Well guys, I did it! I am now officially a Master (of Science haha) in the field of food science. Cue the merriments! It was definitely a long, bumpy road, and if you’ve read my one-year anniversary blog post, you know how much this blog has helped me through. And can I just say that graduate school is one of the most challenging yet rewarding experiences of my life. It helped me grow in so many ways as a scholar but more importantly as a person.
Of course I think that chocolate and caramel is a suitable snack to celebrate this accomplishment. Specifically, I’ve got sweet and salty caramel buttercream sandwiched between rich, chocolate cut-out cookies for you. Isn’t sugar always the answer to happy moments? (Though a flute of champagne is an acceptable alternative)
So what’s the magic scientific insight I’ll share with this recipe? I’ll make this one simple because I bet we’re all excited to get to the cookies. And you might actually think that this is obvious, so you’re probably thinking, “Duh, Kelsey why are you telling me this?”. Just bear with me and keep in mind that there are delicious cookies waiting for you at the end of this.
The secret to excellent cut-out cookies is chilling the dough prior to rolling. And the reason for that rule? The butter. The mixture of animal fats in butter lends it some unique qualities. In the fridge, butter is basically rock hard. At room temperature? Butter is pretty soft and malleable which is necessary for creaming with sugar in most cookie recipes. However, in order to easily roll dough out for cookie cutouts, we need more of a solid dough. That lets us keep a nice structure that holds up without adding a ton of flour. Chilling the dough reverts that butter in the dough back to a nice, firm state without reversing any of the positive qualities imparted by the creaming process. Chilled dough? Perfect cookies.
Side note: for all cookie types, you don’t want to let your dough get too warm either for the other side of the spectrum on butter temperature. If you have a really warm kitchen, the butter will become too warm as well which will lead to partial melting. That melted butter will automatically get rid of that nice structure you’ve created through the creaming process as it oozes out of the cookie dough. Even cookies that use melted butter in the recipe will suffer from re-melting because melting butter will always tend to separate from the other ingredients. When in doubt, keep it chilly.
These cookies have a delicious rich chocolate flavor which goes really nicely with this salty and sweet caramel filling. But feel free to sandwich something else in between the cookies like ice cream to commemorate the warmer weather!
Chocolate Cut-Out Cookies
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling out
⅔ cup sifted cocoa powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt (reduce if using table salt to ¾ teaspoon)
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 ½ cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Whisk the dry ingredients (flour, cocoa, salt, baking powder) together in a bowl. Set aside.
- In an electric mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar together until fluffy—about 2-3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, scraping after each addition.
- Mix the vanilla in. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the mix and beat until just combined. Do not overbeat.
- Wrap in plastic and chill for 1 hour, or overnight.
- Preheat the oven to 350⁰F. Using a small amount of flour, roll the chocolate dough out on your counter to about ¼ inch thickness. Cut into desired shapes.
- Place the cookie dough shapes onto a parchment-covered baking sheet at least an inch apart. Brush any excess flour off of the top of the cookies. Bake one sheet at a time for 8-10 minutes. The cookies should puff slightly and the edges will be firm when they are ready to come out. Cool to room temperature before topping with the caramel buttercream.
- Alternatively, let cool to room temperature and store for up to 5 days in a sealed container.
Caramel Buttercream Filling
¼ cup brown sugar
¼ cup butter + 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, separated
1 tablespoon corn syrup
½ tablespoon (1 ½ teaspoons) vanilla extract
¼ cup heavy cream
⅛- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1 ½ -2 cups powdered sugar
- In a small saucepan, heat the brown sugar, ¼ cup butter, corn syrup, and vanilla over medium heat. Stir to combine and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium/low and simmer until the mixture is really reduced. When you scrape a rubber spatula across the bottom, the mixture should take more than 5 seconds to flow back. This took me about 10 minutes.
- Remove from heat and let cool for 5-10 minutes. While whisking, add the cream gradually until fully combined. Mix in the salt (start with ⅛ and add later if you want more salt taste) and let cool to room temperature.
- Beat the remaining 6 tablespoons of butter in the bowl of a stand mixer using the paddle attachment until smooth. Add 1 ½ cups powdered sugar slowly and beat until fluffy. While mixing on low speed, add the caramel gradually until fully combined. Depending on how liquid-y your caramel was, you may need to add extra powdered sugar to firm the frosting up. Add by ¼ cup until you reach the consistency you like.
- Taste the frosting for salt level and add extra salt as you see fit. I like quite a bit of salt because the cookies are so rich. Use the frosting right away.
- Match your cookies for sandwiches, or use the caramel buttercream is a frosting. Spread the caramel buttercream onto one of the cookie halves and top with the other cookie half. Alternatively, spread the top of each cookie with the caramel buttercream.
- I like to chill my cookie sandwiches so that the filling doesn’t squish so much out of the sides. Chill until use if so. If you are not creating sandwiches, chill the cookies if you plan to stack them and keep them chilled while stacked. Otherwise you’ll have a mess on your hands.
- These well keep about a week in an airtight container in the fridge. Enjoy!