Caramel + Apples = ???: Salted Caramel Apple Cookies

The moment I saw a photo of Kelly Janke's Salted Caramel Apple Cookies in my Instagram feed, I knew I had to try the recipe. The cookies looked delicious, and I was intrigued by the description of a caramel apple crossed with a snickerdoodle.

There is a lot going on in the caramel component of these cookies. First, you peel, core, and grate apples (I used Galas), and squeeze out the juice through a kitchen towel. You cook some of the extracted apple juice with sugar and cream of tartar until the mixture turns amber; and stir in cold butter, kosher salt, cinnamon, cardamom, and grated nutmeg. At this point, I had what was clearly liquid caramel. Then I added in the grated apple and things got weird as I continued to cook and stir the mixture. For some reason I was expecting the apple to melt into the caramel so that I would end up with liquid caramel flavored with apples and spices. Instead, what I got was something like a cross between membrillo paste and apple pâte de fruit -- a translucent brown grainy paste that held its shape but was pliable. I spread the caramel mixture out on a parchment-lined baking sheet to cool.
The cookie dough was straightforward. I beat chilled cubed butter with sugar and dark brown sugar until combined; added eggs and vanilla; incorporated the dry ingredients (flour, kosher salt, baking soda, and cream of tartar); and added most of the cooled apple caramel. I purposefully left visible streaks of the apple caramel in the dough. 

I used a #24 scoop to portion out the dough and got 33 cookies from a batch. The recipe says that you are supposed to "[t]op each cookie with a few small pieces of reserved apple caramel and sprinkle with sea salt." Because the apple caramel was so stiff, I just dropped a ball of caramel on top of each cookie and pressed down with my fingers to flatten the caramel into the cookie before baking. My cookies looked a lot like jam thumbprints, with a single concentrated blob of caramel in the center, and some just barely visible bits of caramel elsewhere in the dough.

I was fairly irritated by the time I finished baking these cookies, because the caramel was not at all what I expected. But I have to admit that they were very tasty. The cookie itself was very chewy and the apple caramel had a rich spiced apple flavor. Overall, the cookies had the vibe of an apple snickerdoodle and I would make them again. However, I do think that this cookie recipe -- or at least the caramel portion -- is quite fiddly. I base that assessment on the fact that the three photos supplied by Bon Appétit and the author show three totally different end products. The photo that originally accompanied the online recipe (and that is also in this Instagram post) shows irregularly shaped cookies with craggly tops spotted with generous pools of widely-distributed caramel. The photo that is currently displayed with the online recipe shows uniform round cookies with delicate but distinct trails of caramel. The photo from Kelly Janke's Instagram story (which I unfortunately did not watch before I made the cookies) shows cookies with a mottled appearance where it seems like a lot of the caramel got absorbed back into the cookie during baking. 

So I think it's safe to say that your mileage may vary with the recipe. I don't like unpredictability, but I did really enjoy the end product I got from the recipe. I'm not sure if these cookies would ever turn out the same way twice!
Recipe: "Salted Caramel Apple Cookies" by Kelly Janke, from Bon Appétit.