This recipe started as a way to use up leftover cranberry sauce after Christmas. Now, I make a batch of cranberry sauce just so I can make these wonderful cranberry thumbprint cookies!
If you need to avoid gluten, dairy, or sugar, you’ll need to make some adjustments to the recipe. Or check out my cookies and desserts for special diets and special occasions.
Make the cranberry sauce
Why would you make cranberry sauce when you could just buy a can of cranberry sauce? When you’re making cookies, your results depend so much on the quality of your ingredients. And a canned cranberry sauce is simply no match for homemade. But don’t worry. My cranberry sauce recipe is fast and easy to make.
You can make the cranberry sauce up to a week before you make the cookies. Just cover it tightly and keep it in the fridge.
Cranberry sauce ingredients
12 oz bag of fresh cranberries
1 1/4 cup sugar
Zest and juice of one small orange
2 Tbsp Grand Marnier
Cranberry sauce instructions
Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
In an ungreased 8×8 baking dish, stir together all the ingredients EXCEPT the Grand Marnier.
Cover the dish tightly with aluminum foil and pop it in the oven for an hour.
Take the pan out of the oven and uncover it. Most or all the berries will have popped, and the juices will be bubbly and a little syrupy. Pour in the Grand Marnier, give it a stir, and cover loosely while it cools.
Once it’s mostly cool, transfer it to a glass dish, cover tightly, and refrigerate until you’re ready to use it.
This makes about 2 cups of cranberry sauce. You need a cup and a half for the cookies. Mix the other half cup with cream cheese and spread it on turkey or ham sandwiches. Yum.
Make the cranberry thumbprint cookies
These cookies aren’t fancy, but they’re easier to make if you have the right tools for the job. A teaspoon-sized cookie scoop is super helpful. You’ll also want to use insulated baking sheets and parchment paper.
If you don’t have insulated baking sheets, regular ones will do. You’ll just have to watch more carefully while the cookies bake.
The recipe makes about 90 bite-sized cookies.
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large egg yolks
Zest from one large orange (about a tablespoon)
1 Tablespoon fresh orange juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups unbleached pastry flour *
1 1/2 cup homemade cranberry sauce
* If you can’t get pastry flour, use White Lily, Hodgson Mill, or Gold Medal all-purpose flour, which have a low to moderate amount of protein. Bread flour and higher-protein all purpose flours like King Arthur make great bread, but tough cookies.
Measure your cranberry sauce into a glass measuring cup. Use an immersion blender to make the cranberry sauce into a thick puree. (You can also do this with a food processor, or even with a pastry cutter, but an immersion blender is by far the fastest and easiest way to do it!)
Line 3 insulated baking sheets with parchment paper.
Beat the butter and the sugar together until it’s light and fluffy. (Don’t skimp on the beating time.)
Add the yolks, orange zest, orange juice and salt and beat well, scraping down the side of the bowl as needed. Add the flour and beat just long enough that it’s mixed in completely.
Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
Shape the dough into 1-inch balls. A one-teaspoon cookie scoop is exactly the right tool for the job. If you don’t have one, use a measuring spoon to measure out 1 teaspoon of dough for each cookie, and shape them into balls using your hands.
Place on the prepared baking sheets, about 1 1/2 or 2 inches apart. With a floured finger, press the center of each ball to make it into a little bowl or nest.
Bake one sheet of cookies at a time, 16 to 18 minutes, until they are light golden brown on the bottom.
Take the pan out of the oven, and immediately fill each cookie with 1/2 teaspoon of cranberry sauce, then return the cookies to the oven for 2 minutes.
Cool the cookies on a rack.
I like my cranberry thumbprint cookies plain. But if you want to fancy them up, once they’re completely cool, you can drizzle them with a thin glaze, or dust them with powdered sugar.
Cherry tea bars: These bar cookies have a secret ingredient in the filling: strong black tea.
Pecan pie bars: All the flavors of a classic Karo pecan pie, in a bar cookie.
Book activities with The Saint Nicholas Day Snow: When your child reads about Catherine and Elizabeth making cookies, you can get them in the kitchen to make cookies, too!