Holiday Baking: Butter Cookies with A Filling

Sunday December 6, 2015

a favorite holiday cover photo collage by Michael Geiger/the jelly cookies are in the lower right hand corner

What is Christmas without Christmas cookies? I have friends who start at Thanksgiving with their baking and bake right on through the month of December, ending up with a cache of beautiful cookies in different shapes, styles, colors, and flavors. For my holiday catering, I used to always offer the cookie tray, which was wildly popular and worth all the hours of baking that went into creating it.Whether you are a stalwart cookie baker or a once a year pull out the stops for Christmas cookie baker, this is the season to bake and bake a bit more. Your popularity is insured.

On over sized trays, usually silver plated, I would alternate lines of each type of cookie, making a type of visual mosaic of all the different types of cookies. EVERYONE went to look for their favorites when the dessert tray appeared after dinner. For a crowd of 40, there were hundreds of cookies since each person seemed to want more than a handful of their favorites and one of everything else. A little tray of 2 or 3 types works just as well when laid out on a tray.

I have another friend who is a fully dedicated cookie baker who saves boxes all year long from shopping at stores like Nordstrom’s, lines them with tissue and fills the box with the lines of different cookies as a gift. The recipient goes pretty crazy with a choice of all those homemade delights. And ends up feeling very very special. So baking Christmas cookies, it’s that little jaunt in the kitchen that is just like baking love. And oh so very yummy.

So here are two of my favorite old time recipes to stash in your files and start your collection of recipes for giving.

Granny’s Jelly Cookies

Every Christmas my boyfriend’s grandmother made tens of dozens of these soft butter cookies, also sometimes called thumbprint cookies, using her homemade currant jelly or raspberry jam made from her own backyard berry bushes, presenting each of us with our own tinful tucked under the tree. Try not to eat a few before brunch!

The nickname “thumbprint” is given to these cookies because you literally use your thumb to press a small well in the dough to make the depression in which to put the jam.

Makes about 3 1/2 dozen.


  • 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 to 1 cup red currant jelly or seedless raspberry jam


Preheat the oven to 375º.  Grease, spray with no-stick spray, or line baking sheets with parchment.

Cream the butter and sugars until fluffy with an electric mixer;  beat in the egg yolks and extracts.  Stir in the flour and salt.  Pinch off pieces of dough and roll into 1-inch balls.  Place 1 1/2 inches apart on the pans.  Using your thumb, press a deep indentation into the center of each and spreading out the round of dough.

Bake the cookies for 8 minutes, just until set.  Remove the pan from the oven and fill each indentation with a teaspoon measure of jelly or jam. Do not over fill. A little dab ‘l do ya’. Return the pan to the oven and continue baking for an additional 5 to 7 minutes, until light golden brown and the jelly is melting slightly.  The timing is crucial, so do not over bake. Transfer immediately to a rack with a spatula to cool and store in a single layer in a tin or plastic container with airtight lid.

the sugar plum fairy reigns over the winter holiday season

Prune Cream Cheese Pockets

There was a Jewish bakery I used to go to in the downtown mall. They had both prune filled and apricot filled pockets, which are little more than rolled out dough folded over with a dab of thick fruit filling, dusted with

triangle shaped

powdered sugar. I was crazy for those prune cookies. They were some variation on hamantaschen snacks. One Christmas I go to my friend Christy’s house and she made these cookies, which were the exact same cookie of my now-closed bakery, only hers were filled with a jam. An incredibly easy dough to handle made simply of cream cheese and butter, these can also be filled with lemon curd, or a Solo brand filling, such as apricot, prune (also known as lekvar), or poppy seed if you are not in the mood to make the thick homemade prune filling.

Makes about 3 dozen.


  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 pound cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup plain or vanilla powdered sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 pound pitted prunes
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 2 cups sifted powdered sugar, for dusting


Place the butter, cream cheese, sugar, salt, and flour in a food processor fitted with the steel blade.  Process to just form a ball.  Divide the dough into thirds, flatten, and wrap each in plastic and refrigerate 1 hour to overnight.

Place prunes in a saucepan and cover with water.  Bring to a boil and simmer until soft, about 30 minutes.  Drain and puree with the sugar and lemon juice in the processor.  Cool before using.

Recipe and text copyright Beth Hensperger 2015

Please enjoy the recipe and make it your own. If you copy the recipe and text for internet use, please include my byline and link to my site.

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