Made with chocolate shortbread dough and homemade caramel sauce, these Caramel Chocolate Thumbprint Cookies are an addictive holiday treat. They’re the perfect balance of sweet and salty, guaranteed to be a hit among family, friends, and coworkers. Perfect for cookie trays too!
Easy Chocolate Thumbprint Cookies
Thumbprint cookies are a classic holiday cookie, one that I’ve been making since I was a child. It was always one of my favorite Christmas cookies to make, as I loved using my thumb to press the indentation in the center.
I’ve experimented with different versions of shortbread thumbprint cookies and this salted caramel version is one of my favorites! It’s similar to a traditional thumbprint cookie with two main differences. First, I added cocoa powder to give these chocolate cookies their rich flavor. Then, I added a homemade salted caramel sauce to the center of each cookie. The salty caramel and the cocoa complement each other perfectly, making these shortbread cookies all but irresistible!
These salted caramel thumbprint cookies store well for a few days, so they’re ideal for cookie trays and, of course, deserve a spot on the dessert table at your next party!
What You’ll Need
These chocolate thumbprint cookies are made with just a handful of ingredients and filled with a homemade caramel sauce, which is easier than you’d expect to make it from scratch.
For the Cookies
- All-purpose flour
- Baking powder – Gives the cookies a bit of a rise during baking, making the shortbread less dense.
- Salt – A little bit of salt amplifies all the flavors to make an okay cookie taste great.
- Softened butter – Unsalted is the standard for baking, but if salted is all you’ve got, skip the added salt.
- Granulated white sugar – Enough to make them sweet but not too sweet.
- Egg – The egg should also be at room temperature.
- Vanilla extract – Real vanilla extract provides the best flavor, but there are good imitation versions if you are avoiding alcohol.
- Cocoa powder – Gives these shortbread cookies the delightfully rich chocolate flavor.
For the Homemade Caramel Sauce
- White sugar – Sugar makes the base of the caramel sauce.
- Water – This addition classifies this as a “wet” caramel. The water helps the sugar to melt more evenly and helps to prevent burning.
- Heavy cream – It’s important for the cream to be at room temperature or it can shock the caramel, causing it to seize up.
- Butter – Also at room temperature. I prefer the flavor of salted butter in caramel, but unsalted works too.
- Vanilla extract – Again, go for real vanilla for the best flavor.
- Pinch of flaky sea salt – For sprinkling on top of the cookies. A flaky sea salt looks and tastes best, but a coarse kosher salt also does the job well.
Recommended Kitchen Tools
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- mixing bowls
- spoon and whisk -or- hand mixer -or- stand mixer
- measuring cups -or- kitchen scale
- measuring spoons
- silicone spatula
- cookie scoop
- parchment paper
- baking sheets
- cooling rack
- metal spatula
How to Make Caramel Chocolate Thumbprint Cookies
The shortbread dough comes together in minutes and needs just an hour to chill, while the homemade caramel sauce is ready in less than 10 minutes.
- Make the cookie dough. Cream butter and sugar together until it lightens in color and takes on a soft and creamy texture. Beat in the egg, then the vanilla extract. In a separate large bowl, mix the dry ingredients separately then combine with the wet ingredients.
- Shape the thumbprint cookies. Shape dough into 1-inch balls, about 1 tablespoon or 1 ounce each. Use the back of a round a teaspoon or your thumb to press in the center of each ball. Transfer shaped dough balls to prepared baking sheets, then refrigerate for one hour.
- Bake. Bake the cookies for 10-12 minutes. Immediately after baking press the center again with the teaspoon. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely.
- Make the caramel sauce. Combine the sugar and water and place over medium heat to caramelize. Do not touch or stir the caramel. You’ll need to keep a close eye on it and watch for an amber caramel. Once you achieve this color, remove it from the heat and whisk in the heavy cream. Add the butter, combine, and return to heat until the caramel makes bubbles. Remove from heat, add the vanilla, stir and let chill before using.
- Fill the cookies. Each each cookie with 1 teaspoon of caramel sauce, then sprinkle lightly with the flaky sea salt.
Tips for Success
While this is a pretty easy recipe for the holiday season, I’ve always got a few tricks up my sleeve to help make new recipes turn out right the first time. Here are a few of my favorite tips, which should help you end up with the perfect caramel chocolate thumbprint cookies!
- Use room temperature ingredients. For both the shortbread dough and the caramel sauce, you’ll want the eggs, heavy cream, and other ingredients that are typically refrigerated to be at room temperature before using. Set them on your counter at least an hour before you plan to bake.
- Re-make the indents immediately after baking. The cookies will puff up while baking. In order to ensure there is enough of a well to hold the caramel, you’ll want to use the teaspoon to press down the center of the cookies immediately after taking them from the oven, before they have a chance to cool.
- Allow the cookies to cool. Before adding the caramel sauce filling, the cookies should cool to room temperature.
- Avoid burning the caramel sauce. With this recipe, you’ll need to be next to the pot, just staring at it as it could burn easily if you’re distracted. Once you achieve this nice amber color, immediately remove it from heat.
- Use store bought caramel sauce. In a hurry? You can use any caramel sauce from the store to fill the cookies.
While I would not recommend altering the chocolate shortbread cookie part of this recipe, you can change up the thumbprint filling to make these cookies uniquely your own. If it’s sweet and goes with chocolate, it can be used to replace the salted caramel filling in the original recipe. All of these fillings should be added after the cookies are baked. Here are a few of my favorites.
