Sunday, October 30, 2011

Ham & Gruyere Thumbprints

Ham & Gruyere Thumbprints

When you’re a cook, there’s a bunch of questions you get asked all the time.  I thought it might be fun to answer some of them right now, as a prelude to the recipe.  The hands-down number one query is “What’s your favorite thing to cook?”.  This is the toughest one too; There’s so much I love to cook!  But the answer I find myself giving again and again is “Soup”.  Pure, warm coziness in a pot, soup comforts the heart and contents the belly.  I think soup may be my favorite thing to eat too.  

Another common question, “How do you come up with your recipes?”  There are lots of answers to this one.  Sometimes, but not too often, I’ll make up something totally unique and new and one-hundred percent created by me.  More often I’ll cook from memory, an old favorite I’ve made so often and for so long,  it’s locked in the brain.  Often too I’ll try out a cool new dish I find in a cookbook or magazine or blog or even on a restaurant menu, something new and unique and delicious looking, something I’d have never thought up myself in a million years.  I’ll sometimes follow these recipes to the letter (usually the case with desserts especially), and sometimes I’ll steal just the idea itself and run with it, making up my own recipe as I go along.  My favorite method of creating recipes works when I’m making something definitive and traditional – say like granola or shepherd’s pie or spaghetti & meatballs – something classic that you can make a million different ways.  For these sorts of dishes, I’ll read about a dozen different recipes for the same one thing, gathering lots of variations on the theme.  Then I’ll pick and choose the  ingredients and techniques I like best from the whole collection, amalgamating the recipes and fusing them together to create my own hybrid take on the dish.
Not quite melted yet...

A third most popular question is “How do you organize your recipes?”.  Short answer is that I keep them filed on my computer.  For those who are interested, the long answer is this:  Inside my RECIPES file I keep two main sub-files, Tried & True and Looks Good.  Each of these files contains the same titles for sub-folders - Soups, Salads, Fish, Meat, Pasta, etc.  You get the idea.  When I find a a new recipe that looks promising, I’ll scan it from a magazine, copy and paste it from a website, or type it up into a Word document, then save it into its respective Looks Good folder.  (If a recipe looks really good, I won’t even bother sub-categorizing it into one of the smaller folders, but place it right in the main Looks Good file, to keep it in the forefront of my mind.)  Once I’ve tried out the recipe, I’ll either (A) move the document into the correlating Tried & True folder, because I really liked it and would make it again (At this time too I’ll edit the written recipe, adding any big changes or little tweaks I made while cooking), or (B) move the doc into the trash, because we didn’t love it all that much.  And that’s basically my system.  I really like it.  And it’s especially nice for sharing recipes.

Ham & Gruyere Thumbprints

One recipe that hardly lasted an afternoon in the realm of Looks Good was for these Ham & Gruyere Thumbprints.  We had plans to go to a dinner party one evening, and I’d offered to bring along an hors d’oeuvre.  Wanting to try something new, and not finding quite the right fit within my Looks Good–Hors D’Oeuvres file, I started scanning through the web.  I stumbled upon this recipe somewhere within the vast fabulousness of  (My honest answer to that particular question is “Yes, I ADORE Martha!!")  Anyways, as soon as I came across the recipe for these Ham & Gruyere Thumbprints, I knew straight away that I’d found that evening’s hors d’oeuvre.  How cool, I was thinking, to do a savory twist on the classic thumbprint cookie! So I diligently stuck with my system, copying and pasting the recipe into Word, then filing the doc into its proper Looks Good folder, even though I just knew from the beginning that these were going to be a big hit, and would ultimately end up in Tried & True
And a big hit they were!  Huge, huge hit.  The kind of hit where they were completely gone in a few minutes.  The kind of hit where it’s not too much of an exaggeration to say that everybody went totally nuts over them.  Crisp and toasty and the epitome of golden brown, these savory cookies were surprisingly delicate to the bite, like tender pillows.  Wonderfully light and airy, but they carried a perfect richness too, with nutty cheese and smoky specks of ham.  In the centers were nestled golden pools of melted Gruyere cheese.  By the way, following the question theme of this post, even thought it’s not really a common one, my answer for “What's your favorite cheese?” is most definitely “Gruyere”.  Salty and nutty and absolutely gorgeous when melted, Gruyere has a flavor that just floors me every time.  These thumbprint hors d’oeuvres deliver all the goodness of Gruyere’s maximum taste, and with maximum style too. 
   Melty goodness    
Like I’d said, this wunderkind of a recipe lasted hardly a few hours in the Looks Good folder, before getting a quick and well-deserved promotion into the ranks of Tried & True.  And if I had a third folder called All-Time Absolute Favorites, it totally would have ended up there.  Because even though I’ve only made them twice so far, that’s exactly what they already are!

Any other cooking questions?  Let me know.  It’s been fun coming up with answers!

Ham & Gruyere Thumbprints
Adapted from a recipe on
Makes 3 dozen
Ham & Gruyere Thumbprints
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into large pieces
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup water
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup finely chopped Black Forest ham (about 3 ounces)
1 cup finely grated Gruyere cheese, plus 36 cubes (1/2-inch) for centers (8 ounces total)
Preheat the oven to 400°F and line two baking pans with parchment paper or foil.  Combine the butter, salt and water in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, and bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon.  Add the flour, stirring vigorously until incorporated.  Continue to cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture begins to pull away from the sides of the pan and a thin film forms on the pan’s bottom, about 2 minutes.  Remove from the heat and allow to cool for about 2 minutes. 
Transfer the dough to a large mixing bowl.  Then add the eggs, one at a time, beating with the wooden spoon to fully incorporate each egg before adding the next.  Stir in the pepper, ham and cheese. 
Spoon the dough into a pastry bag fitted with the largest star tip you’ve got.  (I use a Wilton 1M open star tip, which you can grab at Joanne’s for about a buck.)  On the prepared baking pans, pipe 1 1/2-inch wide rosettes, spacing them about 2 inches apart. 
Thumbprint dough
Make an indentation in the center of each rosette with your thumb.  (Lightly wet your thumb to keep the dough from sticking to it.)  Bake until crisp and golden, about 25 to 30 minutes, rotating the baking pans halfway through. 
Remove from the oven.  Press a cheese cube into each indentation.  Return to the oven and bake until the cheese has melted, about 10 minutes.  Serve warm. 
Gruyere middles



  1. It's so wonderful that your back up and sunning sharing your talent and love for food. My question, you write in the ingredients list Gruyere Cheese and then in your paragraph of mixing you say Cheddar, I assume it's Gruyere? then can these be frozen, any suggestions? Can't wait to try these for the Holidays.
    Welcome Back.

  2. Thank you, Chefer22! What kind words! And thanks too for finding that typo! I fixed it right away. :) Funny that you ask about freezing... I'm experimenting with that right now. I'll update you here in the next day or so.

  3. Hello again, Chefer22. Sorry it's taken me so long to get back to you about this freezing question. It's been wildly busy around these parts lately! I hate to say it, but freezing is a no. Sorry. I was disappointed too!

    The thing about these things, is that they are plenty good served after refrigerating and reheating, or even just at room temperature. Plenty good. But they're only remarkably good when served hot and crispy, fresh from the oven.

    The way I get around this, and the time crunch it demands, when I serve these at events, is I complete nearly all the steps ahead of time, through baking them the first time and pressing the cheese into the centers of the once-baked thumbprints. Then I cool to room temperature, cover, and bring with me to the event. On site, I simply complete the last baking step of 10 minutes, to crisp the dough again and melt the cheese. I have had perfect success with this, and get remarkably good results every time! Hope this helps!