These lemon thumbprint cookies are a lemon lovers’ dream cookie! Enjoy sweet, soft lemon sugar cookies filled with lemon curd and drizzled with lemon icing. I like to make the lemon curd from scratch because the flavor is superior (honestly, it’s just so good!), but feel free to use store-bought. Instead of lemon curd, you can substitute raspberry, strawberry, or apricot preserves/jam.
A sunny burst of citrus is just the thing to brighten up a gray winter day and add a pop of unexpected flavor to a holiday cookie tray. Among the deep dark flavors of chocolate and spice, like gingerbread cookies, Andes mint chocolate cookies, or chocolate ginger sparkle cookies, these lemon thumbprints shine like twinkly lights in the night. 😉
Loads of Lemon
These lemon thumbprints are flavored with real lemon all the way through, from the cookie dough to the lemon curd filling to the icing on top. Fresh lemon juice and zest are key to all that flavor.
There are 3 parts to these lemon thumbprint cookies:
- Buttery, vanilla bean-speckled lemon sugar cookie dough
- Creamy, tangy lemon curd (homemade or store-bought)
- 2-ingredient lemon icing
Make the Homemade Lemon Curd First
Have you made lemon curd before? It’s delicious on so many recipes, like atop this lemon cheesecake or pavlova. You can use store-bought lemon curd in these cookies in a pinch, but I encourage you to try making it from scratch—it’s surprisingly easy, takes just 10 minutes on the stove, and tastes so much better!
I have a complete separate page dedicated to homemade lemon curd, with a video tutorial to help. It’s just 5 ingredients: egg yolks, sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, and butter.
- Tip: I recommend making it ahead of time, so it has plenty of time to cool completely. It keeps well in the refrigerator for up to 10 days, so you can make it well in advance of making these lemon thumbprint cookies.
You could also play around with flavors and try filling the lemon thumbprints with fruit jam, like I use in these peanut butter & jam thumbprint cookies.
Here’s What You Need for These Lemon Thumbprint Cookies:
As a point of reference, I based this cookie dough off my recipe for butter cookies. Like a shortbread cookie, there’s no leavening agent, but—unlike shortbread—there is an egg, which makes the thumbprints less crumbly. Grab these ingredients:
- Butter: Creamed butter makes up the base of these cookies.
- Sugar: Granulated sugar sweetens the tart lemon in the dough, and we’ll
- Lemon Zest + Juice: Remember to zest the lemon before slicing it and juicing it—it’s a lot harder the other way around!
- Egg: One egg provides softness and richness.
- Vanilla Bean Paste: You could use pure vanilla extract instead, but I really love the extra flavor the vanilla bean in the paste gives these lemon thumbprints.
- Flour: All-purpose flour gives the dough structure.
- Cornstarch: A little cornstarch makes for extra-soft cookies; it’s an ingredient in these soft chocolate chip cookies, too.
- Salt: A little salt balances the sweet and amplifies the lemon and vanilla flavors.
Make the Lemon Cookie Dough & Chill
The dough comes together quickly with an electric mixer, which is required for creaming the butter and sugar together.
This creamy dough needs to chill for at least 3 hours before it’s ready to be rolled and shaped.
How to Shape & Fill Lemon Thumbprints
Once the dough has chilled, you can shape the cookies. Scoop the dough with a Tablespoon and then roll the dough into balls. Roll the cookie dough balls in granulated sugar before placing on a baking sheet.
Use your thumb to make an indentation in the center of each cookie dough ball, then spoon about 1/2 teaspoon of lemon curd into each. Bake the cookies for about 12–13 minutes.
Optional Lemon Icing Is the Icing on the… Cookies
While it’s entirely optional, I love these cookies with a drizzle of icing on top. It’s just that little something extra that makes them look like you bought them from a fancy bakery. Plus, it tastes fantastic!
You need just 2 ingredients: confectioners’ sugar and fresh lemon juice. Whisk it together until smooth, and drizzle it on the cooled cookies. I used a squeeze bottle to apply this sweet finishing touch, but you can simply use a spoon or fork.
The icing sets in about 30 minutes or so, and then you can stack and store the cookies.
You need about 1/2 cup (140g) of lemon curd. If using homemade, I recommend making the whole recipe for homemade lemon curd. You can freeze the leftover lemon curd for up to 3-6 months, or enjoy on yogurt, toast, waffles/pancakes, biscuits, and scones.
Yes, you can absolutely skip the lemon curd. Instead, try raspberry, apricot, or strawberry preserves/jam. Keep in mind that the lemon flavor won’t be as strong without the lemon curd, so I recommend keeping the lemon icing on top. (For that pop of lemon flavor!)
If you want even more lemon flavor in your cookies, feel free to add 1/2 teaspoon of lemon extract to the cookie dough when you add the vanilla bean paste.
