There was no way I was going to make it through a holiday-drinks-inspired Cookie Week without at least trying to tackle eggnog – and I think these eggnog thumbprint cookies knocked it out of the park.
For as long as I can remember, every year at Christmas Mr. Chestnut would give my grandmother and grandfather a quart jar (or two) of his infamous eggnog – and they always brought it out for the family Christmas Eve celebration. It’s heady, powerful stuff – creamy, rich, and the kind of boozy that you don’t taste until you’ve swallowed and your whole chest warms – and I look forward to that jar coming out every single year. Not necessarily for the eggnog itself (though it is undeniably excellent) but for the memories that are tied so closely to it.
So I just knew it needed to be a cookie. The problem is that I had no idea what cookie it needed to be.
I played with this idea off and on in my head for nearly a month, choosing and discarding ideas over and over again. I knew that it had to have a filling – no cookie on its own could ever capture the eggy creaminess this one needed – but I didn’t know what that would look like. A pastry cream in a sandwich cookie? A rolled tuile with buttercream? A spice cookie with a custard center?
Annoyingly, the answer came to me when I was researching another cookie entirely.
I found a recipe for eggnog florentines on Smitten Kitchen, and while I knew the format was out, I was also pretty sure the not-quite-buttercream filling made with hard-boiled eggs was exactly what I was looking for. And once I tracked that recipe back to its original source – the genius Aaron Vandemark of Panciuto in North Carolina – that suspicion was confirmed and everything else just fell into place.
I wanted a cookie that was simple to make, a shape that would allow a high proportion of filling-to-cookie, and a flavor that sat contentedly in the background and allowed the filling to shine. That cookie, of course, was the humble thumbprint.
(I have to admit, I was also pretty heavily influenced by the fact that my eggnog thumbprint cookies would look a bit like tiny cups of eggnog when they were finished. I can never resist an art-imitates-life moment.)
Which is not to say that everything was exactly perfect from the get-go. These cookies had big shoes to fill, and I needed to make some minimal changes to the filling to get it to match my vision .
Namely, I added booze. A lot of it.
Eggnog thumbprint cookies
If you’re not into super boozy eggnog (or if you don’t happen to have all three kinds of alcohol on hand) you can substitute for two tablespoons of bourbon or leave the alcohol out entirely. The cookies might lose a tiny bit of complexity, but they’ll still be delicious.
I know I sound like a broken record about the bowl scraping, but baking is a place where technique really matters, especially when a cookie is as simple as this one is. It seems small, but scraping the bowl down consistently through mixing means your final dough will be more homogenous, and your final cookies will be more even and consistent – you won’t end up with a wonky one where a big chunk of butter melted out, or a weirdly salty one where baking powder wasn’t evenly mixed, or a super super dry one from a pocket of unmixed flour.
For the cookies:
- 227 grams (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
- 198 grams (1 cup) granulated sugar
- 1 large egg
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon whole milk
- 330 grams (2 3/4 cups) all purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
For the filling:
- 4 large eggs
- 56 grams (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
- 283 grams (2 1/2 cups) confectioners’ sugar
- 1 tablespoon whole milk
- 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon rum
- 1 tablespoon cognac
- 1 tablespoon bourbon
Preheat your oven to 350°F.
In the bowl of your stand mixer, beat the butter and sugar together until they’re lightened in color and are fluffy. Normally this wouldn’t matter very much for cookies, but there isn’t any leavening in these. Creaming the butter and sugar well now will give the final cookies a lighter texture.
Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl, then add the egg, vanilla and milk. Beat until thoroughly incorporated, then scrape down the bowl again.
Speaking of flour, you should add that now, along with the nutmeg and salt. Mix on low speed until the dough forms a cohesive ball, then scrape down the bowl one more time and mix a few seconds more, just to make sure all the flour is incorporated.
Scoop the dough into two-tablespoon-sized balls using a cookie scoop or spoon. Roll the balls between your palms briefly to even them out, then space them about an inch and a half apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet. They won’t spread while baking, but you want enough room to work while you’re pressing the indents in.
You can use your thumb to press an indentation into each cookie ball, but I prefer to use the greased back of a round teaspoon measure. The indent is the same size every time, and you won’t end up accidentally squashing a sidewall or poking a hole in the bottom with your thumbnail.
Bake the cookies until the tops look dry and they are starting to turn a light gold around the edges, 12-14 minutes, rotating halfway through baking.
Once the cookies come out of the oven, reinforce the indent by re-pressing it with the teaspoon or your (heat protected, please) thumb. Cool completely.
While the cookies are cooling, get the filling together.
Start by grabbing the eggs out of the fridge and bringing a pot of water to the boil. Once boiling, gently drop the eggs in and allow them to boil for 10 minutes – you want the yolks completely set, but not dry. Once the 10 minutes are up, drop the eggs into a bowl of ice water and allow them to cool enough that you can peel them comfortably. Cut the eggs in half, remove the yolks, and set them aside for now. You can have the whites for a snack now (maybe with some chile salt?), or save them for some other purpose.
In the bowl of your stand mixer (sorry, you will have to wash it, unless you’re lucky enough to have multiple bowls) beat the butter until it is soft and fluffy. Scrape down the bowl, then add the hard-boiled yolks, confectioners’ sugar, milk, nutmeg, vanilla and salt, and mix on low speed until the confectioners’ sugar is completely worked in. Once there is no longer any danger of a sugar explosion, increase the speed to medium-high and beat until the mixture is light and fluffy and no chunks of hard-boiled yolk remain. Add the rum, cognac, and bourbon and beat until well-combined.
The filling might seem a bit runny – this is ok.
Once the cookies have completely cooled, pipe or spoon a tablespoon or so of the eggnog filling into each thumbprint cookie and top with freshly grated nutmeg.
The eggnog thumbprints will keep about a week in the refrigerator. If you’re looking for a more make-ahead solution, both the unfilled cookies and the filling will keep in the freezer for about 3 months. Just return the filling to room temperature and beat it well before spooning it into the thawed cookies.