Note: We like to toast and grind our own dried chile peppers for better flavor, but you can certainly just use your favorite chili powder or your own combination of dried chiles.
Every year, I stockpile cookie recipes. I scour blogs, cookbooks, and my relatives' recipe boxes for ideas. I flip through food magazines at the doctor's office and never pass up an opportunity to ogle the cookie selection at any bakery I set foot in.
You see, it's not until December that I actually have a reasonable excuse to bake cookies. It's just the two of us, and I don't know if I've properly described how far outside civilization we are, but to give you some idea, last night I got stuck on the road to my house behind a gaggle of hunters and beagles who were parked in the road. In the road. They were not being unreasonable (well, maybe they were sort of). They just knew that it was unlikely that there would be any traffic.
So giving away cookies would be something of a fool's errand out here. More of a scavenger hunt than a jaunt over to the neighbor's place with a pretty tin full of freshly baked treats. And believe me, when your job is testing and developing recipes, the last temptation on earth that you need is a jar of cookies. Seriously.
As a result, all year I bake "ugly cookies." You know, cookies full of oats and nuts and dried fruit and flaxseed meal. They look more like a desiccated bowl of oatmeal than an indulgence. But now, with multiple excuses--cookie swaps, holiday parties, and general gift-giving--I can break out the cookie cutters, the bars of dark chocolate, and the whole milk (surely I'm not the only one who can appreciate a glass of cold milk with a plate of cookies). Pretty cookies, here I come!
One of my absolute favorite Christmas cookies are thumbprint cookies. In JOY, they're called "Jelly Tots." The headnote helpfully lists three other names for them--thimble cookies, deep-well cookies, and pits of love. This is a good sign. Any cookie with so many names must be well-loved.
My mother always rolls her thumbprint cookies in coconut. I highly approve, as toasted coconut is one of those unique flavors that I can't seem to get enough of. Any excuse to use it is welcomed with an open mouth. However, I know that some people aren't particularly fond of it, so I experimented with some other nuts as well.
You really can't go wrong with these cookies. Roll them in walnuts, almonds, pistachios, cashews, hazelnuts, or just plain sugar or cinnamon-sugar. The variations are limitless. I could see a peanut coating being delectable with chocolate-hazelnut spread. Hazelnuts would be perfect with blackberry jam. Pistachios and raspberries go especially well together. I really don't think you can mess these up.
These cookies are also great for making with kids. They can help roll the dough into balls and coat them with nuts or sugar, and children have the ideal finger size to press pits into the dough. And the result? Something that both adults and children are sure to love.
And they're pretty.
Cream together in a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer:
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 stick butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
Chill the dough 1 hour (or up to 2 days) to make it easier to handle.
Preheat the oven to 375˚F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment. Form the dough into 1-inch balls, and roll them in:
Sugar, cinnamon sugar, vanilla sugar, or raw sugar (turbinado)
Or, for a fancier cookie, roll in:
2 egg whites, slightly beaten
1 cup finely chopped nuts (I used pistachios, walnuts, and coconut)
Place the cookies about 1 inch apart (they don't spread very much) on the cookie sheets. Bake, one sheet at a time, for 5 minutes. Depress the center of each cookie with a thimble or your thumb (don't worry, they won't be hot, just warm). Continue baking until lightly brown, about 8 minutes. Let stand until cool, then fill the center of each cookie with:
Jam or jelly (I used raspberry, orange marmalade, and kiwi--for the record, I don't even like kiwi fruit that much, but kiwi jam is amazing)