Sally’s Cookie Palooza
This recipe is part of my annual cookie countdown called Sally’s Cookie Palooza. It’s the biggest, most delicious event of the year! Browse dozens of cookie recipes over on the Sally’s Cookie Palooza page including:
- Mint Chocolate Checkerboard Cookies
- Iced Oatmeal Cookies
- Brownie Cookies
- Cookies in a Jar (with free printable)
- Lemon Crinkles
and here’s my video tutorial & guide for how to freeze cookie dough.
Sweet, soft lemon thumbprints are filled with lemon curd and drizzled with lemon icing. Instead of homemade lemon curd, you can use store-bought; or substitute raspberry, strawberry, or apricot preserves/jam. This is a very soft and creamy butter cookie dough, so refrigerating it before shaping is imperative. A quick chill after shaping as the oven preheats is helpful, too.
- 2 and 1/4 cups (281g) all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled
- 1 Tablespoon (8g) cornstarch
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 14 Tablespoons (200g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature (see Note)
- 3/4 cup (150g) granulated sugar
- 1 Tablespoon fresh lemon zest
- 1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 1 large egg, at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste (or vanilla extract)
Coating & Filling
- 1/2 cup (100g) granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup (140g) homemade lemon curd or store-bought
- 1 cup (120g) confectioners’ sugar
- 2 Tablespoons (30ml) fresh lemon juice
- Make the dough: In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cornstarch, and salt until combined. Set aside.
- In a large bowl using a handheld or a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter and 3/4 cup (150g) granulated sugar together on medium-high speed until creamed, about 1 minute. Add the lemon zest, lemon juice, egg, and vanilla bean paste and beat on high speed until combined, about 1 minute. The wet ingredients will look curdled, but will smooth out when you add the dry ingredients. 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 speed until combined. Dough will be very creamy. Cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours, and up to 3 days. Chilling is imperative for this soft dough.
- Line large baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats. Make room in the refrigerator for baking sheets, so the shape cookies can chill as the oven preheats in step 7.
- Shape & coat the dough: Place granulated sugar in a small bowl. Scoop cold dough (about 1 Tablespoon (18g) of dough each) and roll into balls. Roll each dough ball in granulated sugar and place 2 inches apart on lined baking sheets.
- Fill the cookies: Use your thumb to make an indentation in the center of each cookie dough ball. Fill each with 1/2 teaspoon of lemon curd.
- Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C). Place baking sheets with unbaked cookies in the refrigerator while the oven preheats. (Or transfer all cookies to 1 baking sheet, or a few plates, if your refrigerator doesn’t have room. I recommend chilling the shaped cookies for a few minutes, to prevent over-spreading.)
- Once oven preheats, bake shaped cookies for 12–13 minutes, or until edges appear set and are very lightly beginning to brown. Remove from the oven and allow cookies to cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
- Make the icing: In a small bowl, whisk together confectioners’ sugar and lemon juice. Drizzle over cooled cookies. (You can use a spoon or fork for this, or a squeeze bottle.) Icing will set at room temperature after about 30 minutes, and then you can stack, store, transport, and gift the cookies.
- Cookies stay fresh covered at room temperature for up to 1 week.
- Make Ahead & Freezing Instructions: You can make the cookie dough and chill it in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Unbaked shaped cookie dough balls (that are not coated in sugar and filled with curd) freeze well up to 3 months. Thaw for 30 minutes, and then coat in sugar, carefully indent and fill, and then bake. See this post on how to freeze cookie dough for more information and a video tutorial. Baked and cooled cookies freeze well for up to 3 months. Thaw in the refrigerator or at room temperature.
- Special Tools (affiliate links): Citrus Juicer | Citrus Zester | Electric Mixer (Handheld or Stand) | Glass Mixing Bowl | Whisk | Vanilla Bean Paste | Baking Sheets | Silicone Baking Mats or Parchment Sheets | Cooling Rack | Squeeze Bottle (optional for drizzling icing)
- Butter: The dough recipe calls for 14 Tablespoons (200g) of butter, so not quite 1 full cup. In testing, the cookies overspread when using a full cup (2 sticks/226g) of butter.
- Vanilla: I love using vanilla bean paste in these cookies because it combines both extract AND vanilla bean seeds, and adds extra flavor. You can, of course, use pure vanilla extract instead. If you want that extra vanilla bean flavor, feel free to add the seeds scraped from 1/2 of a vanilla bean. (This is in addition to the liquid vanilla extract.)
- Lemon Curd: You need about 1/2 cup (140g) of lemon curd. I recommend making the whole recipe for homemade lemon curd. You can freeze the leftover lemon curd for up to 3-6 months, or enjoy on yogurt, toast, waffles/pancakes, biscuits, and scones.
- Instead of Lemon Curd: Instead or lemon curd, try raspberry, apricot, or strawberry preserves/jam. Keep in mind that the lemon flavor won’t be as strong without the lemon curd, so I recommend keeping the lemon icing on top. (For that pop of lemon flavor!)
- Be sure to check out my top 5 cookie baking tips AND these are my 10 must-have cookie baking tools.
Keywords: lemon thumbprints