The most valuable recipe at this time of year is one that’s easier than it looks. Dulce de leche snappers are the very thing: Some basic ingredients plus a pre-made specialty item add up to a hit at any party.
This cookie goes together so easily and tastes so good that you’ll be wondering why you haven’t come across it before. I certainly hadn’t.
I’d wanted to make the snappers ever since I first got a look at “The Ultimate Cookie Book” by Better Homes and Gardens ($19.99 paperback, 480 pages). The photo showed caramel-topped cookies with pecans sticking out from the edges, just like “turtle” candy. Hmm, how hard could this be?
All I had to do was track down a can of dulce de leche (“milk sweet”), a caramel spread used in Latino cooking. It’s rich, like Nutella in consistency and not as stick-to-your-teeth sticky as caramel candy.
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But I was in luck: My local Safeway had Nestle’s La Lechera dulce de leche in the ethnic foods aisle. The hard part was finished. Similar products also can be found in some baking aisles and at Mexican markets.
(Note: You can make your own dulce de leche with a can of sweetened condensed milk, but that defeats our goal here of easy-does-it. You can Google it if you’re really curious.)
Though the snappers recipe calls for pecan halves, it also works beautifully with walnut halves or whole unroasted, unsalted almonds. The nuts don’t have to be toasted ahead of time – they toast while the cookies are baking, another great shortcut.
The hottest flavor combination out there still is salt and caramel, so top the cookies with some coarse or gourmet salt, and you’ll have a treat that will disappear quickly from the holiday dessert table.
My testing and tasting notes follow the recipe.
Dulce de leche snappers
Prep time: 30 minutes
Bake time: 10 minutes per batch
Makes 31/2 dozen cookies
Recipe adapted by Kathy Morrison from Better Homes and Gardens’ “The Ultimate Cookie Book,” second edition.
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
11/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups pecan halves, walnut halves or whole almonds
3/4 cup dulce de leche
Sea salt, optional
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium mixing bowl beat butter with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add granulated sugar, brown sugar, baking powder and the 1/4 teaspoon salt. Beat until combined, scraping sides of bowl occasionally. Beat in egg and vanilla until combined. Beat in as much of the flour as you can with the mixer. Using a wooden spoon or spatula, stir in any remaining flour.
Shape the dough into 1-inch balls. On an ungreased cookie sheet, arrange nuts in groups of three, with groups 2 inches apart. Place each ball of dough on a nut cluster, with nuts peeking out from under ball. Flatten dough slightly.
Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or just until edges are firm. Cool on cookie sheets for 1 or 2 minutes. While cookies are warm, spread each cookie with a large dab of the dulce de leche. If desired, sprinkle with coarse sea salt. Transfer cookies to a wire rack; cool.
Per cookie: 131 cal.; 7 g total far (2 g sat.); 14 mg chol.; 55 mg sodium; 15 g carb.; 1 g fiber; 2 g protein.
TESTING AND TASTING
▪ The mixing in of the flour really was not a problem, as the recipe suggests, but I have a powerful mixer.
▪ The recipe does not mention chilling the dough, but I had to out of necessity. This made rolling the cookie balls easier and probably added a minute to the baking time.
▪ I tried all three suggested nuts. The pecans are perfect, but tend to brown quickly, so watch them. The walnut halves bring a lot of nut to the cookie – I found that four walnut quarters also work. And with almonds, I liked the look of four rather than three. You might have to stick the almonds in the dough ball and then put it on the cookie sheet, since they tend to skitter away when the dough ball is pressed down on them.
▪ I used my heaviest regular cookie sheets, and baked two sheets of cookies at the same time, switching positions after 5 minutes.
▪ The cookies do not brown, though the nuts do. They firm up some more after coming out of the oven.
▪ Stir the dulce de leche a little before adding it to the cookies. The recipe originally called for 1 teaspoon per cookie, but that was just too much – it tends to melt down the sides when the cookie is too warm. For my second batch, I waited a little longer and put less dulce de leche on each cookie (about a 1/2 teaspoon, but eyeball it). It looked much better and stayed in place.
▪ I had some pink gourmet salt and so used that on top, but just about any unflavored salt will work.
▪ The dulce de leche stays rather sticky-soft, so don’t expect to stack these cookies or put foil over them – you’ll lose some of the topping. I transported them to our newsroom potluck in a wax-paper-lined plastic box.
▪ Tasters liked all three versions of the cookies; my favorite was the walnut.