Caramel Apple Spice Thumbprints

Similar to snickerdoodle cookies and inspired by homemade caramel apples, caramel apple spice thumbprints are completely irresistible. These fall cookies are filled with homemade caramel and spiced with cinnamon, cardamom, and nutmeg.

caramel apple spice thumbprints on a green plate

Thumbprint cookies usually have a shortbread base or shortbread-like texture. Today’s thumbprints, however, are more like soft & thick snickerdoodles paired with apple spice and creamy caramel.

We call these 2-bite cookies” because they’re so petite and delicious that you can gobble them up in just 2 bites. They’re wonderful for any autumnal celebration or anytime you crave these warm and comforting flavors.


Tell Me About these Carmel Apple Spice Thumbprints

  • Texture: You’ll enjoy a super soft cookie with a gooey caramel center.
  • Flavor: Think of these as an elevated snickerdoodle cookie– one with apple pie spice and lots of buttery caramel. If you love snickerdoodles, you’ll also enjoy our pumpkin snickerdoodles and these chai snickerdoodles.
  • Ease: This simple, straightforward cookie dough is really easy to prep. Don’t use store-bought caramel sauce here because it won’t properly set. Instead, use our simple 10-minute homemade salted caramel.
  • Time: Prep time is about 30 minutes, but you’ll need to let the dough chill for 2 hours.

caramel apple spice thumbprints

Some Key Ingredients in Caramel Apple Spice Thumbprints

  • Flour: All-purpose flour serves as the base of these thumbprints. We use 2 and 1/2 cups to provide structure and shape.
  • Apple pie spice: This is what makes these apple spice thumbprints…well, apple-spiced! Apple pie spice is pretty standard in our region, but if you don’t have access to store-bought apple pie spice, you can make your own with cinnamon, cardamom, and nutmeg. If you have leftover apple pie spice, use it in our apple cider donuts!
  • Butter: 1 cup of butter adds flavor, structure, and buttery goodness in each bite. Make sure it’s properly softened to room temperature before beginning.
  • Salted Caramel: We fill each thumbprint cookie with salted caramel. You can make this ahead of time or while the cookie dough chills. We reduce the salt in the salted caramel to 1/4 teaspoon so it’s regular caramel, not salted. (Don’t leave out the salt completely.) You can, of course, keep as regular salted caramel if you prefer.

cookie dough in a glass bowl and a bowl of spices and sugar with cookie dough balls

Recipe Testing: What Works & What Doesn’t

Here are the tips and tricks we learned while testing this recipe. 

Indenting thumbprints. This is our #1 trick for indenting thumbprint cookies. Instead of your thumb, use the end of a rubber spatula or wooden spoon instead. This hack is helpful because you don’t dirty your thumbs, get dough under your nail, touch all the cookies again, AND you obtain a perfectly uniform indent for every cookie in the batch. We do the same thing with our chocolate peppermint thumbprints too.

  • Hint: If you find that the indents have lost their shape after the initial 12 minutes in the oven, just grab the end of your spatula again and press down to make a deeper indent. Deeper indent = bigger pool of caramel. (Obviously a good thing!)

Chilling the cookie dough at THIS stage is important. You want to chill the cookie dough AFTER coating the dough balls in the sugar-spice mix and making indents. Why? In recipe testing, we found that chilling the dough before indenting made it a little too firm. Chilling the dough after indenting was much easier. And if you chill the cookies at this stage, they’ll hold their shape much better when baked.

Caramel Filling. You want to add the caramel AFTER you bake the chilled + shaped cookies. At this point, remove the thumbprints from the oven, fill with caramel. Bake for an additional 1-2 more minutes to help set. The caramel is super gooey right out of the oven, but will set into chewy texture after a couple hours. That makes these caramel apple spice thumbprint cookies convenient  for packing, gifting, and/or traveling. And a little less messy for teeny hands and hungry tummies!

using the end of a wooden spatula to make indents in cookie dough balls

spooning caramel filling into thumbprint cookies

caramel apple spice thumbprints

More Thumbprint Cookies

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caramel apple spice thumbprints on a green plate

Caramel Apple Spice Thumbprints

  • Author: Sally
  • Prep Time: 30 minutes
  • Cook Time: 15 minutes
  • Total Time: 2 hours, 50 minutes
  • Yield: 24 cookies
  • Category: Cookies
  • Method: Baking
  • Cuisine: American

Description

Caramel apple spice thumbprints are inspired by snickerdoodle cookies and filled with homemade caramel.


