Thumbprint Cookies with Icing

Grandma’s recipe for Thumbprint Cookies with Icing are soft, lightly sweetened, and rolled in pecans for crunch. Festive powdered sugar icing is the perfect complement for this classic cookie!

thumbprint cookies with icing placed side by side on a wooden cutting board.

I’m so excited to share another of my grandma’s classic Christmas cookies. These Thumbprint Cookies with Icing are taken right from her recipe book.

The cookie itself is soft, chewy, and lightly sweet. It’s rolled in crunchy chopped pecans and given a button of festive colored icing for a touch of sweetness.

I did make two small adjustments to the original recipe by decreasing the cooking time by one minute and increasing the amount of chopped pecans to one full cup. I think I found the perfect balance between tender cookie and crunchy crust!

This classic Christmas cookie has origins in eastern Europe and will make you think of days gone by just like my Old Fashioned Spritz Cookies, Snowball Cookies with Pecans, and Soft and Chewy Snickerdoodles!

Jump to:

Here’s a look at Grandma’s recipe:

typewriter recipe for thumbprint cookies on lined paper in a black binder.

Top tips for making iced thumbprint cookies

  • Don’t despair if the dough looks a little crumbly as it mixes—keep mixing until the dough is smooth. I promise it will come together!
  • Use finely chopped pecans for this recipe. Sometimes you can find bags of pecans at the grocery store labeled “pecan chips”. Those are perfect for this recipe. Otherwise, just chop pecan halves or regular chopped pecans into extra fine pieces.
  • Once you’ve topped the cookies with icing, allow the icing to set completely before storing them. The icing will get firm and form a thin crust on the outside, which will allow you to stack them on top of each other without messing up the design. You can also store them in a single layer.
3 rows of thumbprint cookies with icing on a wooden cutting board.

Ingredients

ingredients needed to make thumbprint cookies with icing with labels.

For the cookies

  • Use softened butter for the cookie dough. It will make it easier to make the dough smooth and fully combined.
  • Brown sugar provides moisture to the cookies and gives them a subtle caramelized flavor.
  • An egg yolk is needed to bind the dough together, and give the cookies rich flavor.
  • A touch of vanilla extract complements the pecans.
  • Use all-purpose flour and make sure to measure correctly with a level measuring cup. Adding too much flour will make the cookies overly dense.
  • Salt balances the sweetness. 
  • Before placing the rolled cookie dough balls on the baking sheet, you’ll need to dip them in lightly beaten egg whites, and then roll them in finely chopped pecans. This process helps the nuts to adhere to the outside while baking.

For the icing

  • A simple mixture of powdered sugar and milk will make the icing. The powdered sugar has cornstarch in it and will thicken the icing.
  • Lastly, you’ll need food coloring, like red or green, to color the icing if desired. You’ll only need about 2-3 drops of coloring to make a nice shade. You can also use gel food coloring if you prefer more vibrant shades.

How to make Thumbprint Cookies with Icing

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Cream together the butter and brown sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer.

Add the egg yolk and vanilla, and mix until combined. 

Scrape down the sides of the bowl, and add the flour and salt. Stir just until incorporated. It may be crumbly at first but it will come together as the mixer runs.

creamed butter and brown sugar on a paddle attachment.

Roll the dough into 1-inch balls.

Roll each ball into the beaten egg whites and then into the chopped pecans. 

cookie dough ball being rolled in pecans.

Place on a baking sheet. Bake for 5 minutes.

rolled and crusted thumbprint cookies on a silicone covered baking sheet.

Remove from the oven and quickly press your thumb gently on top of each cookie to create an indentation.

thumb making an indentation on a thumbprint cookie.

Return to the oven for 8 minutes longer. 

Cool completely.

In a small bowl, stir together the powdered sugar and milk. Tint with food coloring to your desired shade. (I used two drops of regular McCormick food coloring per bowl.)

2 small bowls of colored icing next to baked thumbprint cookies.

Spoon a teaspoon or two of icing into the indentation of each cookie.

spoon pouring icing into the indentation on a thumbprint cookie.

Allow to harden, then serve or store for later.

15 baked and iced thumbprint cookies on a baking sheet.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I make these without the nuts?

Yes. Just omit the steps of rolling the cookies in the egg whites and nuts.

How do I store thumbprint cookies with icing?

Store either at room temperature or in the refrigerator, for up to 2 weeks. Serve at room temperature. I recommend waiting several hours before stacking them so the powdered sugar icing doesn’t get messed up.

