CAA-RAA-mel or KAR-mul?

Caramel-Stuffed Agave Cookies

IMG_6540DISCLAIMER:  I am from Upstate New York, my mom is from New Jersey, and my dad is from Long Island.  In other words, I have no hope of pronouncing anything correctly.  Ever.  My “A” sounds are flat, my general voice is nasally, and it took a solid four years to break me of saying “aarnge” instead of “orange.”  Pity me.
Disclaimer notwithstanding, I am a passionate advocate for pronouncing “caramel” phonetically.  Whoever created the word went to the trouble of putting that second “a” between the “r” and the “m,” so I think we should say it.
Now that that’s off my chest, let me tell you about these cookies!

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The dough recipe was the result of me finding myself in the predicament that every baker fears:  a sugar shortage.  I was planning on making one of my typical brown butter cookie dough bases, but alas, I was 1/4 cup short of granulated sugar.  1/4 cup.  What to do next?  Experiment:  replace my lacking 1/4 cup of sugar with 1/4 cup of agave nectar.  Agave nectar comes from the agave plant — which, incidentally, is also the source of tequila, so it can’t be that bad, right?! — and has a similar consistency to honey, except slightly runnier.  If you don’t have agave nectar, you could certainly use honey instead.IMG_6490
The result of this substitution?  A chewier, slightly denser cookie, with a delicate sweetness that compliments the caramel center and pumpkin spice flavor beautifully!  How does one perform a “caramel stuff,” you ask?  One of two ways:  1)  form dough balls around 2-3 Kraft Caramel Bits, or 2) form dough balls around 1/2 of a soft caramel candy (you know, the cube-shaped ones…just be sure to unwrap them first).  For these particular cookies, I used the caramel bits, and they worked very nicely.
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As with almost every other cookie recipe I will post, CHILL THE DOUGH!  The time in the fridge really ensures that all of the sugar dissolves into the butter and the flavors marry beautifully — unlike Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert, but that’s a sore subject, so I shan’t continue.  For these cookies in particular, since you have to manhandle the dough a bit during the caramel-stuffing process, I like to do a second chill prior to baking to make sure the cookies don’t spread too much due to hand-warming of the butter.IMG_6513
Finally, you will notice that, when properly baked, these cookies go through three phases:  1) initial melting, during the first 7ish minutes of baking, 2) puffing up, during the last 2 minutes of baking, and 3) deflation, whilst resting on the cookie sheet for 5 minutes post-baking.  If you take the cookies out of the oven too soon, they centers will stay gooey, and the cookies will be fragile.  If you overbake them, they will puff up, but not go through the deflation stage, and the cookies will be too dry.  The key is to take them out at the right part of the puff-up stage — the best indicator of this golden window is when the tops no longer look wet and the edges have started to form microcracks (see top photo below).  Finding “the right time” will take some practice, but it is well worth it!

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Caramel-Stuffed Agave Cookies

1 stick butter
2 1/2 tablespoons canola oil
3/4 cup + 2 T granulated sugar
1/4 cup agave nectar (or honey, but then you have to call these “Caramel-Stuffed Honey Cookies,” for obvious reasons)
1 egg, room temp
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1/4 cup cinnamon chips
1 cup pumpkin spice chips (if you can’t find these, just use all cinnamon chips or toss in some white chocolate chips instead!)
Caramel baking bits or soft caramel candies
Coarse sea salt
Make dough:  Brown the butter, as described here, and cool 15-20 minutes in fridge.  Cream together brown butter, oil, sugar, and agave (or honey), until pale and thoroughly mixed.  Beat in egg and vanilla.  In a large measuring cup or small mixing bowl, use a fork to whisk together flour, baking soda, and table salt.  Gradually add dry ingredients to butter mixture, and stop mixing as soon as no dry flour is distinguishable.  Fold in cinnamon chips and pumpkin spice chips, if using.  Chill dough 1 hour.
Form dough balls:  IMG_6506-1Take a large pinch of dough, top it with 2-3 caramel bits or half of a soft caramel candy, and cover with another large pinch of dough.  Roll between your palms into a cylinder shape, about the size of a marshmallow (see picture), making sure that no caramel is exposed — exposed caramel, especially on the bottoms of the cookie, will burn during baking = bad.  Chill 24 hours.
Bake:  Remove dough balls from fridge 20 minutes prior to baking, and preheat oven to 375 degrees farenheit.  Sprinkle tops of dough balls with coarse sea salt.  Bake for 9 minutes, rotating sheet halfway though bake time.  When you remove the cookies from the oven, they should be lightly browned on top, puffy, and have small cracks visible at the edges.  Let cookies cool 5 minutes on sheet, then remove to wire racks to cool completely.  Store in airtight container, at room temperature, for up to 5 days.
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