NYT Cooking Project: Gochujang Caramel Cookies (recipe linked)

I did a lot of bragging the other week about how familiar and comfortable I am with baking, I suspect making myself out to sound like some kind of expert who always reads her recipes carefully and measures correctly… and indeed I went into this week’s NYT Cooking choice – a gorgeous and intriguing sounding recipe for Gochujang Caramel Cookies – with great confidence. I collected my ingredients, I dutifully softened butter, and I whisked together the first component of the recipe: a stick of soft butter, packed brown sugar, and a heaping tablespoon of gochujang, which is a compelling and addicting Korean sweet chili paste.

Then I tasted it, and I had to hold myself back. This may sound like a strange basis for cookies, but I urge you to think barbecue sauce, or a really good molasses ginger cookie, with that background heat, as you imagine it. And if you try it, you don’t think a full stick of soft butter mixed with brown sugar and slightly sweet heat of gochujang is the most delicious thing you’ve tasted all day, I can’t do much for you.

Unfortunately, though, this is not correct, at least not for this recipe. When I looked again I saw I was supposed to combine only 1 tablespoon of the butter with brown sugar and gochujang, and use the rest for the main portion of the dough. The sugar-butter-chili paste mixture is supposed to be daubed and dragged through the dough before baking, so you end up with gorgeous, wide streaks of spicy caramel in each cookie. Mine… were not like this. So much for my overconfident expertise, and not for the first time, either!

But who cares, because these cookies were addictingly delicious anyway. These are that still-chewy, butterscotch-y, barely crispy at the edges dream cookie. You scoop them onto the baking sheet in rounds, and during their brief sojourn in the oven they flatten, swell into a molten central puff, then ripple into collapse as they cool. And we can’t stop eating them. They have a back-of-the-throat heat from the gochujang and a caramel depth from the brown sugar, and that texture is just… everything I always want a chocolate chip cookie to be. And just typing this is making me want to go back for another one.

Other relevant details: apart from the gochujang caramel portion that I can’t comment on because I… didn’t do it… as long as your butter is softened the dough comes together easily, and aside from the gochujang the ingredients are all standard and probably already in your kitchen. I didn’t even heave out the stand mixer, since after my goof with the butter I read more carefully and saw food columnist Eric Kim advises mixing by hand. There is the slightly delay of chilling the dough for a few minutes to let the butter resolidify before baking, but this is a convenient opportunity to preheat the oven and prepare your baking sheets, so I didn’t mind waiting. The only problem I can find to comment on is the ten minutes or so that you do have to allow the cookies to cool after baking so they can firm up and finish cooking inside: they smelled so enticing it was hard to wait.

Though I used the NYT Cooking version, Kim also offers his recipe on twitter! I found this only after my own attempt and wish I’d looked before – the additional photos are EXTREMELY helpful for demonstrating how the ripple of gochujang caramel is supposed to work.

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