Ingredients

Topping

  • 1/3 cup (67g) granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon apple pie spice*

Dough

  • 2 and 1/2 cups (313g) all-purpose flour (spoon & leveled)
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons apple pie spice*
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (230g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 3/4 cup (150g) granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • homemade salted caramel*

Instructions

  1. Mix the topping ingredients together in a small bowl. Set aside.
  2. Whisk the flour, apple pie spice, baking powder, and salt together in medium bowl. Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl using a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar together on medium-high speed until smooth and creamy, about 2 minutes. Add the egg and vanilla extract, and beat on high speed until combined, about 1 minute. Scrape down the sides and up the bottom of the bowl and beat again as needed to combine. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix on low until combined.
  4. Roll balls of dough, a little less than 1 Tablespoon each (about 1 inch balls), and then roll generously into apple pie spice/sugar mixture to coat. Place dough balls onto a large lined baking sheet. Using your thumb or the end of a spatula (see post above), make an indent into each cookie. If you find that the balls are cracking when you make an indent, use your hands to push back together.
  5. Chill the shaped cookies for at least 2-3 hours and up to 4 days. Cover them if chilling for longer than 3 hours.
  6. Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Remove chilled and shaped cookies from the refrigerator. Divide between both baking sheets, spacing the cookies about 2-3 inches apart.
  7. Bake for 12 minutes, remove from the oven, and spoon 1/2 teaspoon of caramel into each indentation. If the indents have lost their shape or have puffed up, use the end of a spatula to make an indent again. Place cookies back in the oven for 1-2 more minutes.
  8. Allow cookies to cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Caramel will set after a couple hours.

Notes

  1. Make Ahead Instructions: Cookies stay fresh covered at room temperature for up to 3 days or in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. Store leftover caramel in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. You can make and shape the cookie dough and chill it in the refrigerator for up to 4 days, as noted in step 4. Baked and filled cookies freeze well for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator and bring to room temperature before serving.
  2. Apple Pie Spice: Do you have apple pie spice where you live? If you don’t have access to store-bought apple pie spice, you can make your own with cinnamon, cardamom, and nutmeg.
  3. Caramel Sauce: We reduce the salt in the salted caramel to 1/4 teaspoon so it’s a regular caramel, not salted. Don’t leave out the salt completely. You can, of course, keep as regular salted caramel instead. We prefer the sweet version with this cookie.

30 Comments

  1. Could I make the caramel sauce ahead of time and freeze it? Just a general question (I often have extra heavy cream and don’t know what to do with the rest of it)

    1. You absolutely can! Though I find it doesn’t taste quite as wonderful after thawing out.

  2. We just finished making these now and first impressions from everyone are excellent. Thanks for a very yummy recipe! Looking forward to the cookbook 🙂

  3. Made these just yesterday! They came out perfect just like your pictures! And taste amazing of course! I love your caramel recipe, I made the salted version awhile back and decided to try the sweeter version for these like you suggested! MMM! I could just about drink it but that doesn’t sound like such a bright idea! Thanks so much for the recipe <3

  4. Stéphanie Giguère says:

    I made these yesterday and the were A-M-A-Z-I–N-G. Definitly a new fall favorite! My hubby’s favorite cookies are snickerdoodles so these were simply perfect. Thanks a bunch Sally!

  5. Jennifer @ Because Food Is Love says:

    These cookies are so cute, perfect kid size and perfectly fall in flavor. What a great idea! I’ll be making these this fall for sure. 🙂 

  6. Allyson Rogers says:

    I made these as a thank you gift! The caramel is the best part of the cookies; it adds such a good burst of flavor. My cookies turned out a little hard and dry. I may have baked them too long. I also live in Colorado where baking is weird. Still delicious though! I froze some for later.

