Pittsburghers are a loyal bunch. If you manage to garner our love and affection, you’ll have it until the end of time.
Take the famous Kaufmann’s thumbprint cookie.
In 2015 when the former Kaufmann’s department store closed, taking the longstanding Arcade Bakery with it, the city went into uproar.
The Arcade’s iconic thumbprint cookie, piled high with two inches of frosting, had been a staple in Pittsburgh for decades. It was the go-to treat for Downtown workers and families across Allegheny County. How could holidays, events, and commutes home continue without this famous cookie?
Seemingly the entire city raced to get their hands on a final thumbprint before they were gone forever.
“The phone was ringing every minute,” says Kevin Ulrich, the original Kaufmann’s thumbprint baker, of the city’s reaction to the closing. “There were so many orders, it was impossible to fill. A women ordered 75 dozen to keep in her freezer.”
Since 1877, when Kaufmann’s opened on 5th Avenue Downtown, the store offered food in addition to other wares. There were cafes and food stands scattered throughout Kaufmann’s, including the store’s two most long-standing establishments: the Arcade Bakery and the Tic Toc restaurant.
Ulrich began baking thumbprints at the Arcade Bakery in the 1980’s. The store gave the thumbprint bakers free rein, allowing Ulrich to experiment with endless flavor combinations. Eventually the store built up a repertoire of over 60 flavors that rotated in and out.
“We all had free will,” says Ulrich. “If something didn’t sell, we took it off the menu.”
The thumbprint, in its myriad of flavors, soon became a Pittsburgh classic.
When Macy’s purchased Kaufmann’s in 2006, they kept the Arcade Bakery open, despite Macy’s not traditionally having bakeries. The cookie was saved for a another decade, until Macy’s finally shuttered in 2015.
Almost immediately after the closing, another Pittsburgh tradition stepped in to help preserve the history of the cookie. Prantl’s Bakery, famous for their Burnt Almond Torte, sought out Ulrich to create a similar thumbprint for their store.
But Pittsburghers could taste that something was off.
“People know the difference,” says Ulrich. “We all bake differently, even if two people are following the same recipe.”
Up until this point, Ulrich has been preoccupied assisting Prantl’s with other projects. Finally, in August of 2018, he returned to baking the thumbprint cookie. And it only takes one bite to confirm that the famous Kaufmann’s thumbprints are truly back!
“When you do something for 35 years, you don’t forget it,” says Ulrich. “I’m happy it happened like this. The cookie is in the right hands.”
Prantl’s now offers a wide variety of the original Kaufmann’s thumbprint flavors, like chocolate fudge, peppermint, chocolate chip, cherry almond, chocolate cheesecake, and many (many) more.
However, it’s probably best that you don’t take our word on it, and go taste it for yourself.
Prantl’s Bakery (Shadyside, Downtown, Greensburg)