Pistachio Thumbprint Cookies

Pistachio Thumbprint Cookies | A Sweet SpoonfulWhile self care seems of paramount importance this time of year, I’ve come to loathe the term. It’s just … everywhere. Don’t get me wrong, I can really get down with frequent yoga, baths, candles, and afternoon chocolate bars just because, but any time a phrase or sentiment catches on so quickly and fiercely in popular culture, I tend to withdraw. Between the daily awfulness on the news, the increased urgency around everyday errands because The Holidays Are Coming, and impending shipping deadlines, I often feel like I’m ricocheting from task to task rather than taking things in or appreciating them. And of course, this is the time of year to take things in and appreciate them, to show gratitude and thanks, to give thoughtfully and receive graciously. All of that? It’s feeling like a lot right now.

Pistachio Thumbprint Cookies | A Sweet Spoonful

We’ve had a really full three weeks with family in town for Oliver’s second birthday — my mom flew in from Vermont, my dad and his partner from the Bay Area, and Sam’s mom from New Jersey. A few days after O’s birthday party, we hosted Thanksgiving at our place, a small gathering that steamed up all the windows on the first story of the house as the turkey and pies baked. During those few very busy weeks, I found myself giving, giving, giving and doing, doing, doing to organize parties and host a holiday and try to make houseguests comfortable, only recently sitting down to wonder why I’m not feeling as outwardly joyful as other holiday shoppers this year, or as excited to find the perfect gift for friends and family.

In Braving the Wilderness, Brene Brown talks about the giving involved in her work, in teaching and public speaking, and how it necessitates an eventual turn inside in order to keep doing the work: “Tonight we will exhale and teach. Now it’s time to inhale. There is the in-breath and there is the out-breath, and it’s easy to believe that we must exhale all the time, without ever inhaling. But the inhale is absolutely essential if you want to continue to exhale.” Especially as moms of small people or caregivers of any kind, we have to inhale and turn to ourselves every now and again if we’re to exhale and keep giving to others.

Pistachio Thumbprint Cookies | A Sweet Spoonful

This is, of course, easier said than done, but I’m finding little gestures have been helping: Last night I broke out our just-for-guests wine glasses simply because it makes me feel special and a little fancy to drink from them. And I finally got around to baking these pistachio thumbprint cookies, not to wrap up pretty and gift, not because I think a particular family member will really love them, not for Oliver’s teachers or a neighbor: simply because I dog-eared the recipe last month and have had them on my mind. For myself.Pistachio Thumbprint Cookies | A Sweet SpoonfulA blogger and writer I follow, Erin Loechner, wrote a post this past week called Ministry of a Bird Feeder in which she talks about joy and how lately she’s been having a tough time finding it. Her daughter recently decided to hang up a few pine cones slathered in peanut butter outside the house to attract birds, and Erin had a realization as she watched the birds fly towards the feeders:

“Sometimes, a small and momentary joy is all we can fight for. Sometimes paying attention is hard, not because we’re fidgety or bored, and not because we can’t, but because we don’t have to. We can avert our eyes to the hard, if we’d like to (and why wouldn’t we like to?). There are hundreds of distractions ready to pull us in another direction … But I’m finding that the true joys are often in plain sight, just beyond the pillow fort fights. Sometimes we run smack dab into them, full force, and other times it takes a bit of setting up, a bit of luring, a bit of peanut butter smeared on a pinecone”.

Sometimes we have to look a little for the joy we want to feel. It might be in hanging up a bird feeder, or setting your fancy wine glass right down next to your chopped pistachios in between turns of the mixer. The unexpected sparrow or finch, or the impromptu warm cookies and slow sips of a decent wine — each are, in their own way, small and momentary joys. So if the grand, glittery sentiments of the holiday season seem to be alluding you this year or you’re feeling a bit depleted, maybe take heart in that – that if we take a moment to inhale, we might find small glints of joy we hadn’t known to look for.

