Sunday, February 22, 2015

Taffy Treats

The title and the picture does have a way of leading you down the wrong path.  Let me clarify a few things: these are not candy, but caramel coated cookies and there is none of the traditional taffy in this recipe. The only link to taffy is that the filling and coating is stretchy, much like the taffy.  Sorry for the taffy fans, but if you love caramel and nuts, gladly read on. Clearly, the person that won the baking contest with this treat must be in your nutty caramel circle.

If I had to name these little goodies, I would call them nut caramel clusters. There is a walnut praline filling inside and then they are coated with caramel and walnuts.  The cookie itself tastes like a butter cookie. Surprisingly, these are made with both powdered sugar and brown sugar. The outside caramel is the soft, chewy kind with a deep, buttery flavor. The layer of caramel in a Milkyway bar is the same.

The filling, forming and coating is what requires the most time to create these.  You could make your own caramel, but this recipe only calls for softening store-bought caramels.  It is a time saver and I do not feel that it detracts any from the flavor.

Anyhow, these morsels are as delicious as they look.  For parties, dress them up with colored toothpicks and place them in 1 1/2" candy papers. However, feel confident that these will be eaten quickly, regardless of how fancy the presentation.

This recipe makes about 3 dozen cookies.  Be sure to read the helpful tips and notes at the end before you begin.

Taffy Treats
adapted from the Plymouth Star Tribune

Ingredients/ filling
1/3 cup ground walnuts
1/3 cup evaporated milk
1/3 cup sugar

1/2 cup or 1 stick butter (room temp)
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup sifted powdered sugar
2 cups sifted flour

Ingredients/ coating
14 oz of caramels (approx 48-50 caramels)
1/3 cup evaporated milk
1 cup ground walnuts
Toothpicks for dipping and serving

The first step is to make the filling.  Place all filling ingredients in a saucepan.  Cook and stir constantly until thick, about 5 minutes.  You should be able to scrape the bottom of the interior of the pan and have the streak remain for at least 20 seconds before the filling flows back to cover it.  Remove from heat and set aside.  It will set up more upon cooling.

For the cookies, prepare 2 baking sheets by lining with parchment paper.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Fill a mixing bowl with the butter, powdered sugar, brown sugar and salt.  Beat until smooth and creamy.  Then beat in egg and vanilla extract. Once blended, mix in the flour with a spatula or wooden spoon.

Take the dough and form into 1 inch balls.  Make a depression with your thumb and fill indentation with 1/4 tsp of walnut filling. Seal in filling and shape back into a ball.  Place each on baking sheet, spacing about 2 inches apart.  Bake until golden brown on bottom, about 15-18 minutes.  Remove cookies from the oven and gently insert toothpick into center and transfer to cooling rack. Let completely cool prior to coating.

Set up a double boiler for the caramel coating and place over medium heat. Then lay a sheet of wax paper and a bowl full of the ground walnuts aside. Once water starts to simmer in bottom pot, pour evaporated milk and add caramels to top pot.  Let mixture melt, stirring occasionally.  After all caramels are melted and blended with the milk, you are ready to dip the cookies by using the toothpick. Dip each cookie into the caramel and let the excess drip off. Then coat the bottom by placing in the ground walnuts.  Transfer to wax paper and allow to set.

Tips and notes:
1. The forming process is best done in dozen increments.  Forming several dozen indented rounds prior to filling will cause the dough to dry out and crack while it sits.

2. To fill and seal, I dampened my fingers to pull out the filling, to place in the indentation and to seal inside.

3. The recipe suggests using the microwave to melt the caramels or removing the double boiler from the heat.  I used a double boiler and left it on the heat to maintain the caramel consistency while dipping. The microwave method would not allow for this.

4. How much you cover your cookies with the caramel or walnuts is your option.  If you plan for full coverage, don't roll the cookies around in the nuts. Placing it in the nuts to cover the bottom and sprinkling the nuts on the top is the best way to keep all the caramel on the cookie instead of having it drip off into the nuts.

5. I used Kraft brand caramels (comes in an 11 oz bag) and the coating was soft and smooth.  If for any reason your coating is too thick, adjust by adding a tablespoon at a time of evaporated milk or water until desired consistency is met. Eenjoy!
                             **LAST YEAR: Peach Brandy Pound Cake**