Chocolate Nutella Thumbprint Cookies and my Grandma

Chocolate Nutella Thumbprint CookiesLast week my Grandma Eva passed away.

She was 99 – 3 months short of her 100th birthday and my last living grandparent.

I hadn’t seen her in a few years – she doesn’t live nearby and the last few years she was no longer able to reply to letters or cards or talk on the phone so I felt a bit of a disconnect when I heard the news.  Sorta like… like my brain took a few days to process it all.

But on Saturday I felt very sad all of a sudden.  I was doing the bulk of my Christmas baking and I started thinking about her.  So many of my memories of my Grandma revolve around food.

My first real memory of making food is stirring fruit cake with my mom.  I think there’s even a picture of me doing it somewhere.

But my second memory of making food was with my Grandma – she taught me how to make drop cookies, as she called them.  Most people call them thumbprint cookies.  We made buckets of them – literally!  We would make so many that she would fill up 4L ice cream pails with them to freeze.  Usually they were filled with sticky jam :)

Filling Cookies with NutellaAlthough she was born in Canada, she grew up with immigrant Ukrainian parents on a farm in Alberta.  I grew up eating her homemade perogies, cabbage rolls, borscht, all handmade from scratch.  I remember as a little girl watching her fill her perogies and “helping” her fold and seal them – she could do it so quickly, her hands flying while my little ones tried to keep up – making a mess in the process. And then I would watch fascinated as she boiled them – waiting for them to pop up in the water.

A few years ago, my cousin Heather tried to recreate Grandma’s recipe.  It wasn’t the same.  That’s a secret that has now disappeared.  My dad can replicate the cabbage rolls very well but every year at Ukrainian (or Orthodox) Christmas, which we still celebrate, we buy the borscht and the perogies from a local Ukrainian deli where they still make everything, including the Kielbassa from scratch.

Me when I was probably just shy of 2, on my Grandma's porch where I was constantly rearranging all her potted plants in coffee cans.

By the time I came along, my Grandma lived in Kelowna, back when it was a sleepy little lakeside town surrounded by orchards, ponderosa pines and sage brush – not like the tourist behemouth strip mall it has become today (sorry Laura – they’re messing with my youth!).  Chunks of our summers would be spent walking to the lake, eating apples, watching them make apple juice at the Sun Rype factory, and eating Grandma’s food and helping her garden. I have winter memories of tobogganing down Knox mountain, squealing with delight at the windy steep mountainside covered in snow unlike we ever got at home and landing practically in my cousins’ front yard (try doing that on Knox Mountain today – it’s now a giant subdivision!) and having hot chocolate afterwards.  Always, there was food and lots of it.

I remember staying with her in my teens and her asking me what I wanted for lunch.  Not wanting a big meal like she would usually produce I begged for just a simple sandwich (oh, and don’t YOU go trying to make your own lunch…).  “Is that all? Just a sandwich?” she would exclaim.  “Yes please Grandma”  Within ten minutes a fresh homemade loaf of bread would be sliced up and sandwich fixings of all sorts along with a mammoth bowl of soup would be presented to you with a murmur of “Are you sure this will fill you up??”.

Closeup of Chocolate Nutella Thumbpring cookies

She wasn’t the type to write a lot of letters other than with my birthday card.  But every now and then, seemingly out of the blue, one would arrive.  She always seemed to have a sixth sense for when I was feeling very low and had the ability to send me a letter knowing what to say to make me feel better.

I am a pretty even mix of my parents genetic material but my stubborness (some less polite people will refer to it as my pig-headedness…) comes from my Grandma.  It gets me in trouble sometimes but for the most part it’s done me well.

This weekend, I made Chocolate Nutella Thumbprint Cookies as a tribute to my Grandma.  The recipe is courtesy of my girlfriend, Laura.  We used to make these with her oldest daughter at Christmas before they moved away when she was about 5.  Oddly enough, they now live in Kelowna.  I hope Rozzy remembers making them with us years from now too :)

Chocolate Nutella Thumbprint Cookies and my Grandma
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Recipe type: Cookie
  • ½ cup butter
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 1 large yolk
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 cup plus 2tbsp flour
  • ⅓ cup chopped chocolate
  • Nutella for filling
  1. Cream butter and sugar until fluffy
  2. Add egg yolk, vanilla, salt and mix
  3. Add flour and beat on low speed
  4. Add chocolate
  5. At this point, you can freeze the dough for up to a month if you want
  6. Form dough into balls
  7. Place on parchment paper or a silpat baking sheet
  8. Make a "thumbprint" depression and fill with Nutella
  9. Place in freezer for 15 minutes
  10. Bake at 350 for 12-15 minutes
This is a very easy dough to make ahead, freeze and then make when you need it. The recipe also lends itself very well to doubling or even tripling if you need to make a big batch And of course, you can use the end of a wooden spoon or other utensil, to make the thumbprint impression I used my icing kit to fill the cookies - much cleaner and easier than spooning Nutella into the cookies

Food Photography Tips

Well, I’m begrudgingly starting to learn that shooting with a tripod when I use my macro lens makes my life much easier.  Despite being a very fast lens, I find that camera shake can dramatically affect the focus on the lens I have (oh one day I will have a Canon L macro lens… one day…) when shooting at close quarters and a very shallow depth of field.

