The Cookie Jar: Poppy Seed Thumbprints

Out of my arsenal of cookie books, one I constantly reach for is by cookie diva herself and winner of a James Beard Award, Carole Walter.

This is basically your cookie bible. It’s got everything from drop cookies to shortbreads to international cookies, and all of them are wonderful. So far I’ve tried out half the book, and everything I’ve made so far is amazing. If you love baking cookies, then Great Cookies: Secrets to Sensational Sweets is one to pick up. More than half of the book is designed for someone who is looking to take the next step up from your generic fuss-free drop cookies, so if you want to pick up some tips and strengthen your baking mettle, get this book. She’s got a lot of fun cookies that you’ll make again and again.

I’ve been mentioning how much I’ve been into fruit cookies lately. While flipping through the Great Cookies book, I ran across one that I’ve eyeballed a few times: Poppy Seed Thumbprints. I happened to have all the ingredients in my pantry, so I put this one to the test. The result: Success!

photo courtesy Duane Winfield

Poppy Seed Thumbprints
recipe adapted from Great Cookies by Carole Walter

2 cups all purpose flour, spooned in and leveled
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup poppy seeds
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly firm
1/2 cup sugar
2 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Raspberry Preserves
Apricot Preserves

Position shelves in the upper and lower thirds of the oven. Heat the oven to 350-degrees F. Strain together the flour and salt in a large bowl. Whisk in the poppy seeds and set aside.

In the large bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the butter on medium-low speed until smooth. Pour in the sugar and mix just until incorporated. Add the egg yolks and vanilla, mixing only until blended. Using a wooden spoon, stir in the dry ingredients in two additions, mixing just to combine after each addition. Note: Do not overmix this dough or it will become oily.

So this is where the trick comes in – forming them. The dough is not exactly hard to work with, but it’s not entirely soft and pliable, either. However you form them on the cookie sheet is how they will be shaped when they’re done baking.

Roll the dough into balls about the size of a walnut and place 2 inches apart on the cookie sheets. Using a wooden spoon with a rounded handle no wider than 1/2 inch, make a deep indentation with the tip of the handle in the center of each cookie. If the dough sticks, dip the tip in flour before pressing.

Be careful with this step and don’t jam your handle into the cookie all the way. This is where some of my cookies started to break apart. Go easy.

Slightly phallic, but you get the idea.

Hopefully you can see what I’m getting at with the picture above – some of the cookies cracked apart if I wasn’t careful while making my indentations. If you leave the cookie like that to bake, that’s how it will come out; the dough will not blend back together during baking, like what you would experience with a chocolate chip cookie dough.

Place the cookies in the oven. After 10 minutes, remove the cookies from the oven and re-press each indentation. Then fill the centers with preserves. To do this neatly (yeah she tells us how to do it neatly and I still goofed a couple of them up – go me) point the tip of the spoon down into the indentation and slide the preserves off with your fingertip. Do not overfill these or the preserves will run over.

Return cookies to the oven, rotating the pans top to bottom and front to back. Bake for 4 to 5 minutes longer or until the cookies are golden brown around the edges. Using a thin metal spatula, loosen the cookies from the pans as soon as they are cool enough to handle. Cool on wire racks.

I can’t get enough of these little things. If my mouth was big enough I’d pop them in whole to eat them in one bite. The poppy seed cookie with the sweet taste of jam inside is delicious. (Jam note: I used a sugar-free, seedless strawberry jam called Polamer’s that you can get in grocery stores.) These are going into my Christmas cookie boxes that my friends receive as holiday gifts… provided I can get them done before tomorrow afternoon. I know; I’m way behind! Yikes!

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