Turtle Thumbprint Cookies

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Turtles — although slightly misleading in name — have always been one of my favorite chocolates, but I haven’t had one in years. I’m a huge fan of caramel, chocolate, and pecans, and turtles have all of these wrapped in one delicious bite. So when I found this recipe for turtle thumbprint cookies on Handle the Heat (an AWESOME food blog — seriously, go check it out), I knew I had to try it.

Although there are a lot of steps in the recipe, it’s actually pretty easy: the cookies have a bunch of components, but all are super simple to make: the dough comes together fast, and the caramel filling uses pre-made caramels, so it’s just a matter of combing with cream and melting. The only change I would recommend is the method for piping the chocolate drizzle on top: you don’t need to use a pastry bag of any kind — just dip a fork in the melted chocolate and shake it over the cookies (on a parchment paper, of course). It sounds like a weird method on paper, but, trust me, it works.

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The result is delicious, and these disappeared right away. Despite having a lot of sweet components, the recipe is well-balanced and not overwhelming. The cookie is actually pretty neutral (in terms of sweetness), so it’s a good base for the gooey caramel and chocolate drizzle, as well as the crunchy pecans. If you’re a fan of turtles — or just plain awesome cookies — give these a try! If I can make them (and I’m terrible at baking cookies), these are pretty much foolproof.

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Here’s the recipe, slightly modified, via Handle the Heat:

Ingredients

For the Cookies:

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg, separated
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup pecans, finely chopped (NB: I found that I needed a little extra, so keep that in mind)

For the Caramel Thumbprint:

  • 16 unwrapped caramel squares
  • 3 tablespoons whipping cream
  • Fleur de sel, or other flaked sea salt, for sprinkling, optional

For the Chocolate Drizzle:

  • 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 teaspoon coconut oil or shortening

 

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Directions

For the cookies:

  1. In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to beat the butter and sugar on medium-high speed until well combined and fluffy. Add in the egg yolk, milk, and vanilla extract. Reserve the egg white in a separate container, cover, and refrigerate until ready to bake.
  2. In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, and salt. Gradually add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and beat just until combined. Cover the dough and refrigerate for 1 hour or overnight, or until the dough is chilled and firm.
  3. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper.
  4. Lightly beat the reserved egg white. Shape the dough into 1-inch balls. Dip each ball in the egg white, then roll in the pecans, pressing lightly to coat well. Place on the prepared baking sheet. Lightly press down the center of each ball with your thumb.
  5. Bake for 12 to 13 minutes, or until set. Set the baking sheet on a cooling rack and let cool until just warm.

For the caramel:

  1. While the cookies are baking, combine the caramel squares and cream in a small saucepan set over low heat. Cook, stirring often, until the caramels are melted and the mixture is smooth.
  2. When the cookies are warm, press down the center of each cookie again with your thumb or the opposite end of a wooden spatula. Spoon about a 1/2 teaspoon of caramel into each thumbprint. Sprinkle the caramel with Fleur de sel to taste. Let cool completely.

For the chocolate drizzle:

  1. In a small heat-safe bowl, heat the chocolate chips and oil in the microwave for 1 minute. Stir until smooth. Using a fork, dip the tips of the fork into the chocolate and shake the chocolate out over the cookies. Make sure to use a layer of parchment paper to catch the excess chocolate. Let the chocolate set before serving or storing in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Apple Cider Caramels

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I’m a big fan of caramel — whether it’s homemade, drizzled on top of a warm brownie, or inside a Twix bar. Sometimes I think I may like caramel more than chocolate (gasp!). Once I finally learned that you could make caramels at home, I tried. And failed. The first time I forgot to even let the sugar caramelize (oops), the second time they were still too gooey, and the third time they were brittle as toffee. Not so delicious.

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But I am proud to say that I have finally achieved caramel perfection. People say making caramels is easy — and it is, once you’ve practiced a few times so you know what you’re looking for and you’ve found a brilliant recipe. These caramels are from the insanely awesome Smitten Kitchen — a blog any foodie should follow for foolproof recipes, gorgeous photos, and lucid writing. These caramels, incidentally, also make great holiday gifts — just layer some in a large mason jar and tie with raffia or a festive ribbon. That is, if you don’t eat all of them first.

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A few notes before you begin:

  • I didn’t have flaky salt, so I reduced the amount to 1 1/2 teaspoons.
  • Boiling down the cider took me a solid hour, so know that the time will vary. At a certain point, it will begin to bubble violently, and then you know that its almost done. This happens very fast — keep a close eye on it after 40 minutes or so. (I posted a photo of what it should look like later in this post.)
  • Better to let the caramels harden at room temperature over night — be patient, I promise its worth it! They’ll harden faster in the fridge, too, but when you take them out they’ll get gooey and messy.
  • I used canola oil for knife in order to cut the caramels. Do it — it helps infinitely.

