Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Cookie Tour 2013 - Chocolate-Caramel Pretzel Cookies

As the new year is rapidly approaching, I am trying to squeak this 2013 blog posting in under the wire!  If you've been waiting anxiously for this posting, I am sorry (and a bit surprised), but I will admit that the delay allowed me to try a couple of extra variations to the recipe that might be interesting to some (or at least I hope they will).  So here goes!

Cookie Tour 2013!  This year's Currier and Ives Cookie Tour was held on December 14th and was a lot of fun (as always)!  Although last year was a record-breaker for us (we baked 24 dozen (that's 288) cookies and still ran out!), this year's event was a little less crazy.  We actually planned to bake over 400 cookies, but as the date got closer and the weather forecasters issued warnings for the impending snowstorm, we worried if the weather might keep some from venturing out, and pared back to about 300.  Our recipe this year was... Chocolate-Caramel Pretzel Cookies ... and I will admit that I think this is probably my personal favorite of the four years we've been participating as a stop on the tour.  It is rich, gooey, chocolatey, and just plain yummy.  (For previous years' recipes, see our blog postings for the 2012, 2011, and 2010.)

The recipe started with a Turtle Cookie recipe I found on Pinterest, then followed to a number of blogs, the authors of which had adapted the recipe from an America's Test Kitchen recipe.  I was loving the idea... caramel, pecans, chocolate... but Rob wasn't (he doesn't like pecans) so he was trying to sway me in any other direction.  Fortunately, while looking through some of the blog comments, someone suggested crushed pretzels as an alternative to the nuts, for a sort of "salted caramel taste" that is so popular right now.  So, that was it... and I was off to the kitchen!

For the first batch, I pretty much made the recipe as presented, making only a couple of modifications.  I used Dutch Processed Cocoa, reduced the amount of egg white needed, and rolled the cookie dough in pretzel crumbs instead of pecans.   The cookies were delicious... and I was oddly disappointed.  It was too easy!  Luckily (yes, I said luckily), I didn't have any pre-made caramel candies on hand to finish off the cookies.  That meant I needed to see if I could make something from scratch that would work.  Yeah! 

So... back to the lab... I mean kitchen!  And with the help of Google I found a recipe for caramels that used only ingredients I regularly keep in my pantry and refrigerator (sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup, sweetened condensed milk, vanilla, and butter) and for bonus points, the recipe was cooked in the microwave instead of on the stove (which can be a bit tedious).  A couple of batches later, I had reduced the size of the batch in half to better match up with the quantity of caramel needed for the cookies (the cooking time was critical here) and added just a little bit of heavy cream so that the caramel would be just the right amount of soft, but not sticky. 
So without further ado, here are the recipes for the cookies and the optional homemade caramel filling.  (If you like illustrated recipes, I've also added a bunch of photos below to help.)  Enjoy!

Chocolate-Caramel Pretzel Cookies 
(For pdf, click HERE)

2 c. all-purpose flour
2/3 c. cocoa powder
 (Hershey’s Special Dark works great!)
1/2 tsp. salt

1 c. (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature
1 1/3 c. sugar
2 large eggs, separated
¼ c. milk or half & half
2 tsp. vanilla extract

1 c. pretzels, crushed
28 soft caramel candies (such as Kraft Caramels) *or try our version* 

2 Tblsp. heavy cream

Beat butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add egg yolks, milk, and vanilla; mix until incorporated. With beater on low, add flour, cocoa and salt, mixing until just combined.

Scoop dough by rounded tablespoons onto cookie sheets. (If dough it too soft or sticky, it can be refrigerated, about an hour, until firm.)

Add a tablespoon or two of water to the egg whites in a bowl and whisk until frothy. Place crushed pretzels in another bowl. Roll scooped dough into balls, dip in egg whites (I only dip the top half), and then in pretzels. Place balls about 2 inches apart on a baking sheet and flatten slightly with the ball of your hand. Use a small measuring spoon to make an indentation in the center of each dough ball.

