Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Caramel-stuffed apple cider cookies

I'm an emotional eater.  Think about it -- aren't most of us?  I'm not talking emotional as in, "Oh my gosh, I'm so upset about the crappy day I've been served up, so I'm going to eat a pint of Ben & Jerry's ice cream all by myself."  I save feats like that for happier moods, ha!

Honestly, though, I'm the kind of eater who has lots of feelings tied up in food and culinary-related things.  Tastes that bring back cherished memories.  Fried Oreos make me think of light-up night in downtown Pittsburgh.  Dairy Queen soft serve cones with rainbow sprinkles take me back to tennis lessons with my dad when I was young.  And fresh sushi rolls make me long for sunny California, where I first tried it.

No matter how big or small, food as the ability to transport me to anywhere or anytime.  Even a humble little cookie.  

And, especially, a totally yummy cookie with a sweet and chewy surprise hidden in the middle.  Caramel stuffed apple cider cookies!  Get ready to tune out those unseasonably (and so freakin' random!) warm temperatures because one bite is going to have you clamoring for the closest blanket and a cuddle buddy.

It all began with the cider mix.  As soon as I snipped the top off of the first packet, my smeller was telling my brain that I was in autumn Heaven.  I challenge you to find a better set of smells than those of late fall/early winter.  Fragrant cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, apples, butter (mmmm), ginger... I could go on and on and on!

But I won't.  Because I've gotta address this caramel issue.  I don't think I'm the only person who never gave caramels a fair chance.  Candy dishes in doctors' offices left me with bad memories of rock hard amber-colored squares that, with one bite, left you praying for a toothpick, mirror, and loads of floss.  Cursing yourself and sugar cravings, thinking, "It wasn't worth it!"  (If you have fillings or dental work, well, I can't imagine the unladylike things that would be uttered once you realized you were a victim of damage by caramel.  My dear mom comes to mind...)

These caramels were soft, and chewy, and sweet, and melted in my mouth.  I think I'm gonna need a bigger boat bag of caramels.  I find myself longing for one after dinner now instead of chocolate.  Kinda obsessed, people.  What is happening?!

It's these darn cookies.  Spiced cookie outside, molten sweet caramel inside.  Making them was so much fun, especially when a caramel would happen to miss its doughy envelope and end up in my mouth.  Oops!  The dough smelled so good that Matt actually thought I'd lit a cinnamon spiced candle somewhere in the apartment.  No no, sir.  It's these cookies.

Beautiful unsuspecting cookies.  To the untrained eye, they might pass as sugar cookies or a less cinnamon-y snicker doodle.  But, flip one of those over (because you're so impatient and can't wait for it to properly cool), and voila!  Look at that center! 

O.M.G.!  I mean, look at it.  Marvel at it.  Then, devour it!  I don't care how you do it, but you've gotta sit down and close your eyes so the cookie will take you away.  Nibble on the spiced cookie before biting into the warm center.  Then go for it, get at that caramel.  You know you want to.

Suddenly, you're going to be feeling like bobbing for apples or going on a hay ride.  Being bundled up in scarves and gloves for the first time this season.  And I guarantee you'll feel an overwhelming sense of happiness.  Because, whether we want to admit it or not, emotions go hand in hand with food.  And I wouldn't want it to be any other way.  Neither would you, I'm guessing :)

Caramel Stuffed Apple Cider Cookies
(adapted from The Cooking Photographer)
-makes about 50 cookies

A few notes: The original recipe calls for a 7.4 ounce box (all 10 packets) of Alpine Spiced Apple Cider Instant Original Drink Mix, but I couldn't find it in my local grocery store.  Instead, I took a chance and used 7 packets of Mott's Hot Spiced Cider Caramel instant drink mix... and the results were (obviously) delicious!  Thus, do not worry if you can't find the Alpine mix anywhere.  Substitutions for the win!  Says Laura, "These cookies are best after sitting over a warm drink for a few minutes. The caramel softens up and they turn into warm caramel apple cider heaven." 

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, nearly melted
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
7 (.74 ounce) packets of Mott's Hot Spiced Cider Caramel
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 (14 ounce) bag Kraft Caramels

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (190 degrees C). Line rimless cookie sheets with parchment paper. It has to be parchment this time.
In a stand mixer, cream together butter, sugar, salt, and all 10 packets of apple cider mix until smooth and fluffy. Beat in eggs and vanilla extract, then mix in the baking soda and baking powder. Add the flour and mix until just combined.

With a standard (size 50) cookie scoop, scoop the dough scrapping off the excess as you go up the bowl. Flatten the dough slightly in your hand and place a caramel in the center. Work the dough around the caramel sealing well. Place the cookies two inches apart on the sheets.

Bake 12 to 14 minutes or until golden brown around the edges. After baking, carefully slide the parchment with the cookies onto the counter.  Let cool until they are no longer soft but still slightly warm.  Twist gently to remove, and cool the rest of the way upside down on the parchment or on a cooling rack.  (If cookies get too cool before you twist them off, freeze the whole sheet for a few minutes and they’ll come right off.)

Store in a sealed container for up to 1 week.  To get that molten gooey center, microwave for 5 to 10 seconds, upside down, or place over hot beverage.  Dipping in hot tea is sweet, too!

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