Cranberry Thumbprint Cookies

Cranberry Thumbprint Cookies

These Cranberry Thumbprint Cookies contain something that was never personally part of my childhood memories: cranberries themselves!

It may sound strange, but cranberry sauce was not a holiday staple in my family. To this day, it’s not included in our festive spreads. Corn, mashed potatoes, ham –– YES. But cranberry sauce? You didn’t need it if you cooked the meat with enough flavor all on its own.

I guess that’s why I have no qualms about making my preferences about cranberry sauce known. As I said on Instagram, cranberry sauce is not a Ruffles potato chip. It should NOT have ridges. The thought of someone plopping it out of the can and letting it hold its shape, for all eternity, just wobbling there on the serving platter… ugh. I just had a cold chill.

I always make my own cranberry sauce (or jelly, or jam, or compote, depending on how much work I feel like putting into it). Aside from controlling the shape (shudder), you can also easily add flavor to take it to the next level. Personally, I almost always add the juice and zest of an orange. It adds a rich brightness and complements the tart cranberries so well. Plus, orange juice is a flavorful way to get your cranberry jam to set right.

When making a jam (which, let’s be honest, most cranberry “sauce” really is), you’re trying to get the pectin in your chosen fruit to set up. Jennifer Latham explains it much better than I over at SeriousEats, but basically, pectin sets up easier and faster in the presence of an acid. Now you could use any acid, such as a vinegar, but I really love the floral notes that a good citrus juice adds. And while I’m using the juice, I might as well throw the zest in there too to cut down on food waste!

As soon as the jam is ready to be cooled, I run it through a fine mesh strainer to make two parts – a jelly, which forms from the liquid that I strained into a bowl, and a sort of compote, which comprises of the cranberry skins and solids that are left in the strainer. I wanted a nice smooth texture in these cranberry thumbprint cookies, so the jelly was preferable to a chunky jam. But don’t throw out the compote! Again, thinking of food waste, store it in the fridge and use it as a delicious yogurt topping for breakfast or a power snack. I know we cooked it with hella sugar but it’s still got vitamins and minerals…right? Right?

From that point, you just have to let the jelly cool, stir it up a bit to get it back to a texture that’s easily spoonable, and throw together a quick sugar cookie recipe before assembling and baking. I shared these with my coworkers, and they couldn’t get enough of the way the sharp cranberry and orange work with the sweet chocolate and cookie to make one dessert that won’t be forgotten at your cookie swap.

I may not have memories of growing up around cranberries, but I’ve started putting them into my holiday rotation. From putting them in the Cranberry Brie Bombs that I made last year for a Bluegrass Blogger recipe linkup, to putting them on top of my morning parfait as a form of self care, to sharing these cranberry thumbprint cookies with my new coworkers; I don’t have the nostalgic memories, but I sure am enjoying making them.

Until next time, wishing you good drinking, great eating, and even better living.

Cranberry Thumbprint Cookies

These cookies will make everyone else at the cookie swap crimson with jelly – or jealousy, whichever you prefer.
Cook Time 15 mins
Jam Time 30 mins
Total Time 45 mins
Course Dessert
Servings 24 cookies


  • Heavy bottomed saucepan
  • Fine mesh strainer (optional)
  • Cookie sheet
  • Mixer


For the jam

  • 280 g fresh cranberries
  • 160 g sugar
  • 1 orange

For the cookies

  • 1 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter (room temperature) (1 1/2 sticks)
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 oz semi sweet chocolate, melted (for topping)


For the jam

  • Place the cranberries and sugar in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan. Zest the orange into the pan, then slice in half and squeeze the juice over the mixture. Set the heat at medium-low and allow to cook, undisturbed after stirring once to incorporate all of the orange zest. The cranberries should begin to break down after about 15-20 minutes; you can help them along by squishing them with the back of a spoon once they get soft.
  • Once the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, remove from the heat. If you want a smooth jelly, strain the liquid through a fine mesh strainer into a heatproof bowl, pressing down on the cranberry solids with your spoon to remove as much liquid as possible. Allow to cool and thicken to a jelly texture. Store the leftover solids once cool in the refrigerator for another purpose.

For the cookies

  • Preheat your oven to 350°F. In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until soft and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt in another bowl until well incorporated. Beat the egg and vanilla into the butter mixture until combined, then slowly add the dry ingredients with the mixer on the lowest setting until a dough forms.
  • Scoop tablespoonfuls of dough out and roll into a ball with your hands. Place the dough balls on a greased baking sheet about 1 1/2 inches apart from each other. Carefully make an indentation in each dough ball with your thumb, deep enough to form a well without breaking the bottom.
  • Stir your cooled jelly to roughen the texture up so it's easily spoonable. Carefully spoon enough jelly to fill each well to the top. Bake the cookies for 13-15 minutes, until they start to turn golden at the edges and bottom. The tops will stay light, so don't worry. Allow to cool on a baking rack, and then drizzle with a fork dipped into the melted chocolate.


  • I was lucky enough to have a huge baking sheet that would fit all 24 cookies into it comfortably. If you have to bake in batches, use separate cookies sheets or allow your one sheet to cool completely between batches. Placing cookies on a hot sheet could make the butter melt too quickly, leaving you a mess of spilled jam and butter to clean out of the bottom of your oven.
Keyword christmas cookies, cookies, cranberries, dessert, holiday

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