Date thumbprint cookies, a variation on a Persian cookie called koloocheh, are a buttery delicious treat perfect for Tu B’shevat. These cookies, perfumed with rose water and orange blossom water, are the intersection of several cultural cookie recipes in one easy method.
Another delicious treat is my rose cardamom and pistachio snowball cookie recipe,
The Origin of Date Thumbprint Cookies
When Sarene Wallace and I developed a menu for a cooking workshop called A Taste of Jerusalem: Beyond Hummus and Pita, we landed on a cookie in Louisa Shafia’s book The New Persian Kitchen called date and walnut filled cookies or in Persian: koloocheh.
They seemed very similar to a cookie in Jerusalem: A Cookbook called ma’amul. When I wrote to Louisa to ask if the two cookies were related, she told me about an article she wrote on exactly this subject.
And yes, koloocheh and ma’amul are culturally connected and also akin to a Jewish cookie eaten for Purim, called hamantaschen and an Egyptian cookie called khak.
For ease of browsing, here are all of my baking and dessert recipes.
How Koloocheh Became a Thumbprint Cookie
After studying the different cookie recipes, Sarene and I added our own functional and cultural spins to this already historically-rich baked good.
In the interest of minimizing prep time, we formed the cookies thumbprint-style (filling on top), bypassing the extra step of stuffing and re-rolling the cookies. This sped up the production line without sacrificing taste or texture. We ran the idea by Louisa who encouraged us to give date and walnut thumbprints a try.
Adding Orange Blossom Water and Rose Water
Orange blossom water and rose water are both made from the flower of the associated plant. For rose water, it's made from the rose flowers. Orange blossom water is made from the flower of an orange tree - usually a bitter orange tree.
Rose water is very commonly used in Middle Eastern cuisines. Orange blossom water is beloved in both Middle Eastern and French cuisines - perfuming pastries most often.
After reviewing the "Jerusalem" version of the cookie (ma'amul), I suggested we also add some rose water and orange blossom water to the dough. Sarene and I experimented with varying amounts and came upon the measurements in the recipe below as a nice complement to the cardamom.
If you enjoy a stronger essence of rose or orange, don't hesitate to up the amounts a bit more. But remember too much rose water can become soapy-tasting.
What is Tu B’Shevat
Tu B’Shevat (or Tu Bishvat) is a lesser known Jewish holiday celebrating the birthday of the trees. Or the approximate time of year when trees begin to bloom again. Some honor the holiday by planting a new tree, often in Israel.
In modern times, this holiday is also synonymous with a discussion of saving the planet, learning about climate change, opening our minds to new ways to help preserve the natural beauty of the world. No matter your religious affiliation, if you love the outdoors, it is a wonderful reminder to treasure the natural world and do our part to preserve it.
Why is this Cookie Perfect for Tu B’Shevat
There are seven species or foods connected to the celebration of TuBishvat. These seven foods appear in the Old Testament and are some of the key elements that made ancient Israel's agriculture so rich. Some people have a special meal or seder to celebrate the new year of the trees. These seven foods highlight this special meal.
By using dates for the filling and wheat in the dough, this cookie represents two of the seven species. If you are trying to put a menu together representing all seven, this cookie knocks two off the list. (and it tastes great too!)
How to Make Date Thumbprint Cookies
- Prepare the dough first so it can chill
- Prepare the date filling while the cookie dough chills
- Grab walnut-sized pieces of the dough and roll into a ball. Flatten between your hands and place on a parchment-lined cookie sheet
- Made an indentation with your thumb or similar sized device and fill each cookie with the date filling
- Top with walnuts and then bake
- Sprinkle with powdered sugar to serve.
What began as a menu planning exercise turned into a food history lesson. We learned how a cookie recipe adapts to different cultures, regions, and ethnicities. One bite and you will agree the cookies are a mouthful of flavor, texture, and ethnically distinct ingredients.
Here is a link to Louisa's original recipe and below is our adaptation of Louisa’s date and walnut filled cookie.
Other Recipes Perfect for Tubishvat
Roasted Fruit with Grapes and Pomegranate Molasses
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Supplies for Making Date and Walnut Cookies
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Date and Walnut ThumbprintsBeth Lee
For the dough
- 1 cup unsalted butter or refined coconut oil at room temperature
- ⅓ cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 egg
- 2 teaspoons orange blossom water
- 1 teaspoon rose water
- 2 cups all-purpose flour or if gluten free: ¾ cup fava bean flour, ¾ cup coconut flour, ½ cup tapioca flour
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 2 teaspoon baking powder
- ¼ cup powdered sugar for dusting the cookies after they are baked
For the filling
- ½ cup finely chopped walnuts used for filling and sprinkling
- ½ cup Medjool dates pitted and chopped
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¼ cup freshly squeezed orange juice
- 2 teaspoons honey
- Pinch of kosher salt
Make the Dough
- Make the dough first as it will need to chill and you can prepare the filling while it does.
- In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar on medium-high speed for about 3 minutes, until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla, orange blossom water, rose water, and egg and mix until just combined.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour(s), salt, cardamom, and baking powder.
- Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients in two batches (three or four if you double the recipe), stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. If it doesn't all come together, use your hands for the last bit of kneading to incorporate all of the flour. Turn the dough onto a piece of plastic wrap and press it into a disk. Wrap and chill in the refrigerator for 2 hours, until firm but still flexible.
Make the Filling
- To make the filling, combine ¼ cup of the walnuts with the dates, cinnamon, orange juice, honey, and salt in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer uncovered, stirring often, for 5 to 7 minutes, until the mixture forms a thick paste. Transfer to a plate and let cool to room temperature.
