It is very beneficial to be a decent culinary innovator when it’s 10pm and you suddenly want a cookie. A couple nights ago, I discovered a dearth of chocolate chips when I went to my easiest cookie recipe: a fairly basic chocolate chip cookie dough with a nice balance of brown and white sugars and a touch of cinnamon. But I did have cream and sugar and almonds, and I like toffee pieces in cookies or brownies as much as chocolate chips, so I went from there.
When I say toffee in this context, it is not strictly the easily fractured “English toffee” with very finely chopped almonds. Rather this one is more like a hard caramel with varying sized almond pieces – firm, but bends rather than breaks if you don’t chill it slightly before cutting. And yes, you can make these cookies without a candy thermometer, it is just a little chancier. If the toffee is too soft, the cookies spread a lot and don’t look nearly as appealing. They still taste good though. ThermoWorks has a nice candy temperature conversion chart here.
The cinnamon/toffee combination is really what makes these cookies addictive. We had to take most of the cookies to friends the next day or we would have kept eating them.
This is a cookie dough that doesn’t require a long chilling time, which rather offsets the time you need to make the toffee allowing the cookies to be made within an hour – that is an active hour though. But that time is not too bad for a seriously addictive cookie that came out of a late night cookie craving.
If you can’t be bothered to make the toffee, this is also a good base cookie for chocolate chips – dark preferably. Or I suppose you could add 1 cup of premade toffee chunks, but they wouldn’t have the same large chunks of almond and gooey puddles of caramel/toffee.
Science Notes (skip to recipe if chemistry bothers you)
Caramels and toffees can be tricky they rely on changing the crystalline structure of sugar, removing water and releasing certain molecules we associate with the taste of caramel. Allow the reaction to go too far and you get bitter tasting molecules and a smooth but solid compound that shatters when cooled. Add the wrong proportion of reagents (ingredients) and not enough of the sugars will invert (change their glucose bonds) leaving you with a bunch of harsh crystals. Same thing if you add too much air or allow too much water to enter the mix. In many candy recipes, the easy way to avoid crystal formation is to add a bit of corn syrup. Corn syrup already has different glucose bonds which interfere with the sucrose crystals building. This is also why honey or agave syrup or pure glucose reacts differently when used as the sweetening agent in baked goods. Different types of bonds. The other thing that helps inhibit crystal formation is fats, i.e. butter and cream.
For a long time I used Not So Humble Pie’s recipe for inverted sugar (basically the British golden syrup) as my foil to corn syrup (mostly because I don’t typically keep corn syrup in the house rather than an active avoidance of it), but I really like Smitten Kitchen’s caramel recipe that uses the timely addition of fats to disrupt crystal formation rather than the addition of other sugars. It can be tricky, but one big hint – don’t stir too much! You don’t want to add a lot of air bubbles. Also don’t scrape the sides of the pan if crystals start forming – crystals catalyze the formation of more crystals, so you don’t want to add any to the mix.
- ½ c granulated sugar
- 3 tbsp heavy cream
- 1 ½ tbsp unsalted butter
- ½ tsp vanilla extract
- ¾ tsp salt
- ½ c chopped toasted almonds
- ½ c softened butter
- ½ c granulated sugar
- ½ c dark brown sugar
- 1 med-large egg
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1 ¼ c all-purpose flour
- ½ tsp baking soda
- ¼ tsp baking powder
- ¼ tsp salt
- ¼ tsp cinnamon
- I can’t give you any specific times on these steps, it is going to depend on the size of your sauce pan and heat level of your stove.
- In a mid-size sauce pan, melt sugar over low heat. As sugar melts, stir or swirl pan lightly just enough to redistribute unincorporated crystals. Don’t use a rubber spatula, this is one of those times were it will melt. Use a silicon spatula or metal spoon. Remember that melting sugar gets hot!
- Once sugar is melted and has turned a dark golden colour, add cream, stirring well. The caramel will bubble up at this point, but don’t be alarmed, this will help with flavor development.
- When combined and bubbling has reduced, add butter, stir until combined. Continue cooking on low heat, stirring occasionally until caramel reaches early soft crack stage (270-280F).
- Remove from heat and stir in vanilla and salt. Once combined, allow bubbles to settle without stirring further.
- Add almonds, distributing evenly. Pour on to a baking sheet lined with a silicon mat or one that is buttered. Press down to about ¼” thick. Odd shaped edges do not matter, you are just going to break this up into pieces later. Set aside to cool.
- Combine softened butter and sugars with a handheld or stand mixer on medium-high until fully incorporated and starting to fluff.
- Add egg and vanilla. Beat on high until pale and very fluffy (about 1-2 minutes).
- Add all dry ingredients. Mix on low until thoroughly combined.
- Once toffee is room temperature is room temperature and solid, set in freezer for 5-7 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 350F.
- Remove toffee from freezer and cut into ~1/2” squares using a large sharp knife. (Don’t be foolish like me when I first started using a silicon baking mat – put the toffee on a cutting board first so you don’t ruin your mat.)
- Add all toffee pieces to cookie dough and fold in. Set in fridge for 5 minutes until oven has finished pre-heating. (Just because you don’t have to chill it for an hour doesn’t mean a little chill doesn’t help the texture.)
- Hand form dough into balls of about 1 heaping tablespoon. Place on baking sheets lined with silicon mats or parchment paper. Cookies will spread 2-3” in diameter.
- Bake for 13-15 minutes until cookies are barely golden on the edges. If you bake multiple sheets at a time, place the oven racks close together in the center of the oven and rotate sheet positions at about 8 minutes in.
- Remove from oven and allow cookies to cool at least 3 minutes before removing from sheets.
- Repeat baking with rest of dough. Cookies can be eaten immediately, in which case they are very chewy and soft, or allowed to cool and stored in an airtight container (unless you are a very odd person, they will be eaten before you can even think of them going bad). The cookies get crunchier when allowed to cool, but are not especially crisp. Can also be frozen for later consumption.