A Sticky Situation...

Here it is, Wednesday, a full week after my air conditioning conked out on me, and the HVAC repair company that services our building has informed us that it will likely be Saturday before we can get it fixed. Not cool -- literally. But, tonight I found myself in the same quandary as I was Monday night: I had more food in my kitchen that was about to go bad if it wasn't used in a timely manner, and of course, its intended destination was more cookies. (This is clearly an example of life interfering when you have other plans; I went out and bought ingredients for baking only to have my air conditioning break down in the middle of summer. Perhaps the cooking gods are trying to send me a message about adopting a more seasonal outlook in my meal planning...)

This time around, the rapidly expiring ingredient in question was a carton of heavy cream that I had used in the ridiculously delicious Maple-Macadamia Sticky Bars I made with Katherine while she was in town, and intended to use again for a cookie with a similar flavor profile -- Cashew Caramel Cookies. I'd been meaning to make these cookies for ages, and at one point, had even purchased the ingredients to do so, but I never got around to it and eventually, I just let my dad nosh on the cashews as a snack (they're his favorite type of nut.) I'd recently spotted the nuts on sale at the grocery store, so I picked some up again, this time determined to finally scratch these cookies off my to-do list.

Hence, with the ingredients on hand and the heavy cream only days away from its "use-by" date, I was locked into baking these cookies tonight, despite my reluctance to turn on the oven. Still, I'm glad I did. The recipe requires a bit more effort than most cookies, in that you have to make homemade cashew butter in the food processor, but I think the extra step yielded sufficient returns in flavor to be worth the time and energy. The cookies have a deep, roasted cashew flavor, and a pleasant, chewy texture with a hint of crunch from the extra chopped nuts. They're really quite good all on their own, but the addition of caramel on top really pushes them over the edge. They're a perfect balance of sweet, salty, crunchy, and chewy.

They are also profoundly messy. I'm not sure if it was my warmer-than-average kitchen, or the addition of the heavy cream to the melted caramel, but the surface embellishment never really set up. This made the cookies basically impossible to store, as they couldn't be stacked, and they dripped caramel wherever they rested. I ultimately put them in the fridge overnight hoping to firm them up enough to layer them between wax paper for transport to work in the morning, but I suspect that won't be helpful either. I think what ultimately might be a better solution for this recipe would be to turn the cookies into sandwich cookies, trapping the messy caramel inside, or alternately, turn them into thumbprint cookies. Since the dough doesn't spread in the oven on its own, I think the recipe could easily be adapted for thumbprint use.

Ultimately, I think the Maple-Macadamia cookies are a bit better -- the caramel to cookie ratio is higher -- but they would be difficult to package in an assortment of cookies since they are both sticky and crumbly. Looking forward to this year's Cookie Bonanza (yes, I'm aware it's half a year away still, but I like to be prepared), I think these might be a better option if I can just figure out a way to contain the liquid caramel enough to pack them. I don't think you could go wrong with either these or the Maple-Macadamia bars; it ultimately just depends on what kind of nuts you like the most, and how much of a mess you're willing to cope with in your kitchen...

Cashew Caramel Cookies
adapted from Martha Stewart

1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 c. roasted, salted cashews
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon canola oil
1/2 c. (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 c. light brown sugar, packed
1/2 c. white sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
7 oz. soft caramel candies, unwrapped
1/4 c. heavy cream

Preheat oven to 350.
1. Sift together flour and salt. Coarsely chop 1 cup cashews; set aside. Process remaining 1 1/2 cups cashews in a food processor until finely chopped. Pour in oil; process until creamy, about 2 minutes.
2. Put cashew mixture, butter, and sugars in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Mix in egg and vanilla. Reduce speed to low; gradually add flour mixture and reserved chopped cashews.
3. Roll dough into 1 1/2 inch balls and place on baking sheets lined with parchment paper, spacing 2 inches apart. Bake 6 minutes; remove cookies from oven and flatten with the bottom of a glass. Return to oven and bake 7 minutes more, until bottoms are golden. Let cool on wire racks.
4. Melt caramels with cream in a saucepan over low heat, stirring. Let cool slightly before drizzling caramel over cookies; let set. Store cookies in single layers in airtight containers up to three days.

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