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Bubba's Thumb Print Cookies

Dan Pashman / Dan Pashman

Bubba's Thumb Print Cookies

As part of's ongoing Recipe Vault series, food bloggers and network stars share how recipes connect us to those we’ve lost.

Dan Pashman, host of WNYC's "Sporkful," Shares a Family Favorite

Dan Pashman, creator and host of the James Beard Award-nominated WNYC podcast "The Sporkful," grew up baking Thumb Print Cookies with his mother in the family's New Jersey kitchen. The recipe had been passed down to Linda Pashman by her own grandmother, aka Bubba or Bessie Litvack. Pashman is also the author of the 2014 book "Eat More Better: How To Make Every Bite More Delicious." To listen to Pashman's show, visit:

Legacy: These are called Thumb Print cookies, but your mother usually doesn't use her thumb when making these. Can you explain?

Pashman: "My mother has her grandmother's clothespin, which she takes great pride in, and she uses it to make the indentation. She said she doesn't mind sharing the recipe, because the real trick that makes (her) cookies so good is the clothespin." When not in use, the clothespin "is just in a Ziploc bag in a drawer. It's not in a safe or anything like that."

Legacy: Do you still bake cookies with your mother?

Pashman: "Now we do it with my kids," Becky, 4, and Emily, 18 months. Becky "can stick her thumb into things so it's very easy for her to participate." Emily gets "a hunk of dough and lets the crumbs fall where they may." But most important is this: "That's a five-generation link from the clothespin to my daughter."

Legacy: You've talked about comfort food and how memories are formed at gatherings that usually center on meals. What makes food so unique?

Pashman: "Everyone has foods that you taste and they take you to another place and time. One guy called and told me about a pasta dish his grandmother made at holidays. It was made with all different shapes of pasta, ketchup and American cheese. The grandmother had recently died, and the family was preparing for their first holiday without her and her dish. … Even when you have a food that won't pass with a focus group, sense memories transcend traditional flavor profiles. There aren't many things that can transport you more viscerally than food."

Legacy: You say your show is about eaters, not foodies. You talk about the countless decisions during each meal that they're not aware of, like the way they pick up the tortilla chip, the way it's dipped into the salsa or guacamole, how the food is placed into the mouth; all of these things affect taste and experience. If your goal is to "make life more delicious," how would you apply that to these cookies?

Pashman: "They have a great textural contrast. People like crunch, and that contrasts with the sticky-gooey with each bite. You can experiment with them by eating them preserves-side down and accentuate the flavor of the jam. That's called the proximity effect. I wrote about it at length in my book: Any time you take a bite of food, the flavor that lands on the tongue will be accentuated."

No matter how you eat the cookies, Pashman promises, they'll be delicious. Even if you don't have Bubba's clothespin.

Bubba's Recipe for Thumb Print Cookies

Courtesy of Dan Pashman of "The Sporkful" via his mother, Linda Pashman, via her grandmother, Bessie Litvack


2 cups flour

1/2 cup sugar

2 egg yolks

1/2 lb. butter

Directions: Cream together sugar and butter. Add yolks and flour and blend into a ball. Pinch marble-sized pieces, roll into individual balls and place on greased baking sheet.

Make a dent with Bubba's clothespin. (If you have Bubba's clothespin, use the round side. If you do not have Bubba's clothespin, just use your thumb.)

Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes until golden brown.

Cool and fill dent with raspberry jam.

Natalie Pompilio is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia. Her lifelong love of obituaries raised eyebrows when she was younger, but she's now able to explain that this interest goes beyond morbid curiosity. Says Pompilio, "Obituaries are mini life stories, allowing a glimpse into someone's world that we're often denied. I just wish we could share them with each other when we're alive."