My mother believed that chocolate made everything better and at times, I also believe this to be true. Moreover, when she first tasted really good chocolate, there was no going back to the less expensive brands. I have inherited those same taste buds and when we moved to the Pacific Northwest, I discovered Fran's Chocolates, a chocolatier founded in Seattle, who makes really good chocolates! As Fran Bigelow states in her book, Pure Chocolate, "A few lucky people are born to chocolate. Others, like myself, fall into it later in life and spend the rest of their lives mastering its magic." That also describes my mother and this cookie I create today is in her honor of teaching me the appreciation of good chocolate, with a twist from Fran Bigelow, who got me hooked on chocolate salted caramels.
Thumbprint cookies have been one of my favorite cookies to bake each year during the holidays. Normally, I do the buttery, shortbread dough, rolled in finely ground nuts, then, add my homemade raspberry, strawberry, or peach jam to the centers. My family loves them and they will be part of my cookie boxes for gifts as usual. However, this chocolate version is my way of adding something new and keeping them on their toes ;-)!
I've included, once more, my recipe for Homemade Caramel, which is very easy to make, but, keep in mind, you can also use a store bought brand, or even melt wrapped caramels with about 3 tablespoons of heavy cream to fill the centers. I understand with time flying by, shortcuts may be necessary, so don't feel guilty. If you make your own caramel, there will be about a cup or more left over. I will be placing my leftover in a sterilized 8oz jam jar, sealed, and shipped to my daughter, Erin. She loves caramel over ice cream and since she's unable to travel this holiday, it will be a special homemade treat.
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
|I use C & H's Baker's Sugar, which is an ultrafine pure cane sugar, much like caster sugar|
1 cup Light Karo Syrup
1/2 tsp. Kosher salt
4 T unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
1 cup heavy cream
1 tsp. Vanilla extract
In a 2 quart sauce pan, combine the sugar and Karo syrup together, stirring to blend well, however, once you place the pan over heat, DO NOT STIR!
Place sauce pan over medium heat. When the mixture turns a golden brown (this takes about 7 minutes, but don't go away or get distracted doing something else), remove pan immediately from the heat and add the butter. The mixture will bubble up and at this time, you can stir to incorporate the butter. Now, slowly add the heavy cream--the mixture will not only bubble, but release steam. For safety reasons, you can use a hot pad to pour the cream to protect your hands. Don't panic if a "lump" of caramel forms; trust me, the mixture is still hot enough that you will be able to stir that lump away. Finally, add the vanilla and stir once more.
The mixture will be quite thin, but as it cools, it will thicken up. (You could also pour this mixture into a square pan, brushed with butter and it will set so you can make your own soft caramels as gifts.) I transferred the mixture to a heat-proof bowl to cool while I started the bittersweet thumbprint cookies, stirring occasionally to speed up the cooling.
Bittersweet Chocolate Thumbprint Cookies
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into cubes, set at room temperature
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 tsp. Vanilla extract
3 oz. bittersweet chocolate, melted
1/2 cup Dutch-processed cocoa
2 cups King Arthur all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. Kosher salt
Additional: Coarse Sea Salt
Preheat oven to 350F-degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
In a stand mixer, using the paddle attachment, cream the room temperature butter and sugar until fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add melted bittersweet chocolate and vanilla and mix to combine.
In a separate bowl, mix all the dry ingredients (the last five listed) and use a whisk to combine. Add the dry ingredients to the batter and mix on low speed just to combine.
Use a 2-tablespoon scoop to measure out the dough onto the parchment-lined baking sheet.
Bake 10-11 minutes, until the tops look dry and cracked. Remove from the oven and immediately use the small end of a pastry tamper or the rounded end of a large wooden spoon to create a "well" in the center of the cookie. Allow to cool about 5 minutes on the baking sheet before transferring to a rack to cool completely.
Use about 1/2 teaspoon of caramel to fill the wells.
Sprinkle with a few grains of coarse sea salt to finish off the cookie.
Allow the cookie to set at least an hour before storing in a airtight container in a cool, dry place.
My friends know me all too well...and for my birthday this year, I received not one, but two boxes of Fran's Chocolates. These cookies, with the deep, dark chocolate taste and combined with the salted caramel pay tribute to two women who have inspired me to find the magic. Enjoy!