Love and Olive Oil

Dulce de Leche Shortbread Thumbprint Cookies

Dulce de Leche Shortbread Thumbprint Cookies

If you don’t already have enough holiday cookies to go around the block a few times (and then some) here’s one more last minute recipe that would be perfect for your holiday dessert table or cookie tray.

I brought a platter of these sweet gems to a neighbor’s holiday party, where I swear every time I saw him near the buffet table he was popping another cookie into his mouth. I lost count of how many he ate over the course of the 3-hour party. Clearly they were a hit.

I mean, it is cookie season, after all, for a few more days at least. We should all follow his lead and make the most of it!

Dulce de Leche Shortbread Thumbprint Cookies

These buttery shortbread thumbprints are an adaptation of my original Jam-Filled Thumbprint Cookies, which are in turn adapted from a recipe in our Breakfast for Dinner cookbook (lemon poppy seed thumbprints). Proof that the same buttery shortbread base can be filled with just about anything, from dulce de leche to fruit jam to lemon poppy seed curd.

Dulce de Leche Shortbread Thumbprint Cookies

Thumbprints are by nature a more rustic-looking cookie, but I know we all strive for and appreciate a perfectly round, caramel-filled gem of a cookie. And there are a few tricks I’ve discovered to making perfect thumbprints.

How to make shortbread thumbprint cookies

First and foremost, might I suggest not using your thumb at all (which is far from round). Rather, use a spherical measuring spoon (like these from OXO) to gently press a circular indentation in the center of the cookie. The 1/2 teaspoon size is just perfect. Heck, you could even use a marble or other similarly sized spherical object.

Don’t press too deep or the cookies might crack (and if they do crack, that’s ok, just pinch the cracks back together so the filling won’t escape). It also helps to flatten the dough ball it slightly with the ball of your hand before making the indentation in the middle.

How to make shortbread thumbprint cookies filled with dulce de leche

The cookies will spread a bit and the thumbprints (or spoon prints) will loose some of their definition. After about 8 minutes of baking remove them from the oven and gently press the spoon back into the cookies to re-define the thumbprint (this is when the spoon becomes especially handy because OUCH, hot cookies!)

For a sticky filling like dulce de leche I found using a small piping bag fitted with a 1/2-inch round tip was perfect, and allowed me to fill the cookies quickly and get them back in the oven before they cooled down. Your dollops do not have to be perfect, they’ll spread and even out during the second, shorter baking period.

Baking sheets matter! Especially for these Dulce de Leche Shortbread Thumbprint Cookies.

I want to talk for a moment about baking sheets, because it really does matter which one you use, especially for these cookies. As you can see above, the cookies look drastically different depending on which baking sheet they were baked on. From left to right: shiny aluminum (like the kind you can buy cheap at a culinary supply store), light nonstick (these happen to be King Arthur brand, but the Chicago Metallic ones are nice too), and dark nonstick (some Oneida Target brand cookie sheets I’ve had for years). The differences are even more pronounced when you use parchment or no pan lining at all (these were all baked on silicone baking mats).

Normally, the light colored nonstick with a silicone baking mat is my go-to, and 90% of the cookies I bake use this combination. For these particular cookies, however, the shiny aluminum pan produced the nicest looking cookies, while the dark nonstick pan caused the cookies to spread out and brown more on the bottom.

Dulce de Leche Shortbread Thumbprint Cookies

If you bake often, I’d recommend getting a few different kinds of sheet pans for your kitchen. Whenever you try a new recipe, bake a few test cookies first: drop a ball or two of dough onto two or three of your different pans and bake them up (for a slightly shorter period of time than if you were baking a full pan’s worth). Then you can see which pan works best for that particular kind of cookie.

That’s cookie science for you.

Happy holidays!

Dulce de Leche Shortbread Thumbprint Cookies

Buttery shortbread thumbprint cookies filled with rich and creamy dulce de leche.

