Salty Chocolate Caramel Butter Cookies

I mentioned this on Facebook last week, but in case you missed it, Shane and I are going on vacation this month. In just a few days we’re heading down to Florida to spend a week at Disney World! I’ve only been once before and wasn’t there long enough to see everything; needless to say, I’m a tad excited. I can’t wait to see it all decorated for the holidays! It probably goes without saying, but if you have a can’t-miss Disney restaurant or activity, please share :)

Salty Chocolate Caramel Butter Cookies

Because I know the entire week we’re away will be an exercise in indulgence, I’ve been trying really hard not to live on cookies this month. It’s easier said than done with three or four different varieties in the kitchen at all times lately… I had actually been doing pretty well until these chocolate butter cookies emerged from the oven. If eating cookies for breakfast is wrong, well, I’ve had one or two bad mornings!

These cookies are tender with so much rich, chocolate flavor. Cocoa powder is bloomed in melted butter to form a paste that becomes the secret to the intense chocolate goodness in the cookies and the addition of a bit of instant espresso powder amps the chocolate factor up even more. These cookies are fantastic on their own so if caramel isn’t your thing you can totally skip it. Maybe just a drizzle of white chocolate to dress things up instead? But if you are a caramel fan, the combination of the rich chocolate cookies with the sweet caramel glaze and sprinkle of sea salt on top is absolutely heavenly.

Salty Chocolate Caramel Butter Cookies
from America’s Test Kitchen Holiday Cookies 2010

{Just an FYI – when the caramel glaze sets it is quite chewy (think caramel candy). I loved the combination of textures, but you could always use a more fluid caramel sauce if you’d rather.}

20 tablespoons (2 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
1 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 (14-oz) bag soft caramel candies
1/4 cup heavy cream
flaky (or coarse) sea salt, to garnish

Add 4 tablespoons of the butter to a small saucepan set over medium heat. Allow to melt, then add the cocoa powder and espresso powder. Stir to combine – the mixture should form a smooth paste. Remove from the heat and allow to cool for 15-20 minutes.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the remaining 2 sticks of butter with the sugar, salt and the cooled cocoa mixture on medium speed until fluffy, about 1-2 minutes, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl once or twice. Mix in the egg yolks and vanilla until incorporated. With the mixer on low, add the flour in 3 additions, beating just until the dough comes together.

Turn the dough out onto your work surface and divide into 3 equal pieces. Shape each piece into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least 45 minutes to 1 hour (you can chill it longer, but you’ll want to take it out of the fridge and let it sit at room temperature for 10 or 15 minutes before you try to roll it).

Preheat oven to 375 F with racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven. Line two baking sheets with parchment.

Working with one disk at a time, roll the dough to a thickness of about 3/16-inch (I like to roll this dough on a sheet of parchment paper, you shouldn’t need to add much flour to prevent the dough from sticking). Use a 2 1/2-inch cookie cutter to cut rounds from the dough and place on the prepared baking sheets, leaving about 1 inch between the cookies. Re-roll the scraps once and cut as many cookies as you can (if the dough gets too soft, just pop it back in the refrigerator for a few minutes before you proceed). Bake the cookies for about 10 minutes (rotating the baking sheets halfway through), or until the center are just barely set – they should offer just a tiny bit of resistance when pressed. Transfer the baking sheets to wire racks and cool the cookies for about 5 minutes then remove them to the racks to cool completely. Repeat with the remaining disks of dough.

To make the caramel topping: Add the caramels and the heavy cream to a medium saucepan. Set over medium-low heat and, stirring constantly, melt until the caramel is smooth. Working quickly, top each cookie with about 1 heaping teaspoon of the caramel and then sprinkle with the sea salt. (The caramel set up pretty quickly for me so I kept it over low heat as I glazed the cookies.)

Store in an airtight container between layers of wax paper or parchment (even when it’s set up completely, the caramel glaze will stick to the underside of cookies stacked on top of it).

Makes about 4 dozen