Lemon Curd Cookies (lemon drop cookies)

Technically not a drop cookie, these lemon curd cookies are a tart bite of buttery flakiness. If you’re a shortbread lover, you’ll be smitten because the dough has only 3 ingredients! Perfect for an afternoon tea—lemon thumbprint cookies are a holiday cookie tray must. Adapted from Noteworthy: A Collection of Recipes from the Ravinia Festival.

This post was originally published December 17, 2019 and was updated on September 24, 2021.
photo styling: Paige Wassel | photography: Hartman Pictures

I first made these back in the day when Chicago’s famed outdoor music venue, Ravinia, came out with their first cookbook, Noteworthy. It quickly became a family favorite and is on our Christmas cookie tray every year.

While they’re kind of an unconventional Christmas cookie, these easy lemon thumbprint cookies add a punch of bright color to any holiday cookie platter and are a nice break from all the chocolate, mint and cut-out cookies.

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Why this recipe

  • The shortbread is so flaky and tender. Swoon.
  • The cookie dough has only 3 ingredients and doesn’t need refrigerating!
  • That zesty curd filling. Oh my (and it’s easy!).

On to the cookie…but before we start, we need to clear something up.

a cup of coffee with some cookie dough balls.
photo styling: Paige Wassel | photography: Hartman Pictures

In our house, we call these lemon drop cookies. Tbh, they really aren’t— hence, the renaming to Lemon Curd Cookies (that zesty curd is sooo good, it deserves top billing). A drop cookie is one like my Kitchen Sink Oatmeal Cookies. You grab a big spoonful of dough and drop it onto the cookie sheet.

These are really shortbread thumbprint cookies with a lemon curd filling.

Ingredients

ingredients including flour, powdered sugar, eggs, lemons and butter.

The ingredient list for this cookie dough is short (3 things!). You’ll need:

  • unsalted butter
  • flour
  • confectioners sugar

And the ingredients for the lemon curd boil down to:

  • lemon
  • sugar
  • egg
  • a little more butter

Easy peasy 🍋 squeezy.

Step-by-step instructions

three steps to make thumbprint cookies.

Make the dough

  1. With a stand or hand mixer (you can try it by hand but your butter has to be room temp soft), mix the butter, confectioner’s sugar, and flour until the dough comes clean away from the sides [1]. This will take around 2 minutes depending on how soft your butter is.
  2. Pull off a ball of dough a little bigger than a teaspoon and roll it in the palm of your hand until you have a nice shape [2].
  3. Using either your thumb, index or pinky, make a slight print in the dough without going all the way through to the pan [3].

You want a nice-sized curd divot.

Who knew golf and lemon drop cookies had something in common?



TIP

Press too hard and you run the risk of pushing your way through to the cookie sheet; pressing too lightly results in a very small divot for your lemon curd.

-Josie + Nina


How to make homemade lemon curd

lemon cookies on a wire rack

Sure, you can buy lemon curd and put it in the middle. And say you made it.

I won’t tell.

But I promise you it won’t be the same. And you can’t lick the pan.

Here’s all you need to make homemade lemon curd:

three steps to filling thumbprint cookies with lemon curd.
  • In a small saucepan, whisk and egg and add the lemon juice, zest, and some sugar [4].
  • Cook over low heat until the whole thing thickens into a dreamy, irresistible curd [5].
  • Cool until ready to fill the cookies [6].

Why it’s called lemon curd I’ll never know because it deserves a much prettier name.

Filling the cookies

hand filling a cookie with lemon curd on a cookie tray.

Once the cookies come out of the oven:

  • Let them cool completely and using a very small spoon, put some curd in the center of the cookie. I bring out an old baby spoon but any small spoon will do the trick.
hands shaking a strainer of flour sprinkling lemon cookies on a wire rack.
photo styling: Paige Wassel | photography: Hartman Pictures
  • Next, kiss them with some powdered sugar. If you don’t have one of these handy little sugar shakers, be sure to pick one up. They come in super handy for dusting cakes with sugar or fill it with flour to dust pans or even your countertop if you’re rolling out dough. Otherwise, use a fine mesh strainer as I have here.

