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Walnut and Five-Spice Thumbprint Cookies

Walnut and Five-Spice Thumbprint Cookies 20.000

Tom McCorkle for The Washington Post; food styling by Lisa Cherkasky for The Washington Post

Holiday Cookies 2020 Dec 9, 2020

Chinese walnut cookies are a favorite of cookbook author Hetty McKinnon, and instead of a single walnut in the center, her version adds a crave-worthy walnut, coconut and brown sugar crumble laced with five-spice powder.

For suggestions on how to make this recipe gluten-free and vegan, see the VARIATIONS, below.

Make Ahead: This dough can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or in the freezer for 3 months. If freezing, roll into balls first and store in an airtight container.

Storage Notes: The baked cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to 1 week at room temperature or frozen for up to 1 month.


When you scale a recipe, keep in mind that cooking times and temperatures, pan sizes and seasonings may be affected, so adjust accordingly. Also, amounts listed in the directions will not reflect the changes made to ingredient amounts.

Tested size: 20 servings; makes 20 cookies

  • For the cookies
  • 2/3 cup (75 grams) walnut halves and pieces
  • 16 tablespoons (2 sticks/225 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2/3 cup (135 grams) granulated sugar
  • 2 large egg yolks, plus 1 large egg, beaten (for egg wash)
  • 2 1/3 cups (290 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • For the topping
  • Scant 1/2 cup (50 grams) walnut halves and pieces
  • 1/4 cup (55 grams) packed light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup (20 grams) unsweetened desiccated coconut
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons five-spice powder

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Make the cookies: Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.

Spread all the walnuts (for the cookies and topping) on a baking sheet and toast for 10 to 12 minutes, shaking the pan every now and then, until the walnuts are fragrant and slightly darkened. Remove the walnuts to a plate to prevent overcooking. Once cool enough to handle, finely chop.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or using a large bowl and a hand mixer, beat the butter and granulated sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, scraping the bowl as needed, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the egg yolks and beat on medium speed until the yolks are incorporated, scraping the bowl a few times, about 2 minutes.

Add about two-thirds (75 grams) of the walnuts, along with the flour and salt, and beat on low speed until the batter clumps together into a few large pieces. Remove the dough from the bowl, shape into a thick disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or up to 3 days, until firm.

Return the oven to 350 degrees, if you turned it off after toasting the nuts. Line 2 large, rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and break off pieces, forming them into balls just smaller than a golf ball. Each piece should weigh about 35 grams — you can also make them smaller, if you like. Place the balls onto the lined baking sheets, spacing them a couple of inches apart and refrigerate for 10 minutes. (If you only have room in the refrigerator for one pan, you can chill the second while the first batch is baking.)

Make the topping: In a small bowl, combine the remaining walnuts with the brown sugar, coconut, butter and five-spice powder.

Take the shaped cookies out of the fridge and brush them with the beaten egg. Bake for 5 minutes, then remove from the oven and create a thumbprint in each cookie. Fill the thumbprint with about 1 teaspoon of walnut streusel topping and return to the oven for 15 to 18 minutes, rotating from front to back halfway through, until lightly golden. Let the cookies cool on the sheet for a few minutes and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Repeat with the second batch (you may have a little streusel left over depending on the yield and how big your thumbprints are).

VARIATIONS: This cookie is easily amended to be gluten-free and vegan. Use gluten-free all-purpose flour, vegan butter and flax eggs, and brush with oat milk rather than an egg wash. This results in a cookie with more of a crunch. For the flax eggs, combine 2 tablespoons of ground flax seeds with 5 tablespoons of water.

If you want to simplify this recipe, you can simply add a whole walnut to the center, in place of the crumble.

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Recipe Source

Adapted from cookbook author Hetty McKinnon.

Tested by Becky Krystal.

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Nutritional Facts

Calories per cookie: 238

% Daily Values*

Total Fat: 16g 25%

Saturated Fat: 8g 40%

Cholesterol: 56mg 19%

Sodium: 33mg 1%

Total Carbohydrates: 21g 7%

Dietary Fiber: 1g 4%

Sugar: 9g

Protein: 3g

*Percent Daily Value based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.

Total Fat: Less than 65g

Saturated Fat: Less than 20g

Cholesterol: Less than 300mg

Sodium: Less than 2,400mg

Total Carbohydrates: 300g

Dietary Fiber: 25g

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