I haven't had a lot of time for blogging lately, what with getting eaten alive by culinary school, but I knew before the semester even started that when the Food Blogger Cookie Swap came around again I would have to make time for it. What I didn't know when I made these plans, was;
1) that all the deadlines would fall smack in the middle of my GIANT stressful finals
2) just how soothing it would be to bake and mail cookies after 20 straight weeks of having my cooking ( technique, appearance and taste) scrutinized by teachers, classmates and family members
3) Just what a life saver receiving three dozen cookies in the mail would be when I'm having a finals week meltdown ( Angela, Melissa, and Kristina THANK YOU!) COMFORT CARBS FTW!
This is my second year participating in the Food Blogger Cookie Swap and despite my currently chaotic life, I enjoyed participating this year just as much as I did the first. It really is a lot of fun to connect with other food bloggers outside of the internet and actually get to taste what other foodies are cooking up. There's an element of food blogging that despite it's roots in home and family is still kind of cold, but getting to send and receive things in the mail, it makes me feel a little less like a blogger and a little more like what I want to be in the future; a professional baker connecting with people over a shared love of delicious noms. I think a lot of other participants feel that way too. When I look at the packages that I received (and just like last year gobbled up too ravenously to bother taking pictures) and I look at the care and attention to detail that each one of my matches took to box up their cookies in cute little tins, add ribbons and and notes and meticulously designed business cards, I see that intense love for the food they made and the intense desire to share that love. It's pretty awesome.
As for my cookies, well this recipe is a bit of a wild card, they're Caramel Apple Cider cookies, flavored with Alpine spiced cider mix and filled with Kraft caramels. I love these crazy cookies because they're kind of a showstopper, even though the basic skeletal idea seems like they'd be a bit on the Sandra Lee Semi-Homemade side since they rely heavily on prepacked ingredients, the end result is so satisfying you won't mind the steps that got you there.They have a homey cinnamon taste similar to a snicker doodle, but the subtle cider flavor and the ooey gooey caramel center elevates this cookie to a dessert experience that stands on it's own.
My biggest problem was getting swept away with the process. There's something sooo therapeutic about working with your hands when you know that you've got other more pressing things to do, like write papers and study for tests, and these cookies have a lot of active hands on time. There's butter browning, cookie forming, caramel squishing ( and caramel making, if you're the kind of personal talented enough to make your own caramels), which is a kind of a lot for cookies. I for some reason, just wouldn't tire. Even though I had other things to do I sort of kept on baking more and more of these cookies. I may or may not have made 9 dozen, cookie bombed my family members once I'd sent out my three dozen food blogger swap boxes, and eaten the rest for dinner. Don't judge me, it's finals week.
If you want to learn more about the Food Blogger Cookie Swap or would like to participate next year, you can read all about it here.
Caramel Apple Cider Cookies
recipe adapted from The Cooking Photographer
1 cup (2 sticks) butter
3/4 cup caster sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
6 pouches Alpine Spiced Cider drink mix (original, not sugar free)
1 bag Kraft Caramels
1. Brown the butter. Heat two sticks of butter in a medium sauce pan over medium low heat until the butter melts and the milk solids start to turn brown and the butter smells nutty, remove from heat.
2. In a large mixing bowl combine browned butter, caster sugar, brown sugar, vanilla extract, Alpine Cider mix and cinnamon and whisk to combine. Set the whole mixture in the refrigerator to cool for 15 minutes or until the butter starts to become solid again. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
3. While the butter is cooling, get your caramel station ready. Unwrap enough caramels for your first few batches of cookies and squash them slightly either with your thumbs or the bottom of a mug. It doesn't take much, but flattening them out helps the cookies spread better in the oven.
4. Once the butter mixture sets up, remove it from the fridge and whisk until the butter and sugar start to get fluffy. Then add the eggs one at a time.
5. Add the salt, baking soda and flour to the butter mixture and stir to combine.
6. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper ( do NOT skip this step you will be sad when you have to scrub caramel off your sheet pans).
7. Take a flattened caramel and wrap it with just enough cookie dough to cover the candy all the way around, try to keep the dough to caramel ratio to about 50/50.
8. Place the dough balls on your parchment lined cookie sheet and bake at 350 for 11-13 minutes, until very lightly browned ( they don't get very dark). Let the cookies cool for 5 minutes or so and then move them to a cooling rack. If they're particularly gooey set them on the cooling rack bottom side up.
9. Serve warm OR enjoy later warmed for just a minute in a toaster oven or the microwave.
Makes 3 dozen cookies