Peanut Butter Caramel Thumbprints

There's a few things we should discuss today, friends. Firstly, I am typing like a complete moron due to an epic gash in my index finger, evidence that I attempted to have a high-pitched conversation with an excitable, babbling tiny person whilst using my box grater, and failed miserably. Secondly, I then tried to pass off my bandaged finger as a culinary war wound of sorts while shooting a segment in the kitchen of a Very Important Restaurant surrounded by expert chefs, and, uh, yeah--it came out sounding about as dumb as you'd think it would. If there was a locker around, I would've totally stuffed myself into it.

But on the plus side, I have something thoroughly successful and utterly delightful to discuss with you as well. And that, my darlings, would be those delicious Peanut Butter Caramel Thumbprints you see up there.

I am a sucker for peanut butter cookies. I just find them so, I don't know, so comforting, don't you? (This, of course, excludes those of you who blow up with some kind of life-threatening allergy at the mere sight of the word "peanut", in which case please click-click away, because I love you and can't handle the stress). My favorite sort of peanut butter cookie is the crisp, sandy variety, with a perfectly homey little crosshatch pattern brought to you courtesy of a dinner fork. That just feels right to me. But I will throw any of my cookie ideals out the window if you take one, put a dent in it and fill said dent with oozy, gooey salted caramel. I'm so agreeable that way.

When I first saw this recipe in The Art and Soul of Baking (a textbook for home bakers, if there ever was one, truly) and saw a filled cookie, I bookmarked it for a weekend, when I figured I'd have maximum Kitchen Puttering Time (read: Little C kicks it playground-style for a couple hours with Daddy). As we learned previously, I am iffy on the kitchen task/parenting duality lately, so I thought it best to avoid working with boiling sugar when a small tender skull could come careening into my legs at any moment.

But! Turns out my thoughts about this being a Project Cookie were completely unfounded. This is the sort of recipe where you can orchestrate the creation of the components and the recipe steps however it makes the most sense for you. The caramel comes together in a flash, as does the cookie dough, and either one or both can be made ahead and refrigerated until you want to fill the cookies. Which I recommend doing one at a time on an as-needed basis, lest you want to scarf half a dozen during two DVR'd episodes of Barefoot Contessa. Just saying.

Peanut Butter Caramel Thumbprints
Adapted from The Art and Soul of Baking

The original recipe shows a yield of 50 cookies, but even using level portions with a tablespoon-sized scoop as suggested, I got an even 3 dozen. Regardless of if you get 3 or 4 dozen cookies out of the dough, you'll have plenty of leftover caramel after filling the cookies (making it in a smaller amount really won't work as well). The leftover peanut caramel is so divine over ice cream, it's worth making all on its own.

As an option, you can melt about 4 ounces of bittersweet chocolate and drizzle it over the the finished cookies.

Makes about 36

For the dough:

1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup creamy salted peanut butter (the commercial kind, not natural)

For the peanut caramel filling:

1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup water
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
Pinch of salt
3/4 cup finely chopped roasted and salted peanuts

Position a rack to the center of the oven and preheat it to 350 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl whisk together flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the butter and sugars until smooth and blended. Add the egg and vanilla and mix well, scraping down the sides of the bowl. Add the peanut butter and beat well until blended. Scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl. On low speed, blend in the dry ingredients.

Place level tablespoons of dough about 1 1/2 inches apart on the baking sheet (you should be able to fit about 20 on a half-sheet pan; they don't spread much). Using your thumb or a similarly-sized kitchen tool (I opted for a nice, rounded metal teaspoon) make a depression in the center of each cookie about 1 inch in diameter. Bake cookies 13 - 16 minutes, or until they are firm and golden brown at the edges but still soft in the center. When the cookies come out of the oven, reinforce the indentations with whatever tool you used before (wrapping a kitchen towel around you thumb to prevent burning, of course). Cool the cookies completely on a wire rack.

To make the peanut caramel, microwave the cream in a small microwave-safe bowl just until hot. Set aside. Place water in a medium saucepan and add the sugar, corn syrup and salt. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar dissolves. Turn the heat to medium high and cook, swirling the pan but not stirring, just until the mixture turns a golden brown (if in doubt, err on the side of less color rather than more--caramel can go from amber to burnt in seconds). Immediately lower the heat to medium low and whisk in the cream. It will bubble up vigorously. Let the caramel bubble, stirring occassionally, for about 1 minute before pulling the pan from the heat. Pour the caramel into a heatproof bowl and let it cool until it's just warm, but still pourable. Stir in the chopped peanuts.

Spoon the caramel into the depressions of each cookie. Allow the filling to set for at least 1 hour before drizzling with the optional chocolate and serving. Store in an airtight container for 3 to 4 days.

CookiesShauna Sever