I found this recipe from the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board in a Charlotte Observer story about Christmas cookies in 2006, our first year in South Carolina. We made the cookies and they were delicious. Since then we have succeeded in making them just about every year. I must be honest and report that the finished cookies are carefully placed in a cookie tin in an unlikely location. So I don’t think many family members have ever seen these cookies.
The cookies are a little work and they are definitely worth it. A shortbread cookie, with a puddle of caramel in the middle, drizzled with chocolate and topped off with crystals of sea salt. Obviously, my favorite Christmas cookie.
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup pecans, lightly toasted and finely minced or ground
25 caramel candies, unwrapped
4 tablespoons cream or whole milk
2 to 3 tablespoons large crystal sea salt
4 ounces chopped bittersweet or semisweet chocolate (at least 60% cacao)
Combine flour and salt in a bowl; set aside. Beat butter and sugar with electric mixer until light and fluffy. Beat in egg and vanilla. Add flour mixture in batches, mixing after each. Stir in ground pecans. Gather dough into a ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill until firm..
Preheat oven to 350˚F. Grease baking sheets or line with parchment paper. Pinch off pieces of dough and roll into 1-inch balls with floured hands. Place on baking sheet at least 1 inch apart. Press a cavity into each ball with your thumb. Bake 13 to 15 minutes, or until bottoms are lightly brown and set.
Remove from oven, cool briefly on baking sheet, then transfer to a wire rack over a sheet of parchment paper. Press cavity again if it flattened too much while baking.
Melt caramels and cream together in a saucepan over low heat. Spoon about 1/2 teaspoon into the center of each cookie. Sprinkle warm centers with sea salt and let stand until firm.
Place chocolate into a resealable plastic bag in a bowl. Microwave on medium power for 30 seconds at a time, massaging between intervals until melted. Cut a small hole in the bottom corner of the bag and drizzle chocolate across each cookie. Sprinkle with a little more salt if desired and let stand until chocolate is firm.