Substitution tips

  • Don’t have lemons? Limes or oranges work beautifully too!
  • Use only fresh lemon juice…that means no bottled lemon juice, no matter how convincing the packaging sounds that it’s real lemon juice!
  • If you need to make these gluten-free, my favorite gluten free flour is Cup 4 Cup.

Helpful Tips

Make-ahead: Make the shortbread cookies (without the curd). Freeze in a single layer on a sheet pan and transfer to a freezer-safe bag. Defrost at room temperature. Top with the curd and sprinkle over powdered sugar.

Storing. Store in a sealed container for up to 5 days. Otherwise, freeze for up to three months.

For a few or a crowd: Pack up 4 or 6 in mini cookie boxes and share with your child’s teachers as an extra thank-you sweet treat.


Made this recipe?

I’d love it if you’d share your review and leave a star rating and comment!


lemon cookies on a cake plate with two cups of coffee, plates and a striped towel and a lemon
4.45 from 9 votes

Lemon Drop Cookies

Technically not a drop cookie, these lemon curd cookies are a tart bite of buttery flakiness. If you're a shortbread lover, you'll be smitten because the dough has only 3 ingredients! Perfect for an afternoon tea—lemon thumbprint cookies are a holiday cookie tray must. Plus, watch the video below to see the cookie dough in action!
Prep Time:30 minutes
Cook Time:10 minutes
Total Time:40 minutes
Servings 50 cookies

Equipment

  • 2 cookie sheets (non-airbake)

Ingredients
 

Cookie

Lemon curd

Instructions

For the Cookies

  • Preheat oven to 350°
  • Lightly butter or spray two cookie sheets with baking spray and set aside.
  • Using a hand or stand mixer with a paddle attachment, combine all of the cookie ingredients in a bowl until mixed well about 3-5 minutes.
    The dough will come together and be in larger smooth pieces and the sides of the bowl will be clean. NOTE: If you use chilled butter, it will take longer (up to 8 minutes or so) for the dough to come together. Don't despair…it will all of a sudden happen but it won't be a perfect ball, but in large pieces.
  • With a small teaspoon or small scoop, take a small amount of dough and roll the cookie into a small ball about 1-1½" in diameter. When you take a piece off, it might feel on the drier side. The heat from your hands will aid in helping it become a ball.
  • Using your index finger, create a little divot in the center of each ball. Don't press too hard that you go all the way through to the cookie sheet. Place each cookie on prepared cookie sheet and line up neatly. You will get about 6 cookies across on the short side of the sheet.
  • Place cookie sheets in preheated oven and bake for 9-11 minutes. Keep an eye on them starting at 8 minutes. You don't want them browned on the top.

For the Curd

  • Meanwhile, in a small saucepan on the stove, combine all curd ingredients. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly until curd thickens. This will take about 6 minutes. Set aside to cool completely.

Assembling the cookies

  • Once the cookies are finished baking, remove them from the oven and cool them for 2 minutes on the cookie sheets and then remove to cooling racks that are sitting over sheets of parchment paper or plastic wrap.
  • Using a small child's spoon, spoon a small amount (about 1/2-1 tsp depending on the size of your divot) into each cookie being careful not to get any on the sides of the cookie.
  • Using a sugar shaker or fine mesh strainer, lightly sprinkle confectioners sugar over each cookie. You don't want it to cover the curd completely or you won't be able to see that it's a lemon cookie.
  • To store, place in a large, shallow container. The cookies will keep up to two weeks (if they last that long) and can be frozen. I sometimes make the cookies and freeze them unfilled and make the curd before serving. The cookies can stick together which makes stacking them a challenge.

