Friday, January 20, 2012

Touching my food: Jam Thumbprint Cookies

There is a reason for the slightly rustic appearance of these cookies--I was experimenting with the critical jam-to-cookie ratio in my thumbprints. Actually, this whole recipe was a bit of an experiment.  I noticed a intriguingly easy recipe with only four ingredients for jam thumbprints and was inspired. I had all of the ingredients in my pantry, including some particularly lovely homemade ginger plum jam I'd been given at Christmas.  I was suspicious that the recipe called for only four tablespoons of butter, but I dug in...

Needless to say, the dough never came together.  However, with a great deal of tinkering, I was able to produce the final result, which I was happy with--and after all, unlike, say, chocolate chip cookies or brownies, there is no paradigmatic recipe for jam thumbprints, from which all variations are merely rifts on a theme.

The irregular spots of plum jam on the photo you see above would drive my friend crazy.  A devoted canner and preserver as well as a baker and cook, she's the type of person whose meatballs and cookies are always the same size.

Next time I'll do better with my jammin'--funnily enough, I often frustrate people with my inconsistently obsessive temperament, and I have for years.  I'm sloppy about dusting, but heaven forbid if you're late to the theater with me.  I know that the ideal woman should be infinitely patient about the foibles of others, yet also be so devoted to cleaning she can't go to bed without vacuuming something.

Even with food, my OCD is unpredictable.  As a kid, I loved provolone cheese, liverwurst, and pimento-stuffed olives.  But I ate my food in a particular order, one item at a time.  You'd never catch me putting french fries on my burger with my Happy Meal.  And pasta?  Once I sent back a bowl of buttered pasta, got some with sauce, sent that back, and then picked at the buttered stuff, which I now pronounced hard and gross.

Truth be told, I don't ever remember being hungry as a kid, and always felt slightly stuffed by my parent's attempts to get me to eat the food they thought I should eat, while I was trying to leave room for dessert--I was the annoying little girl who would get up a million times during dinner, even when eating outdoors, to look at the salamanders sunning themselves on the sidewalk, rather than eat.  It's amazing I wasn't thinner, but the fact that I never met a dessert at the period of my life that I couldn't demolish is probably why.  That and fried clams, pizza, and Chicken McNuggets.

These cookies can be made, baked, and consumed dangerously quickly, so probably you should put more care into apportioning the jam, simply to prolong the process.

Jam Thumbprint Cookies


 --makes 10-12 large, 12-15 average-sized cookies--

1 stick (1/2 cup) of very soft butter (I used salted, since the original recipe had not salt in it at all.  You could use unsalted 'plain,' or add 1/4 teaspoon of salt to an unsalted butter if desired)
1/4 cup of granulated sugar
2/3 cup flour
1 tablespoon of powdered sugar
3 tablespoons (approximately) of a tart or strongly-flavored jam (plum, cherry, or apricot)


1. Preheat the oven to 350F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Cream butter and sugar together . Slowly spoon in the flour and incorporate it until a dough is formed.
3. Use a cookie scoop to make small balls, then roll in the powdered sugar.
4. Make small depressions with the back of a wooden dowel, then slightly enlarge the depressions with your thumb.  Wash your hands first.
5. Fill each depression with 1/2 teaspoon (approximate) with jam.
6. Bake for 12-15 minutes.  Cookies will be very, very slightly brown around the edges.


  1. I did a little checking to confirm my suspicions but it's likely that you're problem with the dough is your flour. It appears that the original author of the recipe (Abby Dodge) is using 128g per cup of flour (4.5oz) which if you're scooping and sweeping you're probably up in the 140s. Stupid flour.
    I too am OCD about certain things and then completely absent minded about other things, though I try to be consistently inconsistent :).
    The cookies look great. Thumbprints are another one I've been meaning to bake, especially since I love jam. What did you think was the right amount of jam per cookie?
    [sarcasm] And there are jams other than strawberry :)? [/sarcasm]

  2. @Adam--interesting--that is probably the reason, although, because I was quite wary about the recipe, I used a very, very light hand with the flour and what I ended up with was completely unworkable--more like flour 'kissed' with butter than typical sandy, slightly 'over-floured' dough. If I finally invest in a scale, I will give the recipe another 'go' although I did like the buttery rather than sugary version of the final result, since it was a nice contrast with the jam.

    As for the flavors, blame my 'canny' friend who gave me the jam rather than the baker! And in all seriousness, the perfect ratio seemed to be just under 1/2 a teaspoon, as featured in the heart-shaped jam imprint in the first picture.

  3. Flour is touchy. I did a random test the other day just spooning the flour into a cup and then sweeping (no prefluffing with a fork) and I ended up with 147g the first time and 154g the second time. I repeat, stupid flour :).

  4. @Adam--true, and I 100 percent understand the argument for weighing. Still, I haven't had problems before--perhaps it was because this recipe had such an unusual flour-to-fat ratio.

  5. I am glad I'm not the only one with inconsistent OCD. I have never been a germaphobe and I might even observe the three second rule for a dropped piece of toast but I can't function if my pantry is not obsessively organized. But it means I am easily amused. Give me some dry goods, containers and labels and I can be entertained for hours. Clearly there is something wrong with me.

  6. @MD--I find it much easier to organize things than to scrub things. I hate scrubbing, but organizing is no problem since my verbal intelligence is what I coast on, to get me through life...

  7. I bet they'd be great as PB with jelly...yum!

  8. @BD--peanut butter cookies make great 'thumbprints' with jam...