Holiday caramel treats

Vanilla cookies dipped in caramel and rolled in nuts, a perfect treat-on-a-stick for holiday parties.

The Pastry Chef's Baking
A little vanilla butter cookie is the perfect foil for the sweetness of the caramel and the crunch of the toasted almonds.

I had my holiday dessert party with my high school friends last weekend and it was a lot of fun. It was great to catch up with everyone and you know you're very fortunate when, after everyone has left, you realize what nice friends you have. This is what the holidays are about, not the stress of preparing for them.

To help alleviate that stress, I went with some reliable stand-by recipes.  I had prepared enough cookie doughs in advance that I could (and did) change my mind as to what to serve.  My friend Lisa likes lemon bars so I made those, using my old standby recipe since I had already made my new favorite, the Three-Layer Lemon Bars, last week.

I also made the peanut butter kiss cookies that always seem to be a holiday favorite as well as a year-round favorite, Alton Brown's Chocolate Chip Cookies.

Since I had enough of the tried and true cookies to serve, I also decided to try a new recipe. A few of my friends were bringing their kids so I included this cookie as something fun for the dessert table for them. I felt safe taking a calculated risk on this new recipe because the base recipe is very similar to Mexican Wedding Cakes but without the nuts in the dough and you cover it with caramel instead of powdered sugar. I can live with that. Plus it's the kind of recipe I need to try for parties rather than care packages since anything covered in caramel usually don't package well or ship well.

After the cookies are baked, you stick a toothpick in the center, let them cool then dip them in caramel and roll them in nuts. I switched it up a bit in case anyone didn't like nuts and did a few in red and green sprinkles for the kids.

Make sure your caramel is thin enough to be dipped in but not so thin that they don't coat the cookie. Keep the caramel warm and after you coat the whole cookie, let the excess caramel drip off before rolling it in nuts (or sprinkles). I did have a little difficulty with the nuts clumping a little because of the caramel. Make sure to grind the nuts fine. I ground them on the "coarse" setting in my nut grinder so the pieces were a little bit big which I didn't mind from a taste standpoint but they might've looked prettier had they been more finely chopped. 

In general though, I liked how these turned out. The cookies themselves were like a little vanilla butter cookie and were the perfect foil for the sweetness of the caramel and the crunch of the toasted almonds.

Holiday caramel treats
Makes 48 

3/4 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon liquid maple flavor or almond extract
Dash of salt
2 cups all-purpose flour
48 round wooden toothpicks

36 caramels, unwrapped
1/4 cup milk
1 cup finely chopped peanuts, walnuts. or almonds

Heat oven to 350 degrees F.  Have baking sheets ready.

To make cookies, beat butter and powdered sugar in a large bowl with electric mixer until fluffy. Beat in egg, vanilla, maple flavor and salt. On low speed, gradually beat in flour. Form dough into 48 balls, about 1 inch in diameter. Place 1-1/2 inches apart on baking sheets. Bake 12 to 14 minutes until balls are set, but not browned (tops may crack slightly). 

Insert a toothpick into center of each. Cool on wire racks.

To make coating, melt caramels in milk, stirring often. Keep warm over a pan of hot, not boiling water. Dip each cookie into the caramel mixture, coating completely and drawing bottom of cookie across edge of pan to remove excess caramel. Dip bottom of each in chopped nuts.  Place on sheet of wax paper to set. Store loosely covered; best served within 24 hours.

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