Friday, May 14, 2010

Celeste-ial Thumbprint Cookies

A favorite quote of mine is "You pass on more to your children and your grandchildren than your eye color." I think this is true in many aspects and if you are lucky, not only will you get their love, attention and character traits, you will learn the stories of their life and get handed their best recipes.  My Great Grandmother Celeste made the best strawberry thumbprint cookies and they are my mother's favorite.

Growing up in California, we were fortunate to have weather that yielded a plentiful fruit, vegetable, and flower garden year-round.  Out in my Great Grandmother Celeste's garden grew the most wonderful produce.  It was a garden hip before it's time - local and organic.  In this small plot of land she had persimmons, oranges, lemons, apples, kumquats, strawberries, figs, apricots, cherries, plums, zucchinis, green leaf lettuce, cucumbers, carrots, swiss chard, potatoes, green beans, fava beans, tomatoes and kale.

Preparing a meal was fun and educational.  Grandpa would take my hand and lead me to the garden to pick the best zucchini for dinner.  My Grandma steamed it with herbs and a touch of butter and it was delicious!  Grandpa carried a small pocket knife and when in the garden, he would pick a fruit or vegetable, cut it open and tell me to "try it."  I vividly remember disliking persimmons however he did open my eyes and taste buds to many different fruits and vegetables.  I'll never forget my first bite into a fresh, juicy, California plum or the delight of picking our adorable little strawberries.

My grandparents lived next door to my great grandmother up on a hill in Northern California. On a clear night, I could sit with my friends on the deck with a Hansen lemon-lime soda in hand, gaze at the sherbert colored sunset and almost see the Golden Gate Bridge.  During the summer, I had a blast with my Grandma & Great Grandma Celeste watching soap operas.  I would watch The Young and the Restless with my Grandma and then run as fast as I could to my Great Grandmas to make it in time for The Bold the Beautiful and As the World Turns.  (Ahh... those CBS Daytime summers!)

My Grandparents and Great Grandma Celeste had beautiful flower gardens. Just past the gate to my Great Grandmother's house climbed beautiful pink trumpet flowers and in her garden lived large vibrant roses.  In the back of Great Grandma's flower garden was a brick grill area for family barbecues and a covered patio with glass walls.  On the patio was an old swing that I loved.  Lying on that swing, reading my mom's Nancy Drew novels and feeling the sunlight on my face was a perfect way to spend the afternoon.  If I close my eyes and think back I can still smell the air, hear the crunch of the tarp-like fabric on the swing and feel that warm California sunlight.  Sometimes my Great Grandma would come out and swing with me.  And if I was lucky she would bring fresh, homemade orange juice and cookies.

This past Christmas, I surprised my mom.  I called my Grandma and asked her for my mom's favorite recipes and one of them was my Great Grandma Celeste's infamous thumbprint cookies.  I baked the cookies exactly as the recipe called for using regular all purpose flour so they would be exactly how she remembered them.  My mother was so happy to have these cookies again, since Great Grandma Celeste stopped making them in the late 1980s and had passed away in 1998.  We shared stories about her as everyone enjoyed them.  I couldn't have them, but the joy these cookies brought my mom and sister brought the biggest smile to my face. I knew I would make them gluten-free for myself at some point.  And I did.  This one wasn't easy.  I've been working on this one for some time.  After a few tries I think I got it.

One of the best parts about my Great Grandma Celeste's thumbprint cookie recipe is they are easy and inexpensive to make.  I didn't want to change too much especially the "easy" part so I experimented with several gluten-free flour blends. Each all purpose gluten-free flour delivered very different results and I found Bobs Red Mill All Purpose Flour the best for this recipe.  I have been doing some experimenting with coconut oil lately so I decided to try that.  If you do not have coconut oil on had, you can use margarine or butter however your measurement needs to be 1 cup vs. 2/3 cup of coconut oil. 

Great Grandma made these with fresh homemade jam from fruit in her garden.  Normally she made them with walnuts and strawberry jam and if my mom requested it, they were rolled in coconut.  She also made them with her apricot jam.  I made a coconut rolled thumbprint with a meyer lemon curd center which was delicious.  Or you can make  blackberry vanilla jam which is lovely as well.  These cookies can be anything you want.  Make them your own creation with your favorite chopped nuts or jam.

I'm on the left, then Great Grandma Celeste, and my little sister Jaclyn.  Of course I am tickling my sister to make her smile for the picture.  I love this photo because of the smile on my Great Grandma's face.

I hope you enjoy these as much as our family has for the past 75 years and that you continue the tradition of passing this recipe on to your gluten-free family and friends.

Celeste-ial Gluten-Free Thumbprint Cookies

2/3 cup coconut oil (solid - not liquid)
1/2 cup brown sugar 
2 large egg yolks - reserve whites 
2 tsp vanilla
2 cups Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free All Purpose Flour
chopped walnuts and/or shredded coconut
strawberry jam and/or lemon curd 

1)  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
2)  Beat coconut oil and brown sugar together.
3)  Add egg yolks, vanilla and flour and mix with electric mixer.  Mixture will be slightly crumbly.
4)  Pull small pieces of dough into your hand, squeeze to form and roll into small balls.  
5)  Dip each small ball of dough into egg whites then into chopped walnuts or coconut to coat.  Place a dozen on sheet with parchment paper and place in oven for 5 minutes.  
6)  After 5 minutes, pull out and put a thumbprint or fingerprint in the center.  Place back into the oven for an additional 8 minutes.  Remove again and place approximately 1/2 tsp of jam into each thumbprint.  (You may need to make another imprint at this point just prior to the jam step.)
7)  Bake for an additional 22 minutes or until the edges are slightly browned.  Let cool on the cookie sheet then transfer to racks once set.  

Enjoy! Makes 2 dozen delicious cookies.


  1. They look delicious. Love the family story too. SO happy you're back!

  2. What beautiful cookies (and flowers!) and such a lovely remembrance, too! A word of caution about baking with gluten flour though ... that stuff stays airborne for 48-72 hours and can get to us gf folks. I love the addition of coconut to the recipe.. :-)


  3. I really enjoyed the post, especially the imagery of your grandpa telling you "try" the various fruits in the garden. Thanks for the recipe!