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Cardamom and rose sing in these vegan, gluten-free thumbprint cookies

(Scott Suchman for The Washington Post/food styling by Lisa Cherkasky for The Washington Post)
Cardamom and Rose Thumbprint Cookies
Active time:35 mins
Total time:1 hour 10 mins
Servings:Makes about 26 cookies
Active time:35 mins
Total time:1 hour 10 mins
Servings:Makes about 26 cookies

I’ve always had a soft spot for cookies with fruit filling. It likely started with Mrs. Dugan — Mrs. D, as we affectionately called her — my German American babysitter. My best friend, guardian angel and spiritual grandmother, she had been a professional cook in a previous life and remained a deft baker.

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A special treat that Mrs. D made only for Christmas were her Linzer cookies, with a shiny cutout of raspberry jam in the shape of a heart or a star. To this day, the sight of these pretty confections reminds me of opening the kitchen door after a cold walk home and being greeted by a plate of warm cookies and a kiss on the cheek.

My infatuation continued with hamantaschen, the big, triangle-shaped butter cookies eaten at Purim. My Ashkenazi Jewish mother was a great cook, but we always got our hamantaschen from a kosher bakery in Philadelphia’s Main Line suburbs. My favorite fillings are the traditional ones: poppy seed, prune and apricot. (I don’t want to hear from “modern” fillings such as chocolate, PB&J, or heaven forbid, s’mores.) A late-winter treat enjoyed once a year, hamantaschen have maintained their mystique. When a friend and I baked several hundred for a fundraiser a few years ago, armed with homemade poppy seed (mohn in Yiddish) and prune (lekvar) fillings, I was thrilled to find that I could indeed make these beloved cookies as well as that bakery.

As an adult on a trip to Iran to meet the extended family of my father, who was raised there with a traditional Muslim upbringing, I discovered koloocheh, a yeasted pastry pressed with a geometric design and filled with dates and walnuts. I was struck by its familiarity — a disc of dough filled with fruit, but seasoned with the novel flavors of cardamom, cinnamon, saffron and rose water. In the universality of this pastry, I saw the disparate influences in my life fit together and make sense. I brought freshly made boxes of koloocheh back to share with my dear cousins, who had come to feel like sisters in our short time spent together.

Round, filled sweets have been a comfort food my whole life, marking holy days and connections to people I love.

This simple vegan and gluten-free thumbprint cookie recipe is my humble contribution to that tradition. It holds the essence of all of those sweet offerings I’ve had the pleasure of tasting.

Cardamom and Rose Thumbprint Cookies

The dough is made with chickpea flour for a vegan, gluten-free treat that comes together easily in a food processor. You can substitute an all-purpose gluten-free flour mix, or use all-purpose flour.

Don’t be afraid to use a generous amount of jam when you fill the cookies. It may look like a lot, but rather than overflow, the jam sinks as it bakes.

The flavor of rose water is what gives the cookies their distinct Middle Eastern flavor. We preferred to keep the rose water in the dough to 1 teaspoon, but if you like a more prominent floral flavor, you can use an additional teaspoon in the filling and/or fill the cookies with rose jam.

Make Ahead: The cookie dough can be stored in an airtight container or zip-top bag in the freezer for up to 1 month.

Storage: Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days; or wrap tightly and freeze for up to 2 months.

Where to Buy: Rose water and chickpea flour can be found at well-stocked supermarkets, Middle Eastern and other international markets, or online.

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  • 1 cup (140 grams) whole, raw almonds (may substitute equal weight of slivered or sliced)
  • 1 cup (120 grams) chickpea flour
  • 1/2 cup (56 grams) old-fashioned rolled oats (do not substitute quick-cooking oats)
  • 2/3 cup (133 grams) granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons ground cardamom
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine salt
  • 1/2 cup (120 milliliters) light olive oil or neutral oil, such as canola or grapeseed, plus more as needed
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons rose water (see headnote)
  • 1/2 cup (170 grams) cherry jam or apricot jam (or split the batch in half and use 85 grams of each)
  • Dried rose petals, for garnish (optional)

Step 1

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Line two large, rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.

Step 2

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the almonds, chickpea flour, oats, sugar, cardamom, cinnamon and salt. Pulse to break down the almonds and oats until the mixture forms a coarse meal, 10 to 15 pulses. Add the oil and 1 teaspoon of the rose water. Pulse a few times, scrape down the bowl with a spatula, and continue to pulse until the almonds and oats are no longer visible and the dough comes together, another 15 to 20 pulses, adding more oil as needed, 1 teaspoon at a time. The dough should hold its shape when you squeeze a piece of it, as well as start to form larger clumps around the blade.

Step 3

In a small bowl, stir the jam to loosen it, as needed. If desired, add 1 teaspoon more of the rose water.

Step 4

Roll the dough into tablespoon-size balls weighing about 3/4 ounce (20 grams). Place the balls on the prepared baking sheet, spaced about 1 1/2 inches apart. Gently press a hole in the middle of each ball with your thumb, and use your fingers to shape the cookies into even rounds. Fill each indentation with a scant 1 teaspoon of the jam.

Step 5

Bake, one sheet at a time, for 18 to 20 minutes, or until the cookies are lightly browned on the bottom. Let the cookies cool on the pan on a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature, garnished with rose petals, if using.

Nutrition Information

Per cookie, using cherry jam

Calories: 116; Total Fat: 7 g; Saturated Fat: 1 g; Cholesterol: 0 mg; Sodium: 26 mg; Carbohydrates: 12 g; Dietary Fiber: 1 g; Sugar: 8 g; Protein: 2 g

This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not substitute for a dietitian’s or nutritionist’s advice.

From Louisa Shafia, proprietor of Feast By Louisa and author of “The New Persian Kitchen” (Ten Speed Press, 2013).

Tested by G. Daniela Galarza; email questions to

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