These cookies are fitting to share today because they are really quite extraordinary. I always feel slightly conflicted in trying new cookie recipes because we have a few favorites each holiday and there’s only so many cookies a small family can bake. I love soft, spiced gingerbread men and Mexican Wedding cookies and Sam makes his mom’s nutmeg logs, but these thumbprints will become a yearly do-again: the dough is so tender and fragrant thanks to ample vanilla bean; they’re sweetened largely with honey, and filled with a rich pistachio paste that you whip with a little soft butter to make the most luxurious spread ever spooned into the navel of a cookie. Thankfully, you’ll have a little leftover to spread on toast or eat by the spoonful should you wish. I can’t recommend it enough.

Pistachio Thumbprint Cookies

Pistachio Thumbprint Cookies

  • Yield: 15-16 Cookies
  • Prep time: 40 mins
  • Cook time: 18 mins
  • Inactive time: 2 hrs
  • Total time: 3 hrs

I love adding a little whole wheat flour to sable dough as it adds a really welcome and subtle nuttiness — that being said, you can certainly replace it with all-purpose flour if you’d like. As for filling the cookies, while you can buy pistachio paste at specialty grocery stores, it’s easy (and cheaper) to make your own, and I’ve included the ingredients and method below. The dough you’ll make here will yield two 9-inch logs, and you’ll only use one for these cookies, so feel free to throw the other in the freezer to bake off at a future date, or double your batch of pistachio paste and bake the whole lot (which would yield 30 cookies).

Recipe slightly adapted from Bon Appetit


For the Honey-Vanilla Sable Dough (makes two 9" logs):

1 1/4 (150g) cups all purpose flour
1 cup (140g) whole wheat flour
3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup (95g) granulated sugar
2 vanilla beans, split lengthwise
1 cup (2 sticks) room temperature unsalted butter, cut into 1" pieces
1 large egg yolk
1/4 cup runny honey

Pistachio Paste:

1/2 cup (65g) raw pistachios
1 1/2 tablespoons runny honey
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature

To Assemble:

1/3 cup (45g) finely chopped raw pistachios


Make the Honey-Vanilla Sable Dough:
Whisk both flours, cardamom, and salt in a medium bowl to combine. Place sugar in a large bowl and scrape in vanilla seeds; save pods for another use. Massage mixture with your fingers until sugar looks like wet sand.

Add butter to the sugar mixture and beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. Add egg yolk and honey; beat to combine. Reduce speed to low; add dry ingredients in 2 additions, mixing well after each addition. Knead dough a few times to incorporate any dry bits in the bottom of the bowl.

Divide dough in half and pat into two 9″-inch logs. Wrap each log in parchment paper, then wrap tightly in plastic. Roll each log across work surface to make as round and regular as possible, then chill until firm, about 2 hours. Note: dough can be made 1 month ahead and frozen; thaw in refrigerator overnight before using. 

Make the Pistachio Paste:
In the bowl of a food processor, process pistachios, honey and oil until a smooth paste forms (this could take a few minutes, and paste will be quite thick). Add the butter and process just until combined and smooth. Paste will be a little loose, so place in the refrigerator while baking cookies to help it thicken just a bit.

Make the Cookies:
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Place chopped pistachios in a small bowl. Unwrap dough and slice crosswise into 15 even pieces and roll each between the palm of your hands into smooth balls. Press gently into pistachios to coat half of each ball, the place, pistachio side up, on a parchment-lined baking sheet, spacing about 2″ apart.

Bake cookies until barely golden, 8-10 minutes. Remove from the oven and press handle of a wooden spoon gently into each cookie, about 1/2 way down, to make a round indentation. Then wiggle it a little to wide the indent (or use your thumb, which I found a little easier). Return to the oven; bake until golden brown, 5-8 minutes. Let cool on baking sheet.

Once cool, fill each indent with pistachio paste.

Serving / Storage Notes: Cookies are best served the day they’re made, but are just fine covered at room temperature for up to 1 day. Cookies can be baked (but not filled) up to 3 days in advance — basically, once you fill them, you want to serve them pretty soon thereafter. 


  1. Janet Gardner

    I can't wait to make these. Beautiful writing, as always, my friend (also, the phrase "navel of a cookie" is delightful).

