Thumbprint cookies resemble tiny tarts, with a pocket of filling surrounded by tender cookie. They can be made in a wide variety of flavor combinations, some with fillings that are baked in and others with fillings that are added after the cookies have cooled. These Salted Caramel Chocolate Thumbprint Cookies are made with a chocolate cookie dough and filled with pools of sticky salted caramel. The salted caramel is added in after the cookies have baked, which makes these very easy to assemble and ensures that the caramel is perfectly smooth when you sink your teeth into it.
The recipe starts with a buttery chocolate shortbread cookie dough. This dough has plenty of cocoa powder in it to give it a dark chocolate flavor. It also doesn’t contain any leavening, so the cookies are dense, but tender enough to melt in your mouth when you take a bite. The dough is easy to shape and spreads only slightly during baking into attractive dome shapes, perfect for squishing into the classic thumbprint cookie shape.
The cookies should be baked until they are set before making the thumprints. The “thumbprints” should not be made with your thumbs in this case, as they are made when the cookies are still hot from the oven. Instead, use the back of a 1/2 teaspoon measure or the back of a melon baller to press firmly into the cookie dough. The edges of the cookies will crack attractively and a nice cavity will form. Once the cookies have been allowed to cool completely, this cavity should be filled with salted caramel sauce.
You can make your own salted caramel sauce from just about any recipe, but I typically pick up a jar of premade salted caramel and use it in this recipe just to keep my prep time down. I like the salted caramel sauce from Trader Joe’s, though any high quality brand will work well. Even though the caramel will have a bit of salt in it, add a few extra sprinkles of coarse sea salt on top for extra salty-sweet deliciousness.
The cookies keep extremely well when stored in an airtight container, though I recommend keeping them unfilled if you are not going to be serving them right away so that the caramel doesn’t stick to anything while you’re waiting to enjoy them! Unfilled cookies will last for up to two days (even 3) in an airtight container. Once they have been filled, the cookies are more difficult to store and so they should be enjoyed the same day.
Salted Caramel Chocolate Thumbprint Cookies
1 1/4 cups butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
approx 1/2 cup salted caramel sauce
coarse sea salt, for garnish
Preheat oven to 350F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until light. Beat in egg and vanilla extract until well-incorporated. With the mixer on low speed, slowly blend in the cocoa powder until it has been completely incorporated. Add in the salt and flour and mix until no streaks of dry ingredients remain visible.
Shape dough into 1-inch balls and roll them gently between your palms to smooth them. Arrange on prepared baking sheet, leaving at least 1-inch between cookies to allow for spread.
Bake for 9-11 minutes, until cookies are just set around the edges; cookies should not look overly “wet”, but will have a slight sheen to them.
Remove the cookies from the oven and, using the back of a melon baller or a half-teaspoon measure, make a “thumbprint” in the top of each cookie, pressing firmly enough to create a clear shape. Allow cookies to cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
Once cookies have cooled, fill each with approximately 1/2 teaspoon salted caramel sauce and sprinkle a few pieces of sea salt on top.
If cookies are not being served the same day, they can be stored for up to 2 days, unfilled, in an airtight container.
Makes about 4-dozen cookies.