Notes

Make ahead: Make the shortbread cookies (without the curd). Freeze in a single layer on a sheet pan and transfer to a freezer-safe bag. Defrost at room temperature. Top with the curd and sprinkle over powdered sugar.
Storage. If you’re going to enjoy them for a few days after baking, they are fine at room temperature covered in a single layer. I have stored them in a cool place in a covered container like the basement or on my porch actually. I also have frozen them for long term storage when I make them in advance at the holidays.
To freeze. Freeze them in a single layer and then after they’re frozen you can layer them between pieces of parchment and then in a covered container.
Course: Cookies
Cuisine: American
Author: Lori Murphy
Did you make this recipe? Tag @josieandnina or tag #josieandnina!

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18 Comments

  1. I had the same problem — my dough was super crumbly using the right amounts of ingredients. So I added about 4 tablespoons of milk to it and that worked. Any suggestions on what I did wrong? I really want to try the raspberry version but want to get the dough right!4 stars

    1. Hi Molly! Thanks for taking the time to reach out 😊. To start, I have a rough video of me making the dough that I am going to email you (I’ll also upload it here too so everyone can see how it comes together.) I use a stand mixer and it takes a few minutes for the dough to come together and it will be on the piecier side as you can se from the last video – I’ll make sure to clarify it better in the post. It comes together but it all won’t be entirely together, if that makes sense. As you take off pieces and roll the dough into balls, the heat from your hands also adds to bring it together. The raspberry almond shortbread thumbprints has a different dough and uses granulated sugar, not confectioner’s sugar. Please let me know if that helps!

  2. Ok, new FAVORITE Christmas cookie! This will be on our holiday cookie tray from this day forward. Excellent recipe, easy to follow & spot on instructions. Delicious lemon curd, Lori’s timing is precise and the lemon curd just tastes so much better fresh & homemade. Loved it. 🙂5 stars

    1. Katherine this might be one of the best compliments ever! So happy you found the recipe easy to follow and loved the cookies as much as we do! Thank you for taking the time to share 😊

  3. Are these meant to spread and flatten while cooking? They looked fabulous when they went in, but I had to recreate the divot when I took them out because they’d relaxed too much in the oven. They taste amazing and have paired well with the passionfruit curd I had in the fridge.4 stars

    1. Hi Fiona! Love that you paired them with passionfruit curd! I bet that was so good!! Yes they do flatten a little while cooking and it really depends on the size of the balls that you start with. I make them very small – about 1″ and when you indent them you have to push down enough to not go all the way through. They will puff but there should still be a dimple to hold the lemon curd. I have found that when it’s more humid, you have to work quicker with the dough given the high butter concentration. Hope that helps!

  4. I cannot get the mixture to come to a ball with only 1/2 C of butter. Even after mixing for 10 minutes, I still have a well-blended dry mix that will in no way form and hold a ball shape.2 stars

    1. Hi there -you are so right! 1/2 cup of butter isn’t enough as the recipe calls for 1/2 lb which is 2 sticks or 1 cup. Appreciate the comment and I will make a better note of the equivalency. Hope that helps!

    1. Hi Agnes! Thanks so much for the question. I haven’t tested these cookies with gluten-free flour but when I have used the Cup 4 Cup brand of GF flour in other recipes, I’ve had really good results. The sugar in the recipe is necessary for texture and moisture and I am not sure Splenda would yield the same results but if you give it a go, I’d love to hear what you think!

    1. Hi Jamie – such a great question…If you’re going to enjoy them for a few days after baking, they are fine at room temp. I have stored them in a cool place in a covered container like the basement or on my porch actually. I also have frozen them for long term storage when I make them in advance at the holidays. Freeze them in a single layer and then after they’re frozen you can layer them between pieces of parchment. Please let me know if that answers your question and thank you for asking!!

    1. They are actually my son’s favorite cookie that I make and always at our house for Christmas!😉 Hope you like them! Let me know!😋

    1. Hi Sheena! Great question! Nope— I’ve done it both ways and most of the time not softened. As long as you have a mixer and cut it into smaller pieces, you’ll be good!