December 04, 2012

Almond & Apple Butter Thumbprint Cookies (gluten-free!)

For me, getting in the mood for Christmas involves baking copious amounts of cookies. As a kid, around this time of year, I would get on the greyhound bus to spend a weekend with my cherished Grammie and we would bake cookies from the moment I arrived until the moment I left. It was our annual Christmas baking bonanza and I had her all to myself, a rare treat! As we piled tin after tin of cookies into the secret "Christmas cookie cupboard", we would listen to carols and get into a festive spirit. One of my grandmother's favourites, a family classic, were her thumbprint jelly cookies, or as they are also called, bird's nest cookies: a nutty cookie with a jelly-filled indentation in its centre. Recently, I've been hanging around some gluten-free friends, and I wanted to adapt these for them, putting to use some of the apple butter I made this fall.

I imagined a chubby, almondy cookie and after a couple of batches, I got what I had aimed for: a healthy holiday cookie that is crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside, deliciously flavourful, and gluten-free and sugar-free (sweetened only with maple syrup and apple butter).

Did you know how easy it is to make apple butter?! I made it for the first time this fall, using the most basic recipe I could find. I simply cooked down a huge pot full of chopped apples for almost a whole day on the woodstove until they went beyond the apple sauce stage and crossed over into that thick dark caramelly world of apple butter. Add a few sprinkles of cinnamon and cloves and voila. Spread it on buttered toast in the morning and it will win you over.

I'm lucky that my family lives near an abandoned orchard in Nova Scotia and every fall, we have a tradition of rescuing these lonely apples from falling to the ground, unused.

They're free, they aren't sprayed with pesticides, and they make the most exquisite (a bright rosy pink!) apple sauce. How much better can it get? Now that I'm back in the big city for a bit, I treasure the jars of apple sauce and apple butter I brought here with me, they taste like the East Coast and the wind and the leaves and sunshine back home.

Now before I share this recipe, I have a special treat for you that will warm your heart and give you a chuckle. (And also fulfills the promise I made of sharing cute animal videos with you when I don't have time to make cooking ones). So. Dogs need cookies too, especially around the holidays, and my friend Val has just put up a fabulous blogpost sharing a winning doggy biscuit recipe (just in time for a fun homemade Christmas present for all your canine friends). I happened to be there with my camera when she gave her spirited pups, Cracker and Mash, their first tastes of biscuit, fresh out of the oven. And here is what that looked like:

I can only hope that biting into my almond cookies will generate a fraction of the exuberance displayed by Cracker and Mash. Please do make these and let me know if you did a happy dance :-)


Makes 20 medium-sized cookies
*Feel free to substitute your favourite jam or jelly for the centre part.

1 1/2 cup ground almonds (almond flour)

1/3 cup butter, at room temperature (I used goat butter, my new favourite butter)
1/2 cup maple syrup (more to taste)
1 egg
1 1/4 cup brown rice flour
1/4 cup tapioca (or arrowroot) flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. almond extract
1 tsp. cinnamon
About 1/3 cup apple butter (or your favourite jam or jelly)
About 20 almonds to decorate the cookies

Mix the ground almonds and butter together, then add the maple syrup, beaten egg, and almond extract. Mix all the dry ingredients together in a separate bowl and incorporate into the wet almond mixture. Mix until smooth. Chill in the fridge for 30 to 60 minutes. Roll into balls and flatten them slightly on a greased cookie sheet. With your thumb, make an indentation in each cookie. Place about 1 tsp apple butter (or jelly / jam) in each indentation and top it off with a whole almond. Bake at 350F for about 15 minutes or until the edges are crisp but the centre still soft. Let them cool on the pan a few minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.


  1. Aww, I love this post! The cookies were fantastic. Thanks for bringing sweetness back into my life!

  2. I have so much almond flour in my pantry that I'd really love to use. If I wanted to do that instead of grinding whole almonds, how much should I use?

    Also, about how many cookies does this recipe yield?

    Thanks so much,

    1. Hi Kristen, it would be the same amount (1 1/2 cup almond flour) and the recipe yields about 20 medium-sized cookies. I just added that to the recipe. Hope you enjoy them! :-)

  3. Thanks, that's so helpful!


  4. Am wondering if this dough could double as a cookie-like GF pie dough, pressed into a pie plate and blind-baked for a pumpkin pie?

  5. Am wondering if this dough could double as a cookie-like GF pie dough, pressed into a pie plate and blind-baked for a pumpkin pie?