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  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 1/4 cups (280g) all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 6 ounces dulce de leche*


  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line a light or medium-colored heavy-weight baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.
  2. Beat together butter and sugar with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 1 to 2 minutes. Beat in egg yolk and vanilla extract. Add flour and salt and mix until incorporated and dough comes together in a ball.
  3. Form dough into 1-inch balls and arrange on prepared baking sheet. Flatten balls slightly with the ball of your hand, then gently press your thumb or the back of a small spoon into the center of the cookie to leave a shallow indentation.
  4. Bake cookies for 8 to 10 minutes or until bottoms are just barely golden. Remove baking sheet from oven. Gently press the back of a spoon to re-define thumbprints, and then fill each with approximately 1/2 teaspoon dulce de leche (more/less depending on the size of your thumbprints). Return to oven and bake for an additional 3 minutes, or until filling levels out and bottoms of cookies are lightly golden. Transfer cookies to wire racks to cool.

* I used Trader Joe’s brand Dulce de Leche here (because it’s awesome) but Nestle’s La Lechera brand comes in cans and is readily available at most supermarkets (look in baking aisle by the sweetened condensed milk). You can also make your own if you have the patience. Do not substitute caramel sauce here as it is much too thin.

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  1. This cookies are delicious everyone loved them great recipe and easy .thank you 

  2. I’ve been planning to bake some Dulce de leche shortbread cookies so I may give it as a present to my mom. Thank you for these tips anyway; I’ll make sure to remove the cookies from the oven after eight minutes so I can put a thumbprint in it. I just hope that I will be able to find a supplier of yummy Dulce de leche spread.

  3. WOW. Biggest cookie hit I’ve seen in a while.
    Can’t even count the number of comments I received – from “Melt in your Mouth”, to “Divine,” to “I stole another cookie from your secret stash because the rest were all gone.”

    A healthy dose of sea salt sprinkled on top was the gold star finish.
    110% now my go-to party dessert.

  4. I made theses cookies last year for a cookie swap. Everyone loved them. They are now my favorite cookie. Love dulce de Leche on so many desserts, or just straight out of the jar! Can’t help myself. Making them again this Christmas. It’s a great recipe.

  5. Do you have the nutritional information for these cookies?

    • I do not calculate nutritional info for my recipes, but you can use a tool like MyFitnessPal to calculate it yourself if you really must know. :)

  6. Wonderful and simple recipe! I used shortening and 2tbs of water in replace of the butter. I also added a sprinkle of sea salt over the cookies after they came out of the oven. The cookies are perfectly sweet and the texture is wonderful. The hint of sea salt really compliments the dulce de leche. Thanks for the recipe Lindsay!

  7. Can you freeze theses cookies with the dulce de leche?

  8. Thanks, Lindsay! I’ll let you know how it goes!!! Thank goodness I have a long weekend to practice!!

  9. I would like to use your cookie recipe for thumbprint cookies, but using a lemon curd filling. Do I bake the cookies as the recipes states, add the lemon curd, and continue baking? Or do I add the lemon curd after the cookies have finished baking and are cooling? This will be my first attempt making lemon curd AND thumbprint cookies!!! Thanks for any help you can give me!!

    • I think the curd would get the same treatment as the dulce de leche. Putting it back in for a few minutes will allow it to settle into the cookie better. But maybe test it with a small batch first just to make sure it doesn’t separate or do anything weird first!

  10. I was inspired by your recipe and gave it a shot – – these made me actually enjoy a shortbread cookie! Really wish I lived closer to a Trader Joes, as I don’t doubt that is some seriously good dulce de leche. Thank you!

  11. Yes — delicious! My husband is from Peru and loves to make alfajores — two thin rounds of shortbread with dulce de leche filling. These are so much easier, and just as tasty. A winner.

  12. Super simple super tasty. We all loved these. Thank you for the recipe!  

  13. Oh my gosh these look so good!! 

  14. Lindsay, I just wanted to tell you how much fun I had participating in the cookie swap this year and how much I appreciate your blog and everything you do for the world of food blogging. I am so happy to call you neighbor! Hope to see more of you in 2016. Best to Taylor. Btw…these cookies look fab! Happy New Year.

  15. These might just be the best thumbprint cookies ever. I love dulce de leche! 

  16. These cookies look amazing! I wish I was snacking on some right now!


  17. I could always use another cookie recipe :)  

  18. Love the cookie science today! 99% of all my cookies are baked on a light nonstick on top of silicone mat. I never change it up but now maybe I should try just in case I’m missing something. Because with cookies like these, that are so buttery and light in color, doing everything to keep them from darkening around the edges is worth it! Gorgeous cookies!

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