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