- Fruit Jams or Preserves – Raspberry and blackberry are the top of my list, but strawberry, cherry, and even orange marmalade would taste great on a chocolate thumbprint base.
- Chocolate – The only thing more chocolatey than chocolate thumbprint cookies are double chocolate thumbprint cookies! Fill the tops with a dark chocolate or semi-sweet chocolate ganache or you can pop an unwrapped chocolate kiss on the top for a faster easier filling.
- White Chocolate – Just like using chocolate, but white chocolate would give it a pretty color contrast.
- Peanut butter – A classic dessert combination, a creamy peanut butter ganache is the perfect way to add a savory element to these chocolate thumbprints cookies.
Thumbprint cookies are always a hit and this chocolate version consistently receives rave reviews. Add to the dessert table at a holiday gathering, take them to you favorite cookie swaps, or hide them in the pantry where your spouse and kids will never find them. For me, these are the perfect balance of caramel and chocolate to finish off a long cold day. Enjoy with a glass of milk or for a special adult treat, try one with a glass of port wine.
How to Store
Caramel chocolate thumbprint cookies will stay fresh for up to a week when stored in an airtight container at room temperature. For easier storage, use wax paper or parchment paper to layer between the cookies and keep them from sticking.
Even with a paper lining between them, they may not look as pretty once they are stacked and taken apart. If making for a party or other event, it may be easier to make the cookies in advance and fill them the day of the event.
For longer storage, these cookies or the cookie dough can be frozen in airtight, freezer safe containers for about 3 months. Depending on how much work you want to do now versus later, you can freeze the entire batch of dough, dough that has been rolled or shaped into individual cookies, or baked cookies either filled or unfilled.
Baked cookies will thaw quickly on the counter top. Frozen, raw cookies can be baked from frozen or thawed at room temperature on a cookie sheet for 30 minutes. Balls of dough that need to be rolled and shaped should be thawed out overnight in the fridge.
My favorite way to do it is to shape the cookies into balls, place them on a cookie sheet (close but not touching) and freeze until solid. Then transfer into an airtight container. Since the cookies were frozen individually it makes it easy to pull out just as many as you need and keep the rest in the freezer. Bake, then add the caramel filling, which can also be refrigerated for a few weeks.
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- 1 cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature | 227 grams | 8 ounces
- ¾ cup granulated sugar | 150 grams | 5.3 ounces
- 1 egg, at room temperature
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 2 cups all-purpose flour | 250 grams | 8.8 ounces
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ¾ cup cocoa powder | 94 grams | 3.3 ounces
Homemade Caramel Sauce (yields 1 cup, but for this recipe, you’ll need ½ cup)
- 1 cup white sugar | 201 grams | 7 ounces
- ¼ cup water | 4 ounces
- ¾ cup heavy cream, at room temperature | 6 ounces
- 3 tablespoons butter, at room temperature 43 grams | 1.5 ounces
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- a pinch of flaky sea salt (for garnish)
- Combine the wet ingredients. Start by creaming together the softened butter with sugar until it lightens in color and takes on a soft and creamy texture. This could take up to five minutes if using an electric mixer. Add one egg and mix to combine completely before adding the vanilla extract.
- In a separate, large bowl measure out the dry ingredients: flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt. Sift together to remove any lumps. Add the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients in three parts, mixing completely between additions.
- Roll the dough into 1 tablespoon sized balls, about 1 ounce each (28-30 grams). Then, using your thumb or a round 1 teaspoon sized measuring spoon, press in the center of each ball to make a dip in the cookie. Place the cookies on a baking sheet (parchment lined if using) and refrigerate the shaped cookies for 1 hour.
- Once you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 F. Bake the cookies for 10-12 minutes. While baking, the cookies will puff up and the holes will be less indented. To ensure there is enough room for the filling, immediately after pulling the cookies from the oven press the center down again with the 1 teaspoon measuring spoon.
- Let the cookies cool completely before filling them with the caramel sauce.
- Measure the sugar and water into a heavy bottom pot. Once the water has soaked into the sugar, turn the heat to medium. Allow the sugar to cook, undisturbed* (seriously, don't stir it or shake the pot) for 10 to 15 minutes. You'll know it's done when it turns a medium amber caramel color. Once it achieves this nice amber color, remove it from heat.
- Add the heavy cream and whisk to combine. Even with room temperature cream, there will be a bit of temperature shock and it will bubble up a bit. Next add the butter and stir gently to melt and combine. Return the pot to the stove and simmer until the caramel bubbles up around the edges (1 to 2 minutes). Remove from heat, add the vanilla extract and combine. Let the caramel cool before using.
- Fill each cookie with 1 tsp of the homemade caramel sauce, then sprinkle with flaky sea salts
- Leftover caramel can be refrigerated in an airtight container for about a month.
To Make the Cookies
To Make the Caramel Sauce
The cooking time for the caramel will depend on the size of the pot. During this time, you shouldn’t touch or stir the caramel. The color that you’ll be looking for is an amber caramel, neither too light brown nor dark. Be careful that it doesn’t burn. As with all caramel recipes, you’ll need to be next to the pot, just staring at it as it could burn easily if you’re distracted.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 26 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 144Total Fat: 5gSaturated Fat: 3gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 1gCholesterol: 20mgSodium: 65mgCarbohydrates: 23gFiber: 1gSugar: 14gProtein: 2g
Nutrition information is automatically calculated by Nutritionix and is for general information purposes only. For the most accurate information, calculate using your select brands and exact measurements.
For the step by step version of this recipe, check out the How to Make Caramel Chocolate Thumbprint Cookies Story.