midnight snacks: brown butter salted caramel cookie cups & caramelized onion and gruyère biscuits
Wow, that was quite a long title. And it’s been an even longer time since I’ve actually updated this blog but…I’m back! The first couple weeks of school have been a medieval literature-filled blur (I’m taking three literature classes and a communication class AKA several hundreds of pages of reading every night…why am I an English major again?) and midterms are once again upon us, so I’ve been fairly preoccupied to say the least.
I love cooking and baking, but I get spoiled every time I go home and have access to a fully-stocked kitchen. When I go back to college, I never have the right ingredients and even when I do, I can’t quite justify making a full three-course dinner for just myself. But food is expensive and if I’m going to spend $95 at Trader Joe’s (sad but true story) you know it’s not going to be on instant ramen. And to motivate myself to actually spend time in the kitchen, my friends and I have started having weekly cooking/baking dates. It’s a fun way to hang out after a long week of classes, and you get delicious food at the end. There is literally no downside.
Here’s an example of my "Friday Food" adventures with my friend Preeti:
A couple of days ago, my friend invited me over to bake, so I decided to try a few recipes I’ve had saved on my computer for a while. We settled on Brown Butter and Salted Caramel Cookie Cups from user @sander16 on Imgur, and Caramelized Onion and Gruyère Biscuits from the wonderful Smitten Kitchen blog.
To answer your question: yes, they were both as delicious as they sound. However, we failed to budget our time efficiently and instead of baking both simultaneously, we ended up taking almost five hours to make both the biscuits and the cookie cups and I left his house at midnight. Because that’s what all the cool kids are doing on Thursday nights nowadays, baking.
First, the cookie cups. Simply put, these cookies are a gift from the lord. They're actually amazing. But if you’re going to make them, I suggest you plan ahead because the caramel needs to set for an hour and a half, and the dough needs to be refrigerated for an hour. So have an two and a half hours’ worth of stuff to do while they’re chilling (in our case, it was making biscuits).
BROWN BUTTER AND SALTED CARAMEL COOKIE CUPS
Yields: 24 small cookie cups
Prep: 2 1/2 hours
Cook: 12-15 minutes
1 stick unsalted butter
½ cup heavy cream or heavy whipping cream
3 tbsp water
¼ cup light corn syrup
1 cup granulated sugar
A pinch coarse sea salt
In a small pot or tall-sided sauce pan, combine water, sugar, and corn syrup. Bring to a boil (it should bubble lightly). Do not stir, but swirl the pan a few times so it doesn’t burn in one place. As soon as it’s boiling, drop in the cream and butter.
Lower the heat and stir. It should "bubble furiously" according to the recipe, which is why you need a tall-sided sauce pan. Return to high heat and continue stirring, until it turns from a cream-yellow color to a rich, nutty brown color. The mixture will start out bubbly and slimy but will become smooth and viscous, and it should drip off your spoon in ribbons when it's done. Pour into a heavily greased flat pan or dish (we used a glass bowl, which made things more difficult later when we tried to cut it).
Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes, sprinkle salt liberally, and then let stand for another 60 minutes. You can also substitute ready made caramel squares if you don’t want to make your own, but I promise the homemade kind is so worth it.
2 sticks butter (do not combine)
1 cup light brown sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
½ cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 egg yolk
2 ⅓⅔¾½¼ cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda (we substituted 1 1/2 tsp baking powder and it worked fine)
Preheat oven to 350°F.
In a small sauce pan (I suggest a silver-coated one), melt 1/2 cup (1 stick) over medium heat. Continue cooking until the butter is dark brown and smells nutty. The top will foam up and there will be brown sediment forming at the bottom which is okay, but MAKE SURE it doesn’t turn black. That means the butter is burning. Remember how I said to use a silver-coated one? We ruined two sticks of butter because the heat was too high and we couldn’t see what color the butter was. The butter should turn brown, but after it does it burns very fast.
Take it off the heat before you need to, because the pan will still be hot and the butter will continue to cook even with no flame. When it’s done, pour it into a small bowl and set aside (you can put it in the refrigerator for faster cooling).
In the large mixing bowl, combine the other stick of butter and the brown sugar. Cream on high for 5 minutes until light and fluffy. Add the cooled brown butter and the granulated sugar.
Continue beating on high for another 2 minutes, adding the eggs one at a time. Texture should be light and soft. Sift the dry ingredients, turn the mixer down to a low setting, and add them in three parts, mixing after each one.
Remove dough from bowl and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, turn your caramel out onto a cutting board and cut into small squares using a greased knife or pizza wheel. They should be roughly the size of Hershey’s kisses.
Drop teach ball into a cup in a lightly-greased mini-muffin tray. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes (we did 12). Cookies should be lightly brown around the edges and soft on top. Turn upside down onto a cooling rack (or else they become difficult to remove) and let it stand for at least five minutes before eating.
If you want to save them (you won’t), heat them up in the microwave before eating! They’re best hot, because the caramel will become soft and chewy again. If not, it hardens into a sticky toffee-like substance, which is also good.
And now, the biscuits. We made a couple adjustments to the recipe on Smitten Kitchen, which was actually adapted from a recipe from another site. These are basically French onion soup in a biscuit AKA little bundles of heaven. I had leftovers with tomato soup for lunch, and it was amazing.
CARAMELIZED ONION AND GRUYÉRE BISCUITS
Yields: 24ish mini biscuits, depending on how big you make them
Prep: 30 minutes
Cook: 20 minutes
1 stick cold, unsalted butter
1 tbsp olive oil
2 small onions, halved and thinly sliced
2 ¾ cups flour
1 tbsp granulated sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda (we substituted 1/2 tsp baking powder)
¾ tsp coarse or kosher salt
4 oz (about 1/2 cup) gruyère or another Swiss-style cheese in 1/2-inch cubes
1 cup buttermilk
Flaky sea salt
Heat oven to 350°F (175°C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat.
In a large skillet over medium heat, melt a tiny bit (maybe 1 tbsp) of butter and add olive oil.
Add the onions, reduce the heat to low and place a lid on top, letting them steam for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove the lid and continue stirring the onions until they're deep brown (10 to 20 more minutes). Luckily, it's very difficult to mess up caramelizing onions—just cook them until they're a nice-looking color, remove from heat, and let cool.
In a medium bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking sod, and salt. Dice remaining cold butter into 1/2-inch bits. Work the butter into the flour mixture until it's crumbly and all the big chunks of butter are gone. Stir in diced gruyère.
Returning to the sauce pan, pour buttermilk over cooled onions and stir to combine. Add buttermilk-onion mixture to dry mixture and mix well. Ours was a little sticky, so we kept adding flour until we could remove dough easily from the bowl. Knead dough in the bowl a little; don't worry if there are some flour-y spots.
Turn the dough out onto a floured surface. There are two ways to do the next part: either roll into a 1-inch thickness and use a small cookie cutter, or make the biscuits into tiny 1-inch bites by hand. We chose the latter, as we didn’t have a rolling pin or cookie cutter, and they still were adorable.
Space them apart on a baking sheet, sprinkle with sea salt and pepper, and bake until biscuits are a deep golden-brown and the cheese is melted around the edges (about 20 to 23 minutes). I like under-baking them a little so that they’re kind of doughy on the inside. Let cool and enjoy! Like the cookie cups, they’re still good the next day, but they taste best warm.
Even though they were fairly time-intensive, I would recommend these to anyone. Both are warm, satisfying, comfort food-type treats—perfect for a midnight snack or a complement to a meal. They’re delicious and well-worth the effort, so if you give them a try, let me know in the comments how they turn out!