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Hazelnut Thumbprint Cookies with Salted Caramel

Yesterday was a rainy Sunday here in Asheville.  And although I thoroughly enjoy being outside, I like to take full advantage of the inevitable rainy weekend….by staying inside and cooking!

Now I had an epic day of cooking on Saturday with a special guest – making flank steak tacos with homemade corn tortillas, salsa verde, crema, and kale salad (post coming soon!) – so on Sunday I turned my sights to something a little sweeter.  I have a TIME around the winter holidays making all sorts of cookies and one of my favorites is the classic thumbprint cookie.  That delicious, tender shortbread cookie, coated with walnuts and accented by a beautiful gemstone dollop of jam.  How could it get any better?

I just might have some ideas about that.

While rummaging through my pantry I found some hazelnuts, which got me thinking about this caramel pumpkin pie I made last year that had a hazelnut crust.  Hazelnuts and caramel are really something else together, so why not expand that idea to thumbprint cookies!

I put my theory to the test and the cookies turned out lovely.  Buttery, sweet, salty, nutty…talk about yum!

It takes a bit of time to make the homemade caramel sauce but be assured – it is well worth the effort.

I used heavy cream and sour cream in the caramel sauce.  The sour cream adds some extra depth to the caramel and a slight tangy flavor that’s just lingering in the background.

The cookies themselves are little buttery bits of heaven, they would be tasty just by themselves.

It’s important not to over bake the cookies to preserve tenderness and avoid burning the nuts on the bottom of the cookie.

I may just have to make these cookies a part of the holiday assortment.

So I present to you, Hazelnut Thumbprint Cookies with Salted Caramel!


Hazelnut Thumbprint Cookies with Salted Caramel

Category: Dessert

Yield: 15-20 cookies


  • For the caramel:
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 water
  • 3 tbsp. butter, cut into cubes
  • 2 tbsp. heavy cream
  • 2 tbsp. sour cream
  • 1/8 tsp. sea salt
  • For the cookies:
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1 egg, white and yolk separated
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 cup AP flour
  • 1/2 cup hazelnuts
  • sea salt for sprinkling (optional)


  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
  2. To make the caramel, add granulated sugar and water to a medium heavy bottomed saucepan. Cook over medium heat, swirling the mixture around in the pan instead of stirring with a utensil. The mixture will start to simmer and thicken as the water cooks off and the sugar caramelizes. Continue cooking, occasionally swirling the pan, until the caramel is a medium amber color. This should take about 15 minutes. Be careful not to overcook the caramel as it goes quickly from caramelizing to burning.
  3. Once the caramel has darkened, removed from heat and add the cubes of butter. Whisk vigorously until the butter is incorporated, being careful not to splash during whisking as the mixtures is incredibly hot.
  4. Once the butter is incorporated, add the heavy cream and sour cream. Whisk until thoroughly mixed. If the mixture cools down too much after adding the cream and sour cream, turn on medium heat while whisking to homogenize the mixture. Once the caramel is smooth, remove from heat and transfer to a bowl to cool.
  5. To make the cookies, beat the butter, brown sugar, and egg yolk in a large bowl until fluffy. Add vanilla and salt, beating until mixed. Lastly add the flour and beat on low until completely incorporated. The dough will be very stiff.
  6. Chill the dough for 10-15 minutes to make forming the cookies easier.
  7. While the dough is chilling, whisk the egg white in a small bowl until foamy. Pour the hazelnuts into a zip top plastic bag and crush with a rolling pin until the nuts are in small pieces. Pour out onto a plate.
  8. Remove the dough from the fridge and form into tablespoon sized balls. One by one, dip the balls into the egg white, roll in the hazelnuts, and place on the parchment lined cookie sheet, placing about 2 inches apart.
  9. Make a well in the middle of each cookie with your thumb, making sure the depression is equally deep on all sides (you don't want the caramel to spill out one side of the well). Use your fingers to pinch the dough back up if the depression is uneven
  10. Bake for 8-12 minutes or until the cookies start looking a bit dry (they will appear a bit oily and shiny while cooking, so you know they are done when they start looking dry).
  11. Remove from the oven and use your thumb or the rounded end of a wooden spoon to deepen the "thumbprint" a bit more, it will have puffed up a bit during cooking.
  12. Let cool completely and fill the thumbprint with the cooled caramel. Sprinkle with a bit of extra sea salt (optional).
  13. Keep the cookies refrigerated in an air tight container.



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