Can thumbprint cookies be frozen?

Yes! The cookies can be frozen for up to 3 months. Allow the cookies to set completely before attempting to freeze them so that they don’t stick together. You can also separate the cookies with a layer of parchment paper before freezing if desired.

several thumbprint cookies with icing on a wooden cutting board.

There are so many fun ways to customize these cookies!

  1. Try a different filling for the thumbprint
    • Use candied fruit (think of the fruit used in fruit cake). The candied fruit is pretty sticky, but it is prone to falling off if the cookies get turned over or stacked. I’d recommend painting the thumbprint area with a thin layer of corn syrup to “glue” the fruit into place.
    • Fill with a dessert sauce or cream like thick caramel sauce, fudge sauce, flavored cream cheese, or Nutella.
    • Add a dollop of fruit jam, jelly, or butter on top. I think raspberry jam and apple butter taste especially good paired with the pecans!
  2. Swap the pecans for another topping
    • Use a different chopped nut like walnuts, hazelnuts, or almonds.
    • Roll the cookies in other toppings like shredded coconut, toffee bits, crushed candy canes, or sprinkles.
    • Take the minimalist route, and leave the cookies plain on the outside.
  3. Embellish the top of the cookies
    • Add sprinkles or streusel to the top of the icing/filling before it sets.
    • Drizzle candy melts or icing across the top of the cookies.
a row of 3 thumbprint cookies with icing on a wooden cutting board.

More classic Christmas cookies

Find more holiday baking inspiration with these classic cookies.

Have you tried this recipe? Please leave a ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ rating and/or comment below!

📖 Recipe

the top of several thumbprint cookies with icing on a wooden cutting board.

Thumbprint Cookies with Icing

Published by Kate
This classic recipe comes straight from Grandma's recipe collection. The lightly sweet cookies look extra festive with the colored icing!
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 12 minutes
Total Time 27 minutes
Course Desserts
Cuisine American
Servings 24 cookies
Calories 109 kcal

Ingredients
  

  • ½ cup butter, softened
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2 egg whites, beaten
  • ¾ cup very finely chopped pecans
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 2–3 drops food coloring, such as red and/or green

Instructions
 

  • Preheat oven to 375°F.
  • Cream together the butter and brown sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer.
  • Add the egg yolk and vanilla, and mix until combined.
  • Scrape down the sides of the bowl, and add the flour and salt. Stir just until incorporated.
  • Roll the dough into 1-inch balls.
  • Roll each ball into the beaten egg whites, then into the chopped pecans.
  • Place on a baking sheet. Bake for 5 minutes.
  • Remove from the oven and quickly press your thumb gently on top of each cookie to create an indentation.
  • Return to the oven for 8 minutes longer.
  • Cool completely.
  • In a small bowl, stir together the powdered sugar and milk. Tint with food coloring to your desired shade.
  • Spoon a teaspoon or two of icing into the indentation of each cookie. Allow to harden, then serve or store for later.

Notes

Storage information
Store at room temperature or in the refrigerator, for up to 2 weeks. Serve at room temperature. Freeze cookies in an airtight container for up to 3 months. 
Variations
      1. Try a different filling for the thumbprint
          • Use candied fruit (use a thin layer of corn syrup to help the fruit stay in place if desired).
          • Fill with a dessert sauce or cream like thick caramel sauce, fudge sauce, flavored cream cheese, or Nutella.
          • Add a dollop of fruit jam, jelly, or butter on top.
      1. Swap the pecans for another topping
          • Use a different chopped nut.
          • Roll in other toppings like shredded coconut, toffee bits, crushed candy canes, or sprinkles.
          • Leave the cookies plain on the outside.
      1. Embellish the top of the cookies
          • Add sprinkles or streusel to the top of the icing/filling before it sets.
          • Drizzle candy melts or icing across the top of the cookies.

    Nutrition

    Calories: 109kcalCarbohydrates: 12gProtein: 1gFat: 7gSaturated Fat: 3gPolyunsaturated Fat: 1gMonounsaturated Fat: 2gTrans Fat: 0.2gCholesterol: 18mgSodium: 30mgPotassium: 30mgFiber: 0.5gSugar: 7gVitamin A: 132IUVitamin C: 0.04mgCalcium: 8mgIron: 0.4mg
    Keyword iced thumbprint cookies, icing thumbprint cookies, thumbprint cookiew with icing
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