Form and Bake the Cookies
- Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
- To make each cookie, wet your hands and break off a walnut-sized piece of the dough. Roll into a ball and then flatten between the palms of your hand to about ¼ inch thick and place on a parchment-lined cookie sheet 2 inches apart. Make a hollow in the center of each with your thumb; fill with about ½ teaspoon of the date mixture and then sprinkle some nuts on top. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling.
- Refrigerate the cookies for 45 minutes, until firm. While the cookies chill, preheat the oven to 350°F.
- Bake the cookies for 25 minutes (20 minutes convection), until the undersides are golden. Transfer to a cooling rack and let cool completely. Dust the cookies with the powdered sugar if you desire and serve. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days.
- Adapted with Sarene Wallace from The New Persian Kitchen by Louisa Shafia, copyright © 2013. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc.
- This recipe will double easily but we found that the filling, when doubled, was far more than we needed. However, it could easily be eaten by the spoonful or used in another filled cookie like a hamantaschen.
This cookie reminds me of one that I make from "Biscotti: Recipes from the American Academy in Rome".
It also features dates and walnuts, dusted with confectioner's sugar! It calls for farro flour although spelt is also a good substitute.
I love learning about the history of food and the cultural exchanges and influences, so thank you so much for this informative post, Beth!
The connections between this cookie and so many others is fascinating. Louisa Shafia wrote a great article about just a few of the amazing pathways of connection - it is no longer available online unfortunately - but it crosses countries and religions. Love that there is an Italian connection too!
Little Cooking Tips
Beth this cookie recipe is amazing! It reminds us a cookie we make here in Greece for Christmas we call "kourabyies". It's has flower water and almonds in the dough and when baked there is so more flower water sprayed on top and a lot of powdered sugar.
Next time we will make those with dates and walnuts instead of almonds. 🙂 Thank you for sharing this recipe dear Beth.
Mirella & Panos
Oh I bet they are all an extended family of cookie relatives. I can't wait to try kourabyies. Is there a recipe on your blog? How are things in Greece? They are a little nuts here .
Sounds WONDERFUL especially with the rose and orange blossom waters. Is the texture crisp like shortbread or a little softer?
Delicious and just the right amount of rosewater... which can be tricky.
Yes! We were definitely looking for balance. So glad it worked for you.
I loved reading how this delicious cookie came to be! I also appreciate you changing it up a bit to make it an easy cookie to enjoy making & quicker to get in my belly!!
That’s what we were aiming for! So glad.
I always learn so much when I read your posts. I never heard about this holiday. And to see all the similarities in this one cookie is really fascinating. My mom grew up with kolouche so I know she's going to love these cookies, too.
I wonder if your mom made them with yeast. I just watched a video on ma'amoul and this particular person used semolina flour (many do) and yeast which I had not seen before for ma'amoul. I am such a food nerd - all of this is so fascinating. Louisa wrote a great article about these intertwined cookies that isn't online anymore. I need to ask her for a copy of it. It was fascinating. And tu b'shevat is such a wonderful opportunity to appreciate our outside world. Which I know you do XO
Couscous & Consciousness
Love the fascinating insight into the origins of these cookies, and I love the way that you and Sarene interpreted the various recipes to come up with your own unique version. This to me is so totally what cooking is all about.
And nobody exemplifies that idea better than you in your always inventive and smart adaptations. I love following along with your cooking Sue!
The workshop at Shir Hadash was great fun, imformative and OMG Yummy! I loved these cookies and am considering a version with dried mission figs as I have lots of them. I will try them next week and we'll just ss how they work out! Keep inspiring us!
Loved having you there Gretchen. Let me know about the dried mission fig version. I think it could be delicious - and they will soften and create a great filling just as the fresh dates did.
Hi Beth- Thakns for yet another great recipe!!! I made the cookies yesterday with dried black misson figs instead of dates. So yummy! Try them! I'll be taking them to Shir Hadash tonight for a special dinner in suipport of Kiev.
Beth, I really enjoyed your information on these cookies. It seems that much of the middle eastern and Jewish culture share similar foods. I am Lebanese descent and make ma’amul quite often. It’s a cookie my grandmother always made and now I make them for my grandchildren.
Food history is fascinating (and delicious when doing hands on research!). Love your thumbprint version and this date filling sounds just divine. I wish I could have come to your workshop! Great photo. 🙂
Maybe we will fly up to Seattle and do a version of the workshop in your new store!!! I am so excited to see photos!
Beth, you are very welcome anytime! I'd be thrilled to have you and Sarene teach. What a treat that would be! xx
My family would be happy if cookies were the only sweet I ever baked! LOL Chocolate Chip, Peanut Butter, Oatmeal Raisin, all would be just dandy! But we bakers need to grow and try new recipes. I adore the Date and Walnut Thumbprints and the melding of classic recipes that capture the sublime buttery flavors! I like Sandy's idea, send a few of those cookies my way!
You make me apple hand pies and I'll send you a batch of these! Last night we were in Santa Cruz for a concert and stopped off in the Pacific Cookie Company for a quick treat before the show - you can't imagine how one good cookie can make 4 people so happy. We gobbled them up. Nothing quite like a good cookie. Perfection in a small package!
The cookies were indeed delicious. If you ever have any extra think of me. Want you to know I bought the book Jerusalem the Cookbook. Beautiful pictures and great stories along with some great recipes.
Wow -- I can't believe you bought the book - I'm so proud of you. I thought you would enjoy it, regardless of how much you cook, for the stories and history behind the dishes and region. Great!