer, cream the butter and cheese well. Slowly add the dry ingredients and continue to paddle until nice and fluffy; about 3 minutes.
  • Using a piping bag, pipe about 2 tsp. of the cookie dough onto a nonstick baking surface. Using your thumb, make a small indentation in the center of each round. (You may want to have a little flour on hand to prevent your thumb from sticking.) Pipe or spoon about 1 tsp. Tabasco jelly into each indentation.
  • Bake for 12 minutes, or until lightly browned on the bottom.
  • Yields approximately 5 dozen small cookies.
  • Hot Apple Jelly
  • 10 lbs. apples of your choice (If you can find slightly unripe apples, use 5 lbs. ripe and 5 lbs. unripe, as unripe apples have more pectin)
  • 8 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1/4 – 1/3 cup Tabasco brand Original Red Sauce, depending on your preference for heat
  • Roughly chop the apples. Include everything—the stems, core, seeds, and skin are all important for pectin. Place the apples in a large pot and cover them with water. Bring the apples up to a boil and cook 10–20 minutes, until they are soft but not falling to pieces. Drain the water off quickly.
  • Place the apples in a colander lined with cheesecloth, and place the colander inside a larger bowl to catch the liquid that drains off. This liquid will be the “meat” of your jelly, so allow it to drain overnight for best results. You should be left with roughly 9–10 cups thickish apple nectar. (If you have more, it’s not a problem; you will just have to increase cooking time.)
  • Place a small plate in the freezer for testing your jelly. Transfer the apple liquid and the sugar to a heavy-bottomed pot and bring it up to a boil. Let this simmer for about 15 minutes. Check where you are by spooning a little of the jelly onto your super cold plate. If it firms up and wrinkles when you nudge it, you’re good to go. If not, cook it longer, testing every ten minutes or so.
  • Once you’ve reached the desired set, stir in the lemon juice and the Tabasco Sauce. The jelly should be a beautiful amber color and should be completely clear. Taste and adjust with more of either. Transfer to a container to chill.
  • In addition to using the Tabasco jelly in these cookies, it would be great served with goat cheese and crackers, or as a glaze over pork chops or ham, or as a sauce for chicken wings. It’s very versatile.
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