Caramel Apple Cookies

Caramel Apple Cookies: a rough draft

Definitely a three- to four-star labor of love creation

My original thought was that I make a buttery sandwich cookie filled with a dried apple jam, and frosted / glazed with a caramel-based concoction. Wouldn’t you know that I had one of my “oops!” caramel calamities with planned smooth and delightful base seizing up into a granular sugary ball of good grief. So … plan B is what I’ve posted for now. Still rather tasty but not what I had envisioned.

The work in progress is as follows:

Cookie base

(too fragile for sandwiching … I will probably reduce the amount of butter next time around)

8 ounces (1 2/3 cups) walnuts or pecans (may toast if you like)

2 1/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour

2/3 cups granulated sugar

10 ounces (2 1/2 sticks) cold butter, cut into 1/2-inch slices)

In a nut grinder, blender, or food processor, grind the walnuts (or pecans) to a fine sort-of-powder — but not so long that you’ve turned it into nut butter. Place them into a large mixing bowl. Add the flour and sugar and stir to mix. With a pastry blender cut the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles a coarse meal.

Turn the dough out onto a large board or smooth work surface, then squeeze it between your hands until it holds together. Form the dough into a ball, flatten slightly, and then “break” it as follows. Using the heel of your hand start at the farther end of the dough and push off small pieces (about 2 tablespoons), smearing it against the work surface and away from you. Continue until all the dough has been pushed off. Re-form the dough and then push it off or “break” it again.

Work with half of the dough at a time. Form it into a ball and place it on a large piece of wax paper. Cover with another large piece of wax paper. With your hand flatten the dough slightly, and then, with a rolling pin, roll over the paper to roll the dough until it is 1/4 inch thick. If the wax  paper wrinkles, peel it off and then replace it in order to remove the wrinkles. (During rolling check both pieces for wrinkles.)

Slide a cookie sheet under the dough (still between the two pieces of wax paper) and transfer to the freezer or refrigerator until the dough is firm and the paper may be pulled off easily.

Repeat with the second half of the dough.

While the dough is chilling, adjust two racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat to 350F degrees.

When the dough is firm, peel off one piece of the wax paper just to release it, then replace it. Turn the dough in both pieces of paper over. Then peel off but do not replace the second piece of paper.

With a plain round cookie cutter measuring 2 1/4 to 2 1/2 inches in diameter, cut out cookies and place them (with the help of a metal spatula if necessary) 1 inch apart on unbuttered cookie sheets. The dough must be firm enough for the rounds to hold their shape when they are transferred. Reserve the scraps and roll, chill, and cut them. You should have about 48 cookies. (You may naturally use a smaller cookie cutter.)

Bake for 15 to 18 minutes, reversing the sheets top to bottom and front to back as necessary to insure even baking. When done the cookies should be sandy-colored or lightly golden but not brown.

Let stand for a few seconds and then, with a wide metal spatula, transfer the cookies to racks to cool.

This cookie base is adapted from my trusty work horse of a cookbook, Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Cookies (Ischler Cookies, page 171).

Dried Apple “Jam”

3 1/2 cups dried apple rounds.

about 1 1/2 cups water

lemon zest, nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice (to taste … I happen to have high octane taste buds and like a good dollop of each)

Simmer apples in water until well-softened. Add zest and spices toward end of simmering. Cool a bit and then puree in food processor. I left a few small chunks for texture.

The Frosting (for now)

Essentially, I ended up turning the sort-of-caramel into penuche fudge. Here is a trusted old recipe from my “vintage” (as in dating from my adolesence) McCall’s Cookbook (the red cover variation, copyright 1963).

Penuche Frosting

1 1/2 cups light-brown sugar, firmly packed

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon light corn syrup (can substitute honey or maple syrup I would imagine)

1 cup light cream

2 tablespoons butter or margarine

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a large saucepan, combine sugars, salt, corn syrup, and cream. Over low heat, cook, stirring, until sugars are dissolved.

Over medium heat, bring to boiling, stirring occasionally.

Continue cooking, over medium heat, without stirring, to 234 degrees F on a candy thermometer, or until cold water forms a soft ball. (When testing in cold water, remove frosting from heat, to prevent overcooking.)

Remove from heat. Without stirring, add butter, and let cool to 110 F on candy thermometer, or until bottom of saucepan feels lukewarm.

Add vanilla; with wooden spoon, or portable electric mixer at medium speed, beat until frosting is creamy and barely holds its shape. Do not overheat. (If frosting gets too stiff, gradually add a little more light cream.)

Makes enough to fill and frost a 9-inch two-layer cake. (If frosting becomes too stiff to spread easily before cake is completely frosted, soften over hot water.)