  7. These are incredible! The last 3 recipes of yours that I’ve made- these cookies, salted caramel apple pie, and your spice cake- have all been added to our family’s “favorite recipes” binder. 

  8. These are so good! They’re like a snickerdoodle, but then have the amazing caramel on them for a burst of flavor. They’re the perfect size too.

  9. My caramel tastes a little bitter. Is there any way to fix it? How can I avoid that in the future?

    1. Do you think you burned the sugar? Does it taste burnt?

      1. It doesn’t look burned but I guess that could be it. The sugar got clumped when I was melting it so maybe I cooked it too long to get rid of the clumps? Does it help to use a thermometer to check temperature?

  10. Can you use store bought caramel sauce?

    1. The sauce won’t set up, so it will just be a puddle in the cookie. If that makes sense? This caramel sets up so it’s like a gooey caramel, not particularly a wet one.

  11. I’ve made these twice! Love them. I find the salted caramel too salty with half a teaspoon – would recommend sticking with a quarter teaspoon salt. Thanks!

  12. Sissy Wasvick says:

    ONCE again, you surely out did your self! I used salted Carmel chips, 4 to 5 chips in each cookie right after they’ve baked! Absolutely awesome and delicious and didn’t last long either! Going to make more for Mardi Gras 2 morrow and send them out along with your cinnamon rolls made into monkey bread! Love every single recipe that you produce! You are a wonderful and an amazing mom! Can’t wait for your next cookbook!

  13. Julie Steinauer says:

    Can a portion of a finely diced granny Smith apple be added to the dough or would that change the consistency too much?

    1. Hi Julie! I don’t recommend fresh apple in the cookie dough– too wet.

  14. Hey Sally! I’ve been putting off making these like, since you posted them. I kept buying the ingredients but then just always ended up making something else. Well I FINALLY got around to making them yesterday, and omg I’m so glad I did! They are seriously scrumptious. My husband loves them too!!
    I read your note about the apple pie spice.. I bought a little pouch of apple pie spice here in Canada so I read the ingredients in it and mine didn’t have cardamom (it was interesting though, it had cinnamon, fenugreek, lemon peel, ginger and nutmeg) so I added a scant 1/4 tsp to the dough and the sugar/spice mixture along with the premixed apple pie spice. Honestly they were heavenly and the dough was so lovely. It was so nice and soft. Like a cookie pillow! I certainly won’t be putting these off the next time I feel like making them 🙂

  15. I’ve always been intimidated by thumbprint cookies. My fear has been that the filling would run out. I decided to make these cookies as a “first day of fall” treat for my co-worker, and I am SO GLAD that I did! These cookies have the perfect blend of fall flavors without being too powerful on the spice. Bonus, salted caramel makes everything better 🙂 Needless to say, my co-workers were thrilled!

  16. Overall these cookies are delicious, but you really can’t call them caramel apple because they don’t have any elements that taste like apple. While a good cookie they taste more like spiced caramel.

  17. I am impressed how perfectly balanced the aroma is. I thought the spicyness would be pretty intense, but no, those cookies with the caramel on top make a great treat along a great crunch, I love it! My co-workers just saw the picture of the baking sheet and can’t wait to try 🙂

  18. The flavor is amazing! My cookies spread too much though. What could I have done wrong?

  19. Can these be made as jumbo cookies? I own a cafe and my cookies are 1/2 of dough.

  20. Can you freeze these ahead without the sauce? Thaw for 30 minutes in balls? With indents?

    1. That should be fine.

  21. These are delicious. I made them for my Xmas cookie boxes and froze those I didn’t bake. Thanks for the terrific recipe and all the tips on freezing!

  22. I love your recipes!
    The flavor was wonderful, but the cookies were very crumbly , something I could be doing wrong?

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Nathalia, how were you measuring your flour? Be sure to spoon and level to measure in order to not use more flour than needed, which can dry the cookies out. Also, you can try taking the cookies out a minute or two earlier next time to ensure they’re not over baked. Thanks so much for giving these cookies a try!

  23. I failed this. They turned into flat cookies while baking.

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