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Food and Drink

2 holiday cookies for your next swap: Pecan thumbprints and ricotta ‘cake’ cookies

  • Author: Kim Sunée
    | Alaska cooking
  • Updated: December 18, 2020
  • Published December 17, 2020

Pecan thumbprints and holiday ricotta "cake" cookies (Photo by Kim Sunée)

Pecan thumbprints

These toasted pecan cookies — a nutty twist on the beloved jam thumbprints — always seem to win over new devotees, especially at cookie swaps. Pecans feel festive for the holidays but feel free to experiment with other nuts. Use at least two different types of jam for variety in both color and flavor. The dough freezes well — up to two weeks — and the cookies can be baked up to three days ahead and stored, at room temperature, in an airtight container.

Makes about 2 dozen

1 cup (125 g) pecan halves, plus one half for topping each cookie

1 1/4 cups (150 g) all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

3/4 cup unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks)

1/4 cup (50 g) granulated sugar

1/4 cup (30 g) powdered sugar, plus 1/2 cup (60 g)

1 large egg yolk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup jam, such as apricot, raspberry, or blackberry

1. Toast pecans in a dry skillet set over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until lightly toasted, 5 to 7 minutes. Set aside to cool. (Note: Separate out 26 pecan halves and set aside if using to top each cookie.) In the bowl of a food processor, add 1 cup pecans, flour, salt and baking powder and pulse until pecans are finely ground, about 45 seconds; set aside.

2. Beat softened butter, granulated sugar and 1/4 cup powdered sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add egg yolk and vanilla and beat until blended. Reduce speed to low and add dry ingredients. Beat just until well incorporated, about 1 minute. Cover with plastic wrap and chill dough 30 minutes or until firm enough to scoop and shape.

3. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Place remaining 1/2 cup powdered sugar in a shallow bowl. Working in batches, scoop out tablespoonfuls of dough and roll into 1-inch balls; roll balls in powdered sugar, knocking off any excess. Transfer to the prepared baking sheets, and space cookies about 2-inches apart. Using your thumb or the tip of a small spurtle/pestle, make a well in center of each cookie. Place baking sheets in fridge for 20 minutes or freezer for 10 minutes. While cookies are chilling, melt jam in microwave or on stovetop and let cool slightly; you want to warm it just so it’s spreadable.

4. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove baking sheets from fridge or freezer. Spoon jam into center of each cookie. Top with a pecan half, if desired.

5. Bake cookies 10 to 12 minutes until edges are very lightly browned. Let cool slightly on baking sheets and remove to a cooling rack. Dust with more powdered sugar, if desired.

Holiday ricotta ‘cake’ cookies

I got a version of this traditional recipe from a friend of a friend of a friend of the original yet elusive Mama Romano. Whether a true Mama Romano exists behind this recipe or not, these delicious, tender ricotta cookies are very real. This is the basic recipe, but it’s easily adaptable; I’ve modified over time, adding in finely-chopped walnuts or pecans; dipping some in chocolate; and adding in orange blossom and rose petals to the glaze for a spring version. As for the glaze, another option is to forgo the — minimal — fuss and eat these cake-like cookies as is, warm out of the oven. The cookies themselves only require less than 15 minutes baking time, but you’ll need to plan ahead to allow for chilling the dough, which is crucial for the cookies to hold their shape as they bake. In winter, I just set everything out to chill on the back deck.

Makes 3 to 4 dozen

For the cookies:

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

1 3/4 (370 grams) cups sugar or vanilla sugar*

1 (15-ounce) container ricotta cheese, preferably fresh, whole-milk ricotta

2 large eggs

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

1 teaspoon almond extract

Grated zest of 1 small lemon

4 cups (480 grams) all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon fine salt

2 teaspoons baking soda

For the glaze:

Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon (2 tablespoons)

About 3 cups (345 grams) powdered sugar

1 tablespoon milk, as needed

Red and green sparkling sugar (optional)

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add ricotta and eggs, one at a time, mixing just until well blended. Add vanilla and almond extracts. In a separate bowl, combine flour, salt, and baking soda. Slowly add dry ingredients to butter and sugar mixture and blend just until combined — do not overmix. Cover and chill dough in fridge 15 to 30 minutes. While dough is chilling, line two baking sheets with parchment paper and place in fridge or freezer.

When ready to bake cookies, preheat oven to 350 degrees; remove dough and chilled baking sheets from fridge. Using your hands, shape dough into balls (about 1 tablespoon) and place on baking sheet. Repeat with remaining dough and place cookies about two inches apart. Bake cookies 11-14 minutes, rotating baking sheets after 6 minutes. Cookies will start to turn golden around the edges but still pale in the center. Place cookies on cooling racks. While cookies are cooling, and if making glaze, add lemon zest and juice to a medium bowl. Whisk in powdered sugar; if glaze is too thick, add in 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon milk, whisking to blend. If too thin, add in more powdered sugar. Drizzle or spread glaze over cookies and sprinkle with colored sparkling sugar. Let cookies and glaze set another 10 minutes before serving.

* To make vanilla sugar, scrape the beans of one vanilla pod and mix into 2 cups granulated sugar.