Thumbprint cookies have been made since the 1800s, probably earlier. They're a versatile cookie that can be made with any kind of dough you can shape into balls and press down in the center.
Almond versions were probably the earliest. Almonds were plentiful in the Middle East and Europe, so almond cookies were some of the earliest cookies. Almond paste is really easy to mold into shapes, and became widely used for sweets and elaborate decorations in the form of marzipan, which is still popular in many European countries.
Fruit was also very popular, as were jams and preserves. These cookies were perhaps the peanut butter cup of the 19th century. Two favorite things accidentally met, and Voilà, a new taste sensation.
French patisseries bake an almond paste version called Niçois Suns (Soleils de Nice). A ball of almond paste is rolled in chopped almonds, pressed in the center and baked. A touch of apricot jam becomes the sun, surrounded by rays of pistachio slivers.
This almond cookie most likely got its name in the early 1900s, when Nice was the fashionable place to go during the winter. It's along the sunny Côtes d'Azur, where the rich would vacation. The invention of a sunny cookie to remind people of the seashore after they returned to Paris was brilliant.
These almond cookies are fairly easy to make. You can purchase almond paste, but it's easy to make your own.
To make a simple almond paste: A little apricot jam is stirred into an egg white (it keeps the cookies moist), which is then stirred into a powder made from blanched almonds and sugar.
The rest is done by mixing and shaping with your hands. Recipes are here, with the instructions for making the almond paste.
This is in the running for the most fun almond cookie to make. Kids love shaping the suns, and of course eating them, too. And, they are gluten free...
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