Friday, December 12, 2008

Diane's Ultimate Thumbprints; a.k.a. Sonja Henie Cookies

When it comes to cookies, donuts, or sponge cake, I think the best can only be made better by adding jelly. Oh, for a jelly roll! Or a donut gushing with raspberry jam. Or, come Christmas time, a thumbprint cookie. They're delicious to eat, and fun to make (I mean, come on, any recipe that involves smooshing stuff is fun). This recipe Christmas 101 is a riff on the classic thumbprint:
Diane's Ultimate Thumbprints

Makes about 5 dozen cookies

Make Ahead: The cookies can be prepared up to 1 week ahead, stored in an airtight container at room temperature.

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup packed light or dark brown sugar
2 large eggs, separated
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups (6 ounces) walnuts
1/4 cup granulated sugar
Pinch of salt
2/3 cup fruit preserves, such as raspberry or apricot (see Note)

1. Position the racks in the top and bottom thirds of the oven and preheat to 350°F.

2. In a large bowl, using a hand-held electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat the butter until creamy, about 1 minute. Add the brown sugar and beat until light in color and texture, about 2 minutes. Beat in the egg yolks, then the vanilla. Using a wooden spoon, gradually mix in the flour to make a soft dough. Using a scant tablespoon for each, roll the dough into 1-inch balls. Place the balls on a baking sheet and let stand in a cool place (near an open window in cold weather or in the refrigerator) until slightly chilled and firmed, about 10 minutes. (Don't skip this step -- the dough must be slightly chilled to make the holes in the dough that hold the preserve filling.)

3. In a food processor, pulse the walnuts and the granulated sugar until the walnuts are finely chopped. Set aside.

4. In a small bowl, beat the egg whites with the pinch of salt until foamy. Pour about one-third of the chopped walnut mixture into a shallow bowl. Dip each ball of dough in the egg whites, roll in the walnut mixture to coat, and place 1 inch apart on nonstick cookie sheets. Holding a ball of dough on the sheet with one hand, use the tip of your little finger of the other hand to press a 1/4-inch wide hole into the center, about 1/4 inch deep. (If you have long fingernails, use the inverted tip of a 1/4 inch-wide wooden spoon handle or a dowel.) If the ball cracks, just press the crack together to smooth. Repeat with the other balls of dough, gradually adding more of the walnut mixture to the shallow bowl as needed. (It is important to use the walnut mixture in batches, as it will collect moisture from the egg whites, and if used all at once, it will get so wet it won't adhere properly. You will probably have leftover chopped walnuts, but that's better than running out of them.)

5. Bake until the cookies feel set but not completely baked, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, place the preserves in a small, self-sealing plastic bag and squeeze the preserves into one corner of the bag. Using scissors, snip off the corner of the bag to make an opening about 1/4 inch wide. When the cookies are set, remove them from the oven. Use the bag to pipe the preserves into the hole in each cookie. Return the cookies to the oven, switching the positions of the cookies from top to bottom and from front to back. Bake until the cookies are lightly browned, 5 to 8 more minutes. Cool on the baking sheets for 2 minutes. Transfer to wire cooling racks to cool completely. (The cookies can be prepared up to 1 week ahead, stored in an airtight container at room temperature.)

Note: Be sure to use preserves for the filling; jellies and jams are too thin and will melt into the cookies. If your preserves are especially chunky, chop up the fruit pieces in a bowl with a knife before using to avoid clogging the hole in the bag as you fill the cookies.
Do not be afraid of the long recipe, of all the detailed steps. These are cookies, the most forgiving of the baked goods! Chill your dough when you're told to, and the rest will all work out. And even if your fruity goodness does melt into your delicate dough... it's a cookie. It's going to taste great.

The author notes that the original recipe card for these calls them "Sonja Henies," but he doesn't think that name resonated with modern cookie makers or eaters. Sonja Henie was an Olympic gold medalist AND a Hollywood box-office smash. ....okay, she was also considered a Quisling... a Nazi collaborator. Certainly, she was friendly with Hitler. It does take the gleam off her stardom, that. It's easy to forget when she's playing the earnest, lovable, sweetly conniving skater in "Iceland" or "Sun Valley Serenade"... So, fine, we can call them Diane's Ultimate Thumbprints; they'll still taste good, and look delightful on your cookie tray.

One last Henie-related note: she had a romance with Van Johnson, who passed away today at the age of 92. I feel a memorial film festival coming on.

1 comment:

  1. I have made this recipe for the last 6 years and this is one of a very few cookies that is a "must" with my family. They are easy to make and very delicious.