Thumbprint Cookies with Brown Sugar Icing

Assortment of Thumbprint cookies on a red plate

It’s time for another classic Christmas cookie! And no holiday cookie selection is complete without the addition of thumbprint cookies. There are many versions of this cookie floating around, I dug out my Mom’s recipe for thumbprints frosted with brown sugar icing. Yummy!

Why are they called Thumbprint Cookies?

The name of this cookie comes from the way you create a depression in the cookie. Traditionally, we have been told to use our thumb. From a sheer point of practicality, this can be a little uncomfortable. First you bake the dough for 5 minutes, then press your thumb into it. That dough is HOT people! It’s not so bad for the first couple cookies but by the time you are on #18 your thumb isn’t very happy.

I just use the back of a measuring spoon. Half teaspoon size, to be precise. I’ll sometimes touch it in a little butter to prevent sticking to the dough. Works out great. 😀

Ingredients needed

For the cookie:

  • Butter
  • Shortening
  • Brown sugar
  • Egg yolk
  • Vanilla
  • Flour salt
  • Walnuts

For the brown sugar icing:

  • Heavy cream
  • Butter
  • Brown sugar

How to make Thumbprint Cookies

This easy recipe comes straight out of the 1950’s era Betty Crocker cookbook. I specify that because the recipe is slightly different in the 1970’s and after version.

Simply cream together the butter, shortening, brown sugar, egg yolk and vanilla. Then sift in the flour and salt and stir to combine.  Form dough into one-inch balls and dip each into chopped nuts. Place on a cookie sheet.

Bake 5 minutes, remove from oven and make a depression in each cookie, then bake 8 minutes more. Cool before filling.

How to make Brown Sugar Icing

This brown sugar icing is an old-fashioned, cooked frosting. Having made these cookies several times, I can tell you that if I make the recipe as it was originally written I run out of frosting. Every. Time. Which isn’t terrible if you want to fill some of the cookies with jam as I did. (See variations below) Knowing my mom, she just scaled the recipe up every time. Since I also cannot imagine that only one batch of these cookies was ever made, I’m sure larger batches of frosting followed. Therefore, the amounts I am providing are double what the original recipe states. I want to be sure you have enough frosting for all the cookies. Besides, “extra frosting is a terrible problem” said no one, EVER.

In a small saucepan, heat the butter, brown sugar and cream. Bring to a boil. (this only takes a couple minutes for a small batch)

Remove from heat and add powdered sugar. This is another of those nuances in my Mom’s recipe box. The directions state “enough powdered sugar to thicken”. I am providing the amount that works for me, but you can obviously add a little more if you feel it needs it. Just keep in mind that the frosting does stiffen as it cools.

Frost the cookies right away, while the icing is warm.


I really like the simplicity of the thumbprint cookies with brown sugar icing, especially when you have a whole tray of holiday sweets. It provides a nice contrast to all the richness of many of the offerings. But the beauty of the thumbprint cookie is its versatility. Here are a few ideas to make your cookies into something for everyone, all from one batch:

Jam filled thumbprints – I think this is the most popular version of thumbprint cookies. Raspberry or strawberry jam are very popular, and their red color gives such a beautifully festive appearance. The one disadvantage to using jam is that it is soft and “sticky”. Which means it is tough to store in layers. So if you’re making a big batch of thumbprints, put the sturdier brown sugar frosted ones on the bottom layer, add a sheet of wax paper, then place the jam filled thumbprints on top.

Jam filled with icing – you know, I just can’t resist a frosting opportunity. So with some of my jam filled thumbprints I drizzled a little glaze. It just adds a little extra touch.

Nutella filled thumbprints – yup, can’t resist a Nutella opportunity either. Thumbprints provide a perfect spot for a dollop of Nutella. Nutella has the same challenge as jam, storage-wise. These go on the top layer of the container with the jam-filled thumbprints.

And speaking of storage, be sure to store in an airtight container, and in a cool place. I tend to stick them in the fridge until I want to serve.

Thumbprint cookies with Icing pin

Make a batch of thumbprint cookies with icing, jam and Nutella filling and you’ll automatically have a great start to your holiday cookie selection!

Assortment of Thumbprint cookies on a red plate
Print Recipe
5 from 19 votes

Thumbprint Cookies with Icing

A classic holiday cookie!
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time15 mins
Cooling time30 mins
Total Time1 hr
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Servings: 20
Calories: 128kcal
Author: Sula



  • ¼ cup butter softened
  • ¼ cup shortening
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • ½ tsp vanilla
  • 1 cup flour
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • Chopped nuts walnuts

Brown Sugar Icing

  • 5 TB cream
  • 2 tsp butter
  • 4 TB brown sugar
  • 1 cup powdered sugar



  • Preheat oven to 375F.
  • Cream together butter, shortening, egg yolk and vanilla.
  • Sift together flour and salt. Add to butter mixture and stir well to combine.
  • Form dough into one-inch balls and dip into the nuts. Place on a cookie sheet.
  • Bake for 5 minutes, then remove from oven, press thumb or back of spoon gently on top of each cookie, then return to oven. Bake an additional 8 minutes. Cool.

Brown Sugar Icing

  • Add ingredients to a small saucepan. Heat and bring to a boil.
  • Remove from heat and add enough powdered sugar to thicken.



Calories: 128kcal | Carbohydrates: 16g | Protein: 1g | Fat: 7g | Saturated Fat: 3g | Cholesterol: 22mg | Sodium: 57mg | Potassium: 16mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 11g | Vitamin A: 152IU | Calcium: 9mg | Iron: 1mg

Nutrition values are estimates only, using online calculators. Please verify using your own data.

More ideas for your holiday sweets tray:


20 thoughts on “Thumbprint Cookies with Brown Sugar Icing

  1. 5 stars
    Such a Christmas classic! These look and sound divine – might have to whip up a batch this week!

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