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And below is the fabulous recipe, from Smitten Kitchen:

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups apple cider
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons flaky sea salt
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into chunks
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • Neutral oil for the knife

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What your apple cider should look like when it’s done boiling (sans the burnt spot).

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Directions: 

  1. Boil the apple cider in a 3- to- 4- quart saucepan over high heat until it is reduced to a dark, thick syrup, between 1/3 and 1/2 cup in volume. This can take 30 minutes or 1 hour. Stir occasionally.
  2. Meanwhile, line the bottom and sides of an 8- inch straight- sided square metal baking pan with 2 long sheets of crisscrossed parchment. Set it aside. Stir the cinnamon and flaky salt together in a small dish.
  3. Once you are finished reducing the apple cider, remove it from the heat and stir in the butter, sugars, and heavy cream. Return the pot to medium- high heat with a candy thermometer attached to the side, and let it boil until the thermometer reads 252 degrees, only about 5 minutes. Keep a close eye on it. (Don’t have a candy or deep- fry thermometer? Have a bowl of very cold water ready, and cook the caramel until a tiny spoonful dropped into the water becomes firm, chewy, and able to be plied into a ball.)
  4. Immediately remove caramel from heat, add the cinnamon- salt mixture, and give the caramel several stirs to distribute it evenly. Pour caramel into the prepared pan. Let it sit until cool and firm—about 2 hours, though it goes faster in the fridge. Once caramel is firm, use your parchment paper sling to transfer the block to a cutting board. Use a well- oiled knife, oiling it after each cut (trust me!), to cut the caramel into 1-by-1-inch squares. Wrap each one in a 4-inch square of waxed paper, twisting the sides to close. Caramels will be somewhat on the soft side at room temperature, and chewy/firm from the fridge.

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All I have to say is: go make these. Now.

Caramels with Sea Salt

Caramels with sea salt are absolutely my FAVORITE treat from the local chocolate shop, and ever since I saw them on Cupcakes and Cashmere, I knew I had to try them. So when I finally got my hands on a copy of Ina Garten’s new cookbook, Barefoot Contessa: How Easy Is That? and saw her Fleur de Sel Caramel recipe, I knew I had to try them out. (Although I’m not a huge fan of the book as a whole, I still prefer Barefoot Contessa: At Home.) 

Originally, I messed these up because I didn’t let the sugar/corn syrup mixture boil long enough. I was using an organic sugar, which is darker in color, and the recipe said it was ready when the sugar mixture turned a “warm golden brown,” which it was the entire time. I am also terrified of burning sugar, spoiling chocolate, the likes, so I was being careful not to overheat it. But the second time, I’m proud to say, the recipe worked! It was also super-easy and doesn’t require a lot of ingredients. I used Sicilian sea salt in the recipe, though, because I couldn’t find fleur de sel in the grocery store. 

The only annoying thing about this recipe is cutting the caramels afterwards…maybe I did something wrong when I was making them, but they melt within minutes of being taken out of the fridge and get very sticky and shapeless. Which is fine, because they still taste delicious! …Very buttery and rich. I would also recommend cutting them into way smaller pieces (the recipe only calls for 16 servings!) – I probably had around 35 or 40 decent-sized caramels at the end. 

{They’re very sticky when you first make them, but after a few days they unwrap perfectly!}

Fleur de Sel Caramels

From Barefoot Contessa: How Easy Is That? by Ina Garten (recipe here)
Ingredients
  • Vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/4 cup light corn syrup
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon fine fleur de sel, plus extra for sprinkling
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Directions
  1. Line an 8-inch-square baking pan with parchment paper, allowing it to drape over 2 sides, then brush the paper lightly with oil.
  2. In a deep saucepan (6 inches wide and 4 1/2 inches deep), combine 1/4 cup water, the sugar and corn syrup and bring them to a boil over medium-high heat. Boil until the mixture is a warm golden brown. Don’t stir — just swirl the pan.
  3. In the meantime, in a small pot, bring the cream, butter and 1 teaspoon of fleur de sel to a simmer over medium heat. Turn off the heat and set aside.
  4. When the sugar mixture is done, turn off the heat and slowly add the cream mixture to the sugar mixture. Be careful — it will bubble up violently. Stir in the vanilla with a wooden spoon and cook over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes, until the mixture reaches 248 degrees F (firm ball) on a candy thermometer.
  5. Very carefully (it’s hot!) pour the caramel into the prepared pan and refrigerate for a few hours, until firm.
  6. When the caramel is cold, pry the sheet from the pan onto a cutting board. Cut the square in half.
  7. Starting with a long side, roll the caramel up tightly into an 8-inch-long log.
  8. Sprinkle the log with fleur de sel, trim the ends and cut into 8 pieces. (Start by cutting the log in half, then continue cutting each piece in half until you have 8 equal pieces.) It’s easier to cut the caramels if you brush the knife with flavorless oil like corn oil.
  9. Cut glassine or parchment paper into 4-by-5-inch pieces and wrap each caramel individually, twisting the ends. Store in the refrigerator and serve the caramels chilled.