Classic Salted Caramel Thumbprints

published Dec 3, 2021
Salted Caramel Thumbprint Cookies Recipe

Buttery shortbread and sticky-sweet caramel collide in one irresistible thumprint cookie.

Makes20 (3 1/2-inch) cookies

Prep30 minutes

Cook35 minutes

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Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk; Prop Styling: JoJo Li

This recipe is from our Cookie Time Machine — a trip through the most iconic cookies of the past 10 decades, paired with 10 fresh twists for right now. Click here to see the most important cookies of the 1920s through today — and gaze forward with our Cookie of the Future!

If there were a flavor that typified the 2010s, it was caramel sprinkled with only the best, flakiest salt.

The 2010s launched in economic turmoil. The recession of 2009 had left the economy in shambles, with newly graduated college students (who had been promised good jobs and living wages) unable to find work, and older folks (who had been planning to retire) watching their retirement plans tank. Americans who had bought property during the housing bubble of the 2000s found themselves underwater on their mortgages. And while big banks, the auto industry, and Wall Street all got government bailouts, conservative politicians pushed for minimal support for ordinary Americans in the name of reducing the federal debt. 

The decade was marked by opposing ideas on the growing economic inequality in the country. In 2010, the Supreme Court passed the Citizens United decision, which set precedent that money was considered speech and corporations were considered people. Occupy Wall Street launched in 2011 in protest of federal policies that favored wealthy corporations over ordinary people. Around the world, countries reacted to the economic recession by restricting public entitlements, cutting taxes, and restricting immigration.

While the decade was marred by mass shootings and terrorist attacks, it also marked a new social consciousness. In June, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down state-level bans on gay marriage, making it legal across the country for the first time. The Black Lives Matter movement highlighted problems with institutional racism and police violence, and the Me, Too movement pushed for change around sexual violence and gender discrimination. 

Technology kept changing, too. Social media giants — namely Facebook, Twitter, and a brand-new platform called Instagram — connected more people globally than ever before. Smart phones became ubiquitous and more and more people cut the cord on cable television in favor of streaming services (Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Hulu all launched in the late 2000s). Pinterest and Instagram both launched in 2010, giving food bloggers a whole new platform. YouTube also came of age, and with Instagram and, at the end of the decade, TikTok, new career paths (think: content creator and influencer) were created.

Through this decade, building on the work of the foodie culture that had blossomed in the 2000s, people were asking themselves: How is social media changing how we eat? Not for the first time, recipes and flavors were going viral, and trends moved faster and faster as they were divorced from print media. Much of the popularity was based more on aesthetics and performance rather than the food itself. But despite the naysayers, people were actually cooking. Cooking videos, whether on The Food Network or YouTube or TikTok, were high-performing content. And while some trends came and went in an instant, others had surprising staying power.  

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk; Prop Styling: JoJo Li

Enter: salted caramel. Although salted caramel as a flavor dates back as early as the 14th century in Brittany, France, the sweet-salty combo was back in a big way in the 2010s. The flavor seemed at once sophisticated and familiar, and the duality of sugar and salt lit up American tastebuds in the most satisfying way. 

Salted Caramel Thumbprint cookies were one of the easiest (and most delicious) ways to enjoy salted caramel, and this adaptation of a recipe from Bake from Scratch, a magazine that launched in 2015, is an excellent example. The combination of fine-crumbed shortbread and a sweet, sticky filling is hard to resist. Thumbprints were already a fixture on many holiday cookie plates, and substituting a salted caramel filling for the classic jam was an easy way to bring the holiday traditions in line with modern trends.   

The Modern Twist

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk; Prop Styling: JoJo Li

For a modern take on Classic Salted Caramel Thumbprints, check out the Miso Caramel Cardamom Thumbprints.

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  • The Sheet Pan Every Kitchn Editor Owns: This sturdy, won’t-ever-warp pan is great for cranking out a ton of picture-perfect sweets. Bonus: It comes in great colors, which makes baking even more fun.
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Salted Caramel Thumbprint Cookies Recipe

Buttery shortbread and sticky-sweet caramel collide in one irresistible thumprint cookie.