All these photos used a tripod with all natural light coming from the left (except the one of me as wee young thing…) and being reflected by foam board to the right.

Image 1:  100mm, f/2.8, 1/50th, ISO400, no exposure compensation

Image 2: 100mm, f/2.8, 1/40th, ISO400, no exposure compensation

Image 3: 100mm, f/2.8, 1/30th, ISO400, no exposure compensation

Post processing on all of them was contrast, clarity and sharpening in Lightroom.  The longest, hardest part of this shoot was placing the Christmas tree ornaments  in the background.

*** the ornaments were a gift from my same cousin, Heather, who made the perogies.  They’re vintage 1940’s ornaments that don’t go with my other tree ornaments but which are so pretty I have to find other ways to use them :)


  1. says

    There’s nothing like the love (and good cooking) of a grandma, and it sounds like you inherited more than just a stubborn nature from her. This was a beautiful tribute, and I hope you find strength in those wonderful memories!

  2. Jodi says

    Such a great post Melissa! I love your story about your childhood and grandma. I haven’t had any grandparents since I was 8 years old, so it was nice to relive what memories I have of them through your post. Love the feel of the pics and I AM GOING TO MAKE THESE COOKIES ’cause I LOVE nutella! Thanks again. Have a wonderful Christmas with your famly and friends. All the best to you in 2012!

  3. says

    i’m so sorry to hear about your grandma. we just had a very close call with my last grandpa and your story touched me. i lived and grew up in kelowna all my life! this post brought back a lot of memories. and your cookies look and sound delicious!

    • Melissa says

      I miss the Kelowna of my childhood – it has grown so fast so quickly. Have you seen My American Cousin? That movie always makes me feel like I’m back there (although I’m not that old!)

    • Melissa says

      yes… i think it’s quite obvious in that picture where the Chipmunk nickname came from! (and hey! I’m STILL a cutie patootie! ;-))

  4. says

    Oh Melissa, this is such a beautifully written tribute to your Grandma. As it turns out, my mother-in-law also from Kelowna, and she describes it just as you have. Grandparents are a blessing, and I remember mine fondly. I am lucky to have both my grandmothers alive still, but there are many days when I feel that I should be doing more with them, perhaps talking to them, visiting India more often… but they are old and hard of hearing, and time passes by quickly… there is always something.

    Your post made me call both my grandmothers and I yelled through the phone how much I loved them, so thank you for the reminder.

    I am very sorry for your loss, and hope that memories of her will continue to give your strength now and in the future.

  5. Nichole says

    Food is deeply intertwined with memories of my Grandmas as well, I guess it’s where we really truly learn what an expression of love that food is. <3 It's pure genius to combine Nutella with a PB cookie … or to maybe make some hazlenut butter to sub for the PB. You've got me thinking now!

  6. Autumn says

    Thanks for sharing about your grandma, she reminds
    Me alot of mine too as she was also ukrainian
    and grew up on a farm in saskatchewan. I have had my share
    Of cabbage rolls & perogies ,lol,!
    Me and my son’s are trying out your thumbprint nutella
    recipe ..sounds delicious, thank you and merry christmas !

  7. jacquie says

    i’m sorry for your loss. i have fond “food” related memories of my grandma also. i bet your dad has that cabbage roll recipe all in head and he can’t desribe it in detail – perhaps you could shadow him and learn how to make it? it might be a nice gesture to both him and your grandma and you might be glad you did. just a thought.

    have nice holiday.

  8. Maria says

    I also have a Grandma who is 99 – she is still hanging in there… The funny thing is that she also made thumbrint cookies filled with jam. I have her recipe, but haven’t made it in years. (She added wheat germ to the dough and into a lot of other stuff – probably why she is 99!) Thanks for reminding me of these cookies!

  9. says

    Hi! I love the recipe, and just made them actually..however, they turned out like pancakes instead if what’s in your picture. Is there an ingredient missing in your recipe above? :( I was so bummed with how they turned out!! Did you use baking soda…? Any advice would be great!

    • Melissa says

      Hi Amy,
      I’m so sorry you had a problem with them! How disappointing :( I’ve gone and double checked the recipe with my original recipe card and nothing is missing. It doesn’t use baking soda.
      When you made them, did you drop them as balls on to the cookie sheet? When you make the thumbprint, make sure you don’t flatten the ball too much – just make the indent in the middle. And make sure you chill the dough after filling the indents. It’s basically a shortbread type of cookie – similar in texture so it needs that chilling time. I can’t think of anything else. I’ve never had them fail before!

    • Melissa says

      oh I’m sorry to hear that! I’ve never had them burn before so that’s a real shame. I guess it’s another example of how different ovens can be. I hope you try them again and adjust because they are delicious!

  10. says

    What a lovely post and photo of you as a wee one! I never had grandparents so I love to live through the stories of those who did (if that makes sense?!). You were fortunate to have her for as long as you did :). Happy Monday!


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