Cookies Holiday Recipes

Pumpkin Salted Caramel Thumbprint Cookies

Pumpkin Salted Caramel Thumbprint Cookies (9)

My food brain dreamed up these shortbread cookies with creamy pumpkin caramel back in June when the rest of you were thinking about watermelon and Jell-O shots, and bikini tops, and summer sunsets, and all of the amazing summer things.  I was sweating it out in my kitchen, covered in pumpkin puree, completely confused by the smell of holiday spices.

It’s about time these cookies make sense!  I mean… I’m wearing a scarf for goodness sake.  A scarf!

better homes and gardens

I made these cookies back in June for this month’s Better Homes and Gardens magazine.  These cookies are just one of a good handful of pumpkin recipes that fill the pages.

All I’m saying is… this is really good news on the pumpkin front.  Because there is a pumpkin front…. we’re looking right at it.

Pumpkin Salted Caramel Thumbprint Cookies

It’s time to talk about these cookies.  These cookies are the base of our thumbprints.  The fundamental.  The everything.

We’re making a fancy brown sugar shortbread of sorts.  Lots of butter (not sorry), lots of brown sugar (still not sorry), and flour.  Simple!

Pumpkin Salted Caramel Thumbprint Cookies (1)

Fresh out of the stand mixer this cookie dough will be too soft to handle.  It needs a few hours in the refrigerator to rechill the butter before hitting the cookie scooper and the oven.  Mandatory chill.

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Once the dough is chilled it can be cleanly scooped onto a sheet pan.  We’re going to need our thumbs next.  One thumb will do.

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One thumb in each cookie ball.  We’re creating a place for our caramel.

Now… we may lose the indentation in the oven as the cookie bakes and inflates a bit.  Not to worry.  Use the back of a spoon reinforce the indentation just after the cookies come out of the oven.  No harm.  No foul.

Pumpkin Salted Caramel Thumbprint Cookies (2)

Let’s talk about this caramel!

Essentially, we’re going to trust ourselves to burn sugar, add cream and pumpkin and make it delicious.  First tho…. we have to burn the sugar.  That’s the scary part.

In a small saucepan combine granulated sugar, water, and corn syrup over medium heat.  Cook, swirl, and observe until the mixture is a deep golden color.  No thermometer required… just a sense of color.

Pumpkin Salted Caramel Thumbprint Cookies (3)

Once the sugar is cooked to amber, it’s removed from the heat and cream and butter are stirred in.  Sure there’s a bit of foaming and frothing… caramel is dramatic like that.  It’s all a part of the act.

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Once the butter and cream are stirred into the caramel, we add pumpkin puree.  Stir and stir.  This is a safe place.

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The pumpkin caramel will be smooth and creamy, sweet and pumpkin-y.  After a bit of cooling time, the pumpkin caramel is totally spoonable.  Spoonable into cookies.  Exactly right.

Pumpkin Salted Caramel Thumbprint Cookies (8)

Shortbread  cookies baked until juuust golden around the edges, cooled on the baking sheet, dusted with powdered sugar, and spooned with pumpkin caramel.

Pumpkin Salted Caramel Thumbprint Cookies (10)

Salt too.  Always a bit of salt.  These cookies are a combination of crisp and creamy.  I love the texture difference… with a bit of holiday flair.  Baking is one part texture, two parts butter, one part flair.  Are you taking notes?

Pumpkin Salted Caramel Thumbprint Cookies

makes about 36 cookies


    For the Cookies
  • 2/3 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • For the Caramel
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin puree
  • Powdered sugar and coarse sea salt for sprinkling


  1. For the cookies, in the bowl of an electric stand mixer with a paddle attachment, beat butter of medium speed for 30 seconds. Add the brown sugar and salt and beat until combined, light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
  2. Stop the mixer, scrape down the sides of the bowl, and add the egg and vanilla extract. Beat until well incorporated, about 1 minutes.
  3. Add the flour and beat until combined. The dough will be soft and wet.
  4. Cover the bowl in plastic wrap and allow to chill in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour before baking. The butter needs time to rechill before it hits the oven.
  5. Place a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  6. Scoop 1-inch balls onto the parchment paper, leaving about 2-inches between each dough ball. Press your thumb into the center of each cookie, creating a place for the caramel. Bake for 8 to 11 minutes or until the bottoms are lightly browned.
  7. If the center puffs up during baking, just re-press with the back of a spoon. Allow to cool on the pans for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.
  8. To make the pumpkin caramel, in a medium saucepan bring sugar, water, and corn syrup to a boil over medium heat. Just swirl the pan to stir.
  9. Boil gently, uncovered, until browned. Once browned to a medium amber color, about 5 minutes, remove front the heat.
  10. Immediately add heavy cream and butter and stir as it foams up.
  11. Stir in spice and pumpkin puree. Caramel might seem thin. That's ok. It will thicken as it cools.
  12. Transfer to a small bowl. Cover and chill for 4 hours before assembling the cookies.
  13. Spoon the caramel in the center of each cookie.
  14. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and salt.