(Salted Caramel Cookies with Pretzels and Dark Chocolate Centers)
I’ve spent a lot of time this week thinking about two things: cookies and wheels. Both have been around for quite some time and each are staples of society. However, they have a lot more in common than one might think:
Looking at the litany of wheel ads in the last 30 years of skateboarding magazines, one is left to wonder whether the micro-differentiations in formulae are of any consequence at all. Is 99A urethane really going to make a huge difference from 101A? What about Darkstar’s fated 99D? Do Ricta’s Speed Rings really help you traverse harsher terrain? Do Air Cores really help you ollie higher? Will Bones’ Street Tech Formula really help you bluntslide more easily? I can’t speak for all the wheels in skateboarding’s eventful history, but it’s hard to imagine that companies would, well, reinvent the wheel if there weren’t identifiable advantages in doing so.
The same goes for cookies. If you look for a chocolate chip cookie recipe online, you’ll find millions of recipes, each with almost identical ingredients, save for the minutiae of baking times, temps and an extra quarter teaspoon of this or that. You might wonder whether it really matters why some have more flour or others use different sugars and perhaps conclude that a cookie is a cookie (is a cookie).
And you’d be wrong.
Hear me out: stir-fry is easy. You throw shit on a skillet or wok and you fry it until it looks appetizing to you; baking, on the other hand, is some Walter White-level chemistry. The microscopic differences in the ratio of flour to fat to sugar make a world of difference in the type of cookie you’ll pull out of the oven.
I won’t go into the intimate details, but at a high level, every cookie recipe toys with a ratio of sugar, fat and flour. The time-tested ratio from which most recipes branch out is one part sugar, two parts fat, and three parts flour (the famed 1:2:3 ratio). Think of a no-frills, picture perfect cookie on the Betty Crocker box and that’s what the basic ratio aims to achieve.
Now forget that ratio.
Forget it, because there’s better out there. When you start dropping the flour and upping the fat and sugar, you get a flatter, chewier cookie. Biscotti and shortbread are dry and crumbly because they’re super high in flour. On the other hand, drop cookies are flatter and chewier because they use more fat and sugar. The cookies you’re about to cook are especially chewy because they use vegan butter for the fat and because they entirely sub brown sugar for the normal white sugar. The use of vegan butter means there are no liquid milk fats to burn up first; this in turn means that the cookie doesn’t get too crispy too soon. Additionally, brown sugar adds more moisture than white sugar and adds a molasses flavor. The result is a devilishly rich and chewy cookie.
(If you’re interested in learning the gritty details of cookie ratios, this blog provides an amazing explanation and is worth the read.)
Now I can’t take all the credit for this recipe – I first made these cookies using VegNews’ salted caramel cookie recipe (and if you don’t have pretzels or chocolate, they’ll knock your socks off if you follow their recipe exactly). However, when adding additional fixings like chocolate and pretzels, the recipe benefits from a little tapering. Because adding the chocolate will bring more sugar into the cookie, I took the brown sugar down by just a couple of teaspoons; additionally, because I needed a little more structure than the original recipe, I added a quarter cup of flour and half a teaspoon of vinegar to give it just a little more rise and girth so that the pretzels didn’t poke right through the cookie. Ultimately the flavor is almost identical to the prior recipe, but the extra structure allows the cookies to contain more goodies.
The pictures speak for themselves, but I’ll go ahead and gush: these cookies have a rich, chewy texture and a decadent caramel flavor with hints of vanilla. The peripherals are delicious enough, but once you get the occasional pretzel crunch and break into a dark chocolate core, you’ll understand why these batches don’t last long.
Enough temptation. (*Imitates Walter White voice*) “Let’s bake.”
- ¾ cup + 2 tbsp. brown sugar (packed)
- ½ cup vegan butter (room temperature, NOT melted)
- ½ tsp. cornstarch
- ½ tsp. baking powder
- ½ tsp. vinegar (white or apple cider)
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- ½ tsp. almond extract.
- ¼ cup almond milk
- 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
- Pretzels (as many as you want to jam in there)
- Non-dairy dark chocolate bar, chips or chunks (This 4 oz vegan baking bar sufficient for one batch of cookies)
- Heat the oven to 400° Once the butter is at room temperature, start by mixing the butter and brown sugar in a large bowl. If you have an electric mixer, this is ideal so that you get the mixture nice and airy; if you don’t have an electric mixer, mix it for 3-4 minutes using a fork so that you get an even, airy mix. Whether by electric mixer or by fork, you should be looking at an even mixture without clumps before moving on to the next step.
- Add in the cornstarch, baking powder, extracts, and almond milk and keep mixing until it’s evenly blended. Next add in the flour ¼ cup at a time and keep mixing until it’s a sticky dough. Notably, I don’t recommend refrigerating the dough; the extra flour will keep these babies intact through the baking process, but if you want to refrigerate it for later, I do recommend waiting to add the pretzels (they’ll get soggy otherwise) and making sure it gets back to room temperature before baking.
- When you’re ready to bake, crush up the pretzels (don’t pulverize them, but crumble them so that you can spread the bits out) and mix them into the dough. If you want some extra chocolate sprinkled in there too, now’s the time to add it. To make the chocolate cores, simply scoop out tablespoon-sized balls of dough and wrap them around small squares of chocolate, then form them into a ball (I also flattened the balls a little before baking, but this is totally optional depending on how flat you like your cookies).
- Throw those suckers into the oven and bake at 400°F for 7 minutes or until the edges are just starting to look crisp. Take them out and let them cool for 5-10 minutes, sprinkle some salt on top, then devour them in one sitting.