Prep time 30 minutes

Cook time 35 minutes

Makes 20 (3 1/2-inch) cookies

Nutritional Info


For the salted caramel sauce:

  • 4 tablespoons

    (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

  • 1/2 cup

    heavy cream

  • 1 cup

    granulated sugar

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    vanilla extract

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    kosher salt

For the cookies:

  • 1 1/2 sticks

    (6 ounces) unsalted butter

  • 1/2 cup

    chopped pecans

  • 2/3 cup

    granulated sugar

  • 2 tablespoons


  • 1/2 teaspoon

    vanilla extract

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • 1 3/4 cups

    all-purpose flour

  • 1/4 cup

    turbinado sugar

  • About 1/2 teaspoon flaky salt


  1. Cut 4 tablespoons unsalted butter into 1/2-inch cubes. Measure out 1/2 cup heavy cream. Place 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter in the bowl of a stand mixer (or large bowl if using an electric hand mixer). Let the butter and cream sit at room temperature until the butter is softened.

Make the salted caramel sauce:

  1. Place 1 cup granulated sugar in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan. Heat over medium heat, stirring constantly with a heat-resistant spatula, until the sugar forms clumps and then melts into a light amber-colored liquid, 4 to 5 minutes.

  2. While whisking constantly, carefully add the 4 tablespoons unsalted butter a few pieces at a time (the sugar will bubble up) until fully incorporated. Slowly drizzle in cream, whisking constantly. The mixture will clump but melt again. Let the mixture boil for 1 minute. Remove from the heat, add 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract and 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, and whisk to combine.

  3. Pour into a glass bowl or heatproof measuring cup and let completely before using, about 2 hours. If the caramel seems too runny once fully cooled, refrigerate for 15 to 30 minutes before filling the cookies.

Make the cookies:

  1. Place 1/2 cup chopped pecans in a medium frying pan. Cook over medium heat, tossing often, until fragrant and toasted, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a food processor fitted with a blade attachment. When cool, add 2/3 cup granulated sugar and process until finely ground, about 10 seconds.

  2. Add the pecan sugar to the bowl of butter. Beat with the paddle attachment on medium speed until fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes, stopping to scrape sides of bowl as needed. With the mixer on medium-low speed, add 2 tablespoons bourbon, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, and beat until combined.

  3. With the mixer on the lowest speed, add 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour and beat until just combined. Scrape the dough onto a large sheet of plastic wrap. Use the plastic wrap to help you gather the dough and flatten it into a disk. Wrap the disk tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours.

  4. Arrange 2 racks to divide the oven into thirds and heat the oven to 350ºF. Meanwhile, place 1/4 cup turbinado sugar in a shallow bowl. Divide the dough into 20 (about 2-tablespoon) portions. Form each portion into a ball, then drop in the turbinado sugar and roll to coat. Place on a plate or container where they can sit in a single layer and freeze for 15 minutes.

  5. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Transfer the dough balls onto the baking sheets, spacing them evenly apart, 10 per sheet. Using your thumb, gently make an indentation about 3/4-inch deep in the center of each ball.

  6. Bake for 10 minutes. Rotate the pans from between racks and from front to back. Bake until light golden-brown and the tops and edges are set, 6 to 8 minutes more. Remove the baking sheets from the oven and immediately press down the centers again with a 1-inch melon baller or handle end of a wooden spoon (careful, hot!) to re-make the indentation. Let cool on the baking sheets for 10 minutes. Transfer the cookies to wire racks and let cool completely.

  7. Pipe or spoon about 1 teaspoon of the salted caramel sauce into the indentation of each cookie (you will have some caramel sauce left over). Sprinkle about 1/2 teaspoon flaky salt onto the caramel in the cookies.

Recipe Notes

Storage: The cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.

Recipe adapted from the Bake from Scratch 2018 Holiday Cookies Special Issue.