12 Days of Holiday Cookies: Salted Butterscotch Thumbprints


The inspiration for these cookies is familiar to any Angeleno who’s had Nancy Silverton’s now iconic salted butterscotch budino. The pudding, with its drizzle of caramel sauce and sprinkling of flaky sea salt, is everything you want in a dessert; in this recipe, that pudding is perfectly cupped in the small divots of a thumbprint cookie. Using all dark brown sugar in the simple dough makes it easy to form into balls that hold their shape while being pressed, and it gives the cookies a molasses-like flavor and chew. The butterscotch sauce is spiked with whiskey for added punch and to help it set into a perfectly smooth but firm filling. A final sprinkling of flaky sea salt is essential, but the gold dragées are optional — a way to gild the lily for the holidays.

Our first annual collection of 12 L.A.-inspired holiday cookies.

Salted Butterscotch Thumbprints

1 hour 15 minutes, plus 30 minutes cooling. Makes 3 1/2 dozen .

The iconic L.A. dessert salted butterscotch budino transforms into shiny gold thumbprint cookies here, filled with whiskey butterscotch sauce and dolled up with gold dragées.
(Leslie Grow / For The Times)


  • 1 cup gold sparkling sugar or turbinado sugar, such as Sugar in the Raw
  • 1 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (10 1/8 ounces; see Baker’s Note)


  • ½ cup unsalted butter
  • 1 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons whiskey or bourbon
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Flaky sea salt and gold dragées (optional), to garnish


  1. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Place the gold sparkling sugar in a medium bowl.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the brown sugar, butter, vanilla, salt and baking powder and beat with an electric mixer on medium-low speed until creamy, about 1 minute (see Baker’s Note). Add the egg and beat until smooth. Add the flour and beat on low speed until just combined.
  3. Using a half-ounce ice cream scoop or 1 tablespoon, portion the dough and roll into balls then coat in the gold sugar. Arrange the balls 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets. Using the end of a wooden spoon (half-inch diameter) or your index finger, press each dough ball straight down in the center to create a deep divot. Refrigerate the dough on the baking sheets for 30 minutes.
  4. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Bake the chilled cookies, rotating the baking sheets from front to back and top to bottom halfway through, until light golden brown on the bottom, 10 to 12 minutes. Let the cookies cool for 1 minute on the baking sheets, and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
  5. Make the filling: Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir in the brown sugar and cream, bring to a simmer and cook, stirring, until bubbly and thick, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the pan from heat and stir in the whiskey, vanilla and kosher salt.
  6. While the filling is still hot, use a quarter-teaspoon to fill the divot in each cookie with the warm butterscotch sauce. Sprinkle with flaky sea salt and gold dragées, if you like, while warm, then let cool to set, at least 30 minutes.

Make ahead: The cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.

Baker’s note: When measuring flour or powdered sugar, spoon it into a dry measuring cup and level off the excess. Scooping compacts the ingredients, resulting in dry baked goods. And if using a stand mixer, use a rubber spatula to scrape the bottom of the bowl and the paddle after beating the butter and sugar together and after the dough is mixed to ensure the ingredients are evenly mixed throughout.