I was dashing through my local Whole Paycheck Market the other day to pick up a dozen eggs and some spinach (I hate that they’re the closest market, because I’m always tempted to swing by when I come up short on ingredients, thinking that this time I’ll be able to get out the door for under $10. Which never happens. But I digress). In the checkout lines, they had set out salted caramel samples. I’m a sucker for caramel, have been ever since I worked at a candy store in high school and got hooked on real, honest-to-goodness-cream-and-sugar-and-butter-and-nothing-else caramels. Knowing that if I loved it, I’d buy the whole pound bag next to the sample dish (and knowing that my wallet would scream bloody murder if I did that), I pocketed my sample, checked out and headed home, gold-plated spinach and eggs in hand.
I sort of forgot about the caramel in my coat pocket for a couple days, and then squealed with delight when I found it on my way in to work Monday morning. I had meetings all morning, and I can’t lie: the mere thought of that caramel kept me going through them (OK, that and my usual cup o’ coffee, if we’re giving credit where credit is due). So when I got back from my last meeting for the day, I pulled the (now somewhat careworn and well traveled) caramel out and took a little bite. It was awful, folks. It was totally the wrong texture, rather gritty and waxy, and the only thing you could taste was salt. No cream, no smoky caramelized sugar notes. Just salt and bitter disappointment. The thing practically crackled with salty electricity. I spit it out. Yup, I, who love caramels more than fluffy bunnies and unicorns and rainbows combined, I spit out that caramel. I was so mad! I’d had my taste buds set for caramel, not a salt lick! (And coming as it had from Whole Paycheck, I sort of had pretty high expectations, you know?)
I stewed about it over lunch. All I could think about as I ate my curried carrot soup was: how could they DO this? How DARE they do this?! Just who did that caramel company think they were, anyhow?!?!?!!??!?!?!?!?! HULK SMASH. Oh, I digress again.
As the afternoon wore on, I decided I could do better myself. I know how to make caramel (yes, it’s a bit of a pain, and mildly dangerous, but not too bad if you’re not pressed for time and pay attention to what you’re doing the whole time). So I hunted down my caramel recipe and then I started thinking about how I still had to go to the grocery store to get all this stuff to make it (yes, I’m somehow out of cream and sugar all at once…this happens) and how I was probably going to be pretty low energy by the time I got off work, and I decided I’d make cookies, too! And stuff them with caramel! And that would show the caramel company that shall not be named (and who, I am sure, are blissfully unaware of this whole drama-scape)! Well, actually, I decided that making individual caramels sounded like an awful lot of work, but that cookies were pretty easy, and I could make buttery sandwich cookies and stuff them with a stiff caramel sauce and still be deliriously happy with the caramely results.
So I swung by my co-op on my way home to snag caramel fixings and set to work. Because the cookie dough needs to rest in the fridge for a while, I started on those first.
- 140 g butter
- 125 g granulated sugar
- 1 large egg at room temperature
- 280 g all-purpose flour
Put the butter in the bowl of your food processor and process (scraping down the bowl as needed) until butter is smooth and fluffy. Fluffy is key, folks.
Add the sugar and continue to process till thoroughly creamed together.
Add the egg and continue to process till mixture is satiny smooth (scraping down as needed all the while).
Add flour all at once and pulse 10-12 times, till dough forms streusel-like clumps.
Turn dough out onto lightly floured board and gather into a ball. Divide dough in half and flatten each half into a disc. Wrap each disc in plastic wrap and chill till firm (usually 3-4 hours, but if you’re rushed, you can use it sooner…the firmer the dough is, the less sticky it is to work with, though).
Line baking sheets with parchment paper and preheat your oven to 350F.
Working with only one disc at a time (leave the other in the fridge to contemplate its fate), roll dough out on lightly floured board till it is about 1/4″ thick. Cut cookies out using a round cutter that is 1-1/2″ in diameter. Place cookies on lined baking sheets, leaving about 1″ between each.
Bake cookies for 8-10 minutes, until they are set but pale, and just golden on the bottom. (Thinner or unevenly thick cookies will take on more color, that’s fine!).
Cool cookies on wire racks. Cookies will keep about a week.
Gather scraps into a new disc and chill before reusing. Repeat till all dough has been used. Unused dough can be refrigerated for about a week, or frozen for up to a month.
Once I had my cookie dough chilling, I made dinner. But that’s neither here nor there, really. I had some leftover turkey that needed using, and I was getting hungry, that’s all. But once I’d had my tasty dinner, I was fortified with enough energy to make the caramel sauce!!
Salted Caramel Sauce
- 120 g sugar
- 60 g unsalted butter
- 100 mL cream
- few drops vanilla extract (optional)
- 1/4 tsp. salt (only add if using unsalted butter)
Melt sugar over medium heat, stirring constantly. At first, it will look like nothing is happening, then it will start to get crumbly, and then you will see molten sugar pooling at the edges, like this:
Cook sugar until it turns amber and sugar is completely dissolved, like this:
Meanwhile, heat cream in a small saucepan (or microwave if you’ve got one laying around). Once sugar turns amber, add cream to sugar mixture (watch for sputtering and splattering…this is the dangerous bit). Stir to mix well.
Add butter (and vanilla and salt, if using) to sugar mixture. Stir to mix well, then remove from heat and let cool. Isn’t caramel pretty!?
Once sauce has set up a bit, use to fill cookies (or over ice cream or whatever you’d like). Keeps well in the fridge for up to a month.
Caramel is pretty easy to make, and these proportions make more of a sauce than a candy that will set up (just adjust the milk to sugar ratio for different consistencies). You just want to be really careful when dealing with hot molten sugar, as it creates very very very bad burns should it touch your poor skin. If disaster is averted, though, you should end up with something that looks a lot like this:
Once I had the caramel sauce cooling, it was time to bake cookies! Yay! I rolled my dough out and cut out my rounds.
If the dough is too hard to work with, put it in the fridge for another 30 minutes and try again. Once they took a pass through the oven, the cookies were set to cool on wire racks. If you top them with caramel when they’re hot, the caramel will just run all over and off the cookie, so you have to wait a bit (I find an open window in cooler seasons does marvelous things for my impatience!)
Once the cookies have cooled, flip one cookie over, dollop a bit of caramel sauce on the center, and top with another cookie. Bottom sides should be facing the caramel for both cookies (it’s prettier), but if you are too lazy to flip cookies before dolloping, very few people will hold it against you once you ply them with a salted caramel sandwich cookie!
If your caramel sauce has set up too much to easily dollop, gently reheat it a little, stirring constantly, till it reaches a more compliant consistency. You’ll be able to tell if it’s set up too much because it will look like brains when you stir it:
Once you have the cookies cooled a bit and the sauce the proper consistency, filling the cookies is a snap!
And, if you’re lucky, you’ll have leftover caramel sauce!
OK, to be honest, most people will not consider these a weeknight endeavor (I have a good bit of ambition when it comes to cooking, especially if I tell myself it’s OK to leave the kitchen looking like a bomb went off overnight, which, I have to admit, happens a lot). But! You could very easily make the dough one night, the caramel another, and then bake and assemble the cookies on a third night (or perhaps on a rainy/snowy Saturday afternoon). Please Please Please don’t let the fact that this recipe takes a bit of time dissuade you from making your very own caramel-stuffed blobs of awesome!