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Cheryl Day's thumbprint cookies can be everybody's jam: 'Cookies are a universal language'

Cheryl Day makes traditional Southern baked goods in Savannah, Georgia at Back in the Day bakery.

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Growing up in California, baker Cheryl Day brought back moments of summer trips to Alabama in jars of jams made by her grandmother. At Christmastime, she would open the jam to fill thumbprint cookies for her family.

"Everybody loves cookies," she said. "Cookies are a universal language."

Today, Day lives in Savannah, Georgia, where she runs Back in the Day bakery with her husband, Griffith. She has spent her life preserving classic Southern recipes, particularly those created by Black bakers. Her latest cookbook, "Cheryl Day's Treasury of Southern Baking" (Artisan), includes flaky biscuits, 7-Up cake and sweet potato pie.

Day's grandmother liked to add botanicals to her jams, like lemon verbena with peaches or strawberries.

"It was whatever was growing in my grandmother's garden along with the fruit," she said.

Day recently launched Janie Q Provisions, named after her mother, to share some of her grandmother's jam recipes.

"It's one of my COVID pivots," she said.

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JAM THUMBPRINT COOKIES

These simple, buttery thumbprint cookies, a recipe from "Cheryl Day's Treasury of Southern Baking," stand back and let the jam shine.

"It's a classic recipe I've had as long as I can remember," she said. "If it's not broken, I'm not going to fix it."

Any jam, store-bought or homemade, will work. Day recommends slightly heating a store-bought jam to soften it. When the cookies are warm from the oven, a little more jam could be added to the top if the filling settled while cooking.

Makes 24 cookies

INGREDIENTS

2½ cups (313 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon (2 grams) baking powder, preferably aluminum-free

1 large (50 grams) egg, at room temperature

½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

12 tablespoons (1½ sticks/170 grams) unsalted butter

1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar

½ teaspoon fine sea salt

About 1 cup (237 milliliters) good quality jam, homemade or store-bought

INSTRUCTIONS

Position the racks in the middle and lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Line two baking sheets with parchment.

Sift together the flour and baking powder into a medium bowl. Set aside.

In a large measuring cup or small bowl, whisk together the egg and vanilla. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a medium mixing bowl, using a handheld mixer), cream the butter, sugar and salt together on medium speed until super light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the egg mixture and mix until fully incorporated and smooth, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula as necessary. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture in thirds, mixing until just combined.

Remove the bowl from the mixer stand (if using) and finish mixing by hand to make sure no bits of flour or butter are hiding on the bottom of the bowl and the dough is thoroughly mixed.

Use a small ice cream scoop or a tablespoon to form the cookies (about 1 rounded tablespoon each) and place on the prepared baking sheets, leaving 1 inch (3 centimeters) between them to allow for spreading.

Using your thumb, make a well in the center of each cookie, then fill with a generous teaspoon of the jam.

Bake the cookies for 10 to 12 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through and switching their positions, until the cookies are lightly golden on the edges and the jam is bubbling. Let cool completely on the pans on wire racks.

The cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.

Excerpted from "Cheryl Day’s Treasury of Southern Baking" by Cheryl Day (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2021.

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