The basic recipe for these Red Chile Thumbprint Cookies is originally from “Jewel Cookies” from Martha Stewart. Of course, halfway through, I decided to experiment with other jams for the filling. One is “Red Hot” red chile jam from Mick’s Peppourri. It has a lovely red chile flavor with just a little heat. Then I decided to experiment with rolling the cookie balls in chopped pine nuts instead of pecans. I also tweaked a couple of her steps because, you know, I’m not Martha.
Try different jams
The original recipe called for a thick raspberry jam, which is classic in thumbprint cookies. I tried using some others and found them to be wonderful. Orange marmalade has a strong enough flavor to compete with the pecans. Lingonberry jam (we bought a case from Ikea!) also works really well. I had a little seedless raspberry jam which didn’t work as well because it was a bit looser than the other jams. Anyway, try your favorite jam–mango? ginger? You never know what will be really exceptional.
Use a portion scoop
I always use a portion scoop for cookies, since it gives them a consistent size and you can scoop the dough balls quickly. Normally I use a #40 scoop for cookies, but this recipe called for smaller dough balls. I tried a #100 but it was a bit too small. I was much happier with the #70. You can buy portion scoops at any restaurant supply store. They’re open to the public and have an amazing amount of professional cooking tools. The bigger the number, the smaller the scoop. For instance, a #100 scoop is a nice size for a butter ball on top of pancakes. A #24 scoop is about the size of a scoop of ice cream. (However, don’t use a portion scoop for ice cream–the ice cream is too hard for the little bar that flips the scoop out, and the scoop will break.)
Brush with egg whites
Martha says to gently beat the egg whites with a fork and brush the dough balls with the egg white before rolling the dough balls in chopped nuts. Heck, no. I put the egg whites in a large shallow bowl and beat them with a whisk until foamy. Then I put in four dough balls at a time and bathed them in the egg whites with a slotted spoon. Lift them out of the egg whites a couple at a time and allow the egg whites to drain back into the bowl. Drop the dough balls into the chopped nuts, roll them until well coated, and place on the baking sheet.
It’s hard to get a good consistency for chopped nuts. I found when chopped in the food processor, it’s easy to get them too fine and they turn into a paste. I use a hopper-style nut chopper which drops the pieces through to the bottom container when they’re small enough.
Making the thumbprint
I’ve made these cookies before and found I get oddly-shaped indentations when I actually use my thumb. I’d rather have an even, slightly deeper hole to keep the jam in place. I like to use the rounded end of a citrus reamer. Covering it with plastic wrap keeps the cookie dough from sticking to it.