Bake at 350 degrees F until set and looking slightly crackled on top, about 12 minutes. When cookies come out of the oven, gently re-press the indentations.

For the caramel filling: Microwave caramels and cream together in a small bowl, stirring occasionally, until smooth, about 1 to 2 minutes. Allow cookies to cool a bit, then fill each indentation with about 1/2 teaspoon of the caramel mixture.

For the chocolate drizzle (optional): Melt ½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips and 2 teaspoons shortening in a small bowl, then transfer to a zip-top plastic bag. Snip the corner of the plastic bag and drizzle chocolate over cookies.

Microwave Caramel Filling

2 Tablespoons butter, cut in 4 pieces
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup sweetened condensed milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1 ½ teaspoons heavy cream

In microwave safe bowl (I used a 4-cup Pyrex measuring cup), combine butter, white and brown sugar, syrup, sweetened condensed milk, & vanilla. Stir and place in microwave, uncovered. Cook in microwave on full power for 3 1/2 minutes, stopping and carefully stirring thoroughly twice during the cooking time (every minute or so).* Carefully remove bowl from microwave and stir in heavy cream until well mixed. Allow caramel to stand for about 5 to 10 minutes to cool slightly. Use a spoon or small scoop to fill each cookie indentation with about ½ to 1 teaspoon caramel mixture. (Any leftover caramel can be poured onto a cookie sheet or other pan lined with foil or parchment and sprayed lightly with cooking spray. Cooled caramel can be cut into small pieces and enjoyed as candy.)

* Recommended cooking time is based on a 1100-watt microwave. If yours has a different wattage, you will most likely need to adjust the cooking time accordingly. If caramel is too hard, cooking time should be reduced. If caramel is too soft, cooking time should be increased.

Making cookies:
Cookie dough, egg whites and pretzel crumbs... ready to go!

Dip cookie dough in frothy egg white...

... then crushed pretzels.

Place on Silpat, flatten slightly with hand, and make indentation with teaspoon.

Cookies ready to be baked.

Caramel filling.

Filling cookies.
Chocolate drizzle too!

Making caramel:
Ingredients mixed prior to cooking.

Partway through cooking process.

Finished caramel, waiting to cool slightly.

** Interested in variations?  I've made the "original" turtle cookie with pecans instead of pretzel crumbs (delicious!) and a peanut butter version where I rolled the cookies in chopped peanuts and added a big spoonful of creamy peanut butter to the caramel (also delicious, but less gooey since the peanut butter firms up the caramel filling a bit).  Still to be tried... a s'mores version where you roll the cookie in graham cracker crumbs and use marshmallow fluff as the filling (bonus: toast the top of the marshmallow filling with a kitchen torch) and a version where you roll the cookies in toasted coconut.  I could go on... but I won't, so you can let your own creative ideas flow!

And with the new year already being welcomed in parts of the world, I wish everyone a very happy, healthy and delicious 2014!


Saturday, December 7, 2013

Shopping Small Business Peterborough

Everyone knows about "Black Friday" and "Cyber Monday" but some people are still learning about "Small Business Saturday"  Now it's true, Small Business Saturday has come and gone for this year but that doesn't mean you can't continue to go out and shop you local independent businesses.
Twelve Pine Cafe all decorated for holidays
Today was a cold one but Peterborough's local independent retailers rolled out the red carpet for holiday shoppers and it was busy downtown.  They did a cookie tour around Depot Square and the shops are all decorated and lit up for the season.  Paula went downtown to do some shopping (as well as our guests) and great gifts were found everywhere including the Toadstool Bookstore, New England Everyday Goods, Steele's Stationers, Sharon Arts Gallery and elsewhere.
Candy Cane Pole on Main Street
We highly recommend putting Peterborough on your list of places to shop.  Just check out Paula's pics, they should definitely get you into the holiday spirit!  BTW, next weekend Peterborough will have its tree lighting ceremony.  Happy Holidays everyone :)
Shops on Grove Street