    1. megang

      Thank you, J! You'll love them. xoxox

  2. Amanda

    "I often feel like I’m ricocheting from task to task rather than taking things in or appreciating them. And of course, this is the time of year to take things in and appreciate them, to show gratitude and thanks, to give thoughtfully and receive graciously. All of that? It’s feeling like a lot right now."
    Yep! Exactly how I'm feeling these days, so I just had to comment! You described it perfectly.... Like you, I also hosted family from out of town for Thanksgiving, and although I have been doing so every year for at least a decade now, it is still a lot of work! And then, poof, it was December! I was just saying to my husband earlier today how it's so hard for me to find the joy in this month because I have SOOOO many things to do out of obligation but no time to just stop & breathe & enjoy the season! I'd love nothing more than to curl up on the couch & peruse my stack of holiday magazines & watch a holiday movie with my kiddos, but then I know I'd be up until way past my bedtime working and doing everything else I need to do. It's all making me rather cranky. I am going to try to take your (& Brene's) advice though & try to find a small moment to inhale; maybe I will be able to build in little moments of joyful pause into my days. I might not have an hour, but a few minutes here & there I'm sure will help! :) (Oh, and those cookies? They look delicious!) Wishing you & your family a peaceful, joyful holiday season!

    1. megang

      Aww, thanks so much Amanda. Hosting is A LOT of work, isn't it? Even if you've been doing it for a long time ... there's still so much to do and think about and tend to. And I was just talking with a friend about how quickly this month is zooming by. I feel like we say that every year, but this year it's especially true. I hope you find a few little pockets of time to yourself before the holiday - have a great week!

      1. Amanda

        Absolutely! Time is moving way too fast!
        Thank you for your reply! :)

  3. Angie

    This was such a wonderful post. I really connected to it - the inhaling and exhaling - sometimes it is so difficult to find the balance. But I loved how you pointed out that vsometimes it's the little things that can bring so much joy.

    1. megang

      Thanks so much, Angie. Yes, so easy to forget that balance, isn't it? I'm really glad you enjoyed the post and that it resonated. Enjoy your week!

  4. Monica

    What a lovely post. I really enjoyed reading it and I appreciate the honest sentiments behind it, which I think we can all relate to. On top of that, the cookies are a serious bonus! Your photos (like your words) are gorgeous and I feel lighter and brighter after seeing it. Thank you and hope you have a relaxing holiday and beyond.

    1. megang

      Oh thank you so much, Monica. So nice of you to say! If you end up making the cookies, I hope you enjoy them. Have a great holiday!

  5. Miranda

    I was thrilled to read this post. I have Braving the Wilderness on my Christmas list, so I hope this means it is an inspirational read like her other books. Witnessing small moments of joy is something I'm trying to do right now, whether it be taking in a moment of my dog completely overjoyed or taking an extra 10 minutes to make a breakfast that I can savour in the quiet hours before the busyness of the day takes over. As for this recipe, the pistachio paste is such a pretty colour! I can't wait to try it, spread it, dip it...

    1. megang

      Hi, Miranda. Braving the Wilderness is really so good. I listened to it as an audio book, but I want to get the real book - lots of good nuggets in there. I hope you can find some good, quiet moments in this crazy season. Happy holidays!

      1. Glory

        This post was very enlightening to me. I can’t seem to find joy this year either. And I’m retired so have no busy days, relatives staying (we go visit for a week and stay in a hotel so meals are at restaurants) or babies. So, I’m not sure why I feel the way I do. Maybe it is just the stress of the past year? The daily news.

        So I will stop. Inhale and exhale and look for joy. I know I have so much around me and I will -try to-look at it in a different way. And thank those around me who bring joy into my life. I hope you find joy or create your joy this season! Happiest of Holidays!

        Like this blog and your observations. Thank you and the others who comment.

        1. megang

          Hi, Glory. So sorry to hear you're having trouble this holiday season. You're right that the daily news sure doesn't help. I always find the cold weather and darker days take a bit of a toll, too. I'm so glad you took the time to comment, and hope you find some sweet, relaxing moments this holiday. Happy holidays to you!

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