I realize that this is the second post in a row that has “Crunch” in the title. But honestly, who doesn’t want a crunchy exterior surrounding their chicken, or some crunchy mix-ins in their cookie dough? After all, if flavor is the leading role, then texture is the director.
Did you know that texture actually largely impacts how we interpret flavor? Just think about how a thin sauce is so much less enjoyable, and seemingly less strongly-flavored, than a thick sauce that lingers longer on the tongue. It’s something you learn if you study food rheology, or the science of textures in food– yes, it is a very real and very important science employed by manufacturers of edible goods. Just like with flavors, a good balance of texture is generally regarded as the most appealing, so it’s no wonder that these Salted Caramel Crunch Cookies, with their soft and chewy cookie dough base, creamy, sticky caramels, and crunchy pretzel and toffee pieces, are a megahit.
For this recipe, I made a few small tweaks to my Best Chewy Cafe-Style Chocolate Chip Cookies. The first of which was browning the butter before incorporating it into the cookie dough.
If you’ve never had brown butter before (or browned butter, as it’s also often called), here’s the deal:
Butter contains water, milk solids, and butterfat. When it’s melted, the milk solids and butterfat separate, leaving a whitish, floating layer surrounded by deeper yellow liquid, which we’re all familiar with. However, if you continue to heat butter beyond this point, the water evaporates, leaving behind just the milk solids and butterfat, and if you keep going, the milk solids will cook to be richly brown in color, and they will give the butter toastiness, complexity, and nuttiness that otherwise is not typical of butter.
Since caramel itself is characterized by toastiness and nuttiness, brown butter makes a great mix-in for this cookie dough, which I want to have a more uniform caramel-like flavor instead of relying solely on the chewy caramel pieces entirely for that quality. However, since the butter loses some volume with the evaporation of the water, toasting the same amount of butter doesn’t lend enough liquid to the cookies to prevent them from being too floury. I make up for some of the decrease in volume by upping amount of butter in this recipe by 2 tablespoons.
But it wouldn’t really be a caramel cookie without the addition of actual caramel, so I scrap the chocolate chips from this recipe and mix in caramel pieces, which give gooey, chewy, moist and delicious features to the cookie. You won’t miss the chocolate one bit, honest! Just look at how mouth-watering the inside of the cookies become after baking.
And how the warm caramel oozes from every bite of the cookies.
Your holiday cookie exchange is crying out for these Salted Caramel Crunch Cookies. Begging for them.
And as if the caramel was not enough, these cookies also have a healthy dose of toffee pieces mixed in. By healthy, I mean healthy for the soul, because the sugary, buttery toffee bits surely aren’t doing my pretend-diet any favors. But if I was worried about it, I wouldn’t be making cookies, right? Cookies are about indulgence. Sweet, sweet indulgence.
Toffee is very similar to caramel in flavor, so it once again amplifies the tastes from the inclusion of brown butter and caramel pieces, but it also is hard and crunchy, incorporating some of that very important textural contrast that we talked about earlier.
And then, of course, there are the pretzel pieces, which give more crunch, as well as the perfect amount of saltiness, to the cookies. Why do I use pretzels instead of other salty snacks like potato chips? Pretzels are special in a few ways. First, the larger grains of salt that are usually found on pretzels dissolve slower than smaller-grained alternatives, allowing the saltiness to sit on your tongue longer with each bite. Secondly, the glossy, hard exterior of pretzels prevents them from getting soggy when baked in with the buttery cookie dough ingredients like some other snacks would. Lastly, the method used to cook pretzels relies heavily on the Maillard reaction, or the process in cooking and baking that browns foods to create deeper, stronger flavors.
This is not our first encounter with the Maillard reaction for these cookies: the browning reaction is what is responsible for the nutty brown butter, the toasty caramel, and even the nostalgic smell of cookies baking in the oven. By playing it up further with hard pretzels, we’re creating a very intertwined and intense flavor profile in these cookies. Like they say, baking is a science.
You really don’t need the technical explanation to know that these will be great, though. Tell anyone that you’re whipping up some Salted Caramel Crunch Cookies and I’m sure they’ll be salivating and begging you to share. I know that my friends and family who sampled the many test batches of these cookies are already requesting that I make them again!
Not that I’m complaining, of course. A day of making (and “taste-testing”) cookies is always a good day to me.
- 2 cups + 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 14 tablespoons (1¾ sticks) unsalted butter
- 1 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 cup thin salted pretzels, crushed
- 1 cup toffee chips
- 1 cup chewy caramels, cut into fourths
- In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, cornstarch, and salt. Set aside.
- In a pan over medium heat, melt the butter, gently swirling the pan occasionally to make sure that the butter is being heated evenly. Cook until the foaming of the butter subsides. The butter should be warm brown in color and have a nutty smell. Transfer the butter to a heat-safe bowl to cool.
- In a large bowl, beat together the cooled brown butter and the sugars with a hand-mixer for about one minute. Then, add in the eggs and vanilla extract. Beat until just combined.
- Slowly add in the flour mixture and mix briefly, making sure not to overwork the cookie dough. Fold in about ¾ of the pretzels, toffee chips, and caramels, reserving some of each to top after the cookies have baked.
- Cover and refrigerate the dough for 30 minutes to an hour, or until the dough is cold to the touch.
- Remove the dough from the refrigerator and preheat the oven to 325 degrees, making sure you have the racks in the middle of the oven. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Roll the cookie dough into ping-pong sized balls. Place on the prepared baking sheet, making sure the cookies have plenty of space to spread.
- Bake for about 12-15 minutes, rotating half-way through, or until the cookies have spread out and the edges are golden, but the center of the cookie still looks soft and just slightly under-cooked. Remove the tray of cookies from the oven, let cool for a minute or two, and then gently press a few of the reserved pretzel pieces, toffee chips, and caramels into the tops of the cookies. Continue to cool the cookies on the baking sheet until the cookies are firm enough to remove. Every oven is different, so I recommend starting with just one or two cookies on the tray to see what baking time works best for you!
- Repeat with remaining batches, until all cookies are baked.
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