I always find buying birthday presents hard, especially for friends who generally have everything they need and/or are renting/living in a small apartment so they are trying not to hoard too much stuff. So edible/drinkable presents are the way to go, they are even better if you make them yourself.
Growing up in a non-English speaking family, my first exposure to English was through watching TV, so I learnt to speak English from shows like Play School and Sesame Street. I have many memories of trying to imitate the Cookie Monster and shouting “Me want cookie!", "Me eat cookie!", and "Om nom nom nom" when I was young.
I think cookies make good gifts, everyone loves cookies right? I recently baked cookies as a birthday present for my friend Adam. To put things into perspective, last year it was Adam’s 30th and a group of us chipped in to buy him a Fender guitar. How do you top that? Thankfully, 31 is not one of those special birthdays, so there was no pressure surrounding present giving this time.
But being a food blogger, people expect more from you, so there is always a little bit of pressure to cook amazing things all the time. So I knew that if I was going to bake cookies for a birthday present, it wouldn't be an ordinary cookie, it would be an ultimate cookie. The cookie would contain the best things in life, so I settled on peanut butter and chocolate, it’s a winning combination. But that wasn’t enough, I had to up the ante, so I incorporated some caramel in the form of Dulce de Leche.
Peanut Butter + Dark Chocolate Chips + Dulce de Leche = Ultimate Cookie
I could not think of anything else to add to this cookie to make it better. This was it. This would be the ultimate cookie.
When I made the Dulce de Leche, I wasn’t sure how I was going to incorporate it into the cookie. There was a number of possibilities – using it as a spread to sandwich the cookies together, mix it into the cookie dough along with the peanut butter or drizzle some on top.
In the end I decided to stuff the cookie dough with Dulce de Leche. In my head, I had visions of biting into the cookie and the Dulce de Leche would ooze out. The baked cookie didn’t have the effect I was hoping for, instead the Dulce de Leche melts into the cookie so the middle isn't really gooey but is incredibly soft and moist.
(you can see in this photo a bit of the melted Dulce de Leche in the middle of the cookie)
I like the composition of this cookie and how every bite gives you a different experience. First bite gives you a nice salty peanut buttery hit, the choc chips are scattered throughout so you score a choc chip with some bites but not all, midway through you get the combination of peanut butter and Dulche de Leche and if you are lucky, you may hit the trifecta of peanut butter, dark chocolate and caramel in one bite!
Dulce de Leche
A popular way of making Dulce de Leche is to put a can of sweetened condensed milk in a pot of boiling water and simmer for a few hours. This boiling a can method doesn’t sit well with me, surely something will go wrong like the can will explode or something?! But I came across a method for Dulce de Leche from David Lebovitz which takes less time and appears to be fail proof.
To make Dulce de Leche, preheat the oven to 220° C. Pour one can of sweetened condensed milk into a glass pie plate or shallow baking dish (I used my lunchbox sized glass Pyrex container). Stir in a few flecks of sea salt (I actually forgot to do this at the beginning so I stirred in some salt at the end instead).
Set the container within a larger pan (I used an 8X8inch baking pan) and add hot water until it reaches halfway up the side of the pie plate.
Cover the pan snugly with aluminum foil and bake for 1 to 1¼ hours. (Check a few times during baking and add more water to the roasting pan as necessary, I checked it and added more water only once at the 45 minute mark).
Once the Dulce de Leche is nicely browned and caramelized, remove from the oven. Whisk (use a fork) until smooth and let cool. (When it comes out of the oven it will look like baked custard and be a bit lumpy when you whisk it, but keep whisking and it will have a smooth consistency.)
Store in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Warm gently in a warm water bath or microwave oven before using.
Peanut Butter and Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough
• 125g butter, room temperature/softened
• 120g light brown sugar
• 50g caster sugar
• 1 large egg, room temperature
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 200g salted peanut butter (I used Kraft smooth peanut butter)
• 1 ½ cups flour
• 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• ½ cup dark chocolate chips
Preheat the oven to 180C and line two baking sheets with greaseproof paper.
Beat the butter, brown and caster sugar until smooth. Beat in the egg and vanilla until well blended (remember to scrape down the sides of the bowl while beating).
Then beat in the peanut butter.
In a separate bowl, whisk or sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the peanut butter mixture and stir with spatula until combined.
Then add in the chocolate chips and mix thoroughly into the dough.
To make the ultimate cookie.
Scoop up a heaped tablespoon of the dough into the palm of your hand and flatten a bit. Add a teaspoon of Dulce de Leche into the middle, fold the edges of the dough over to encase. Gently roll the dough between your hands to smooth and form a ball and then flatten. If the dough is too soft to form balls, can chill in the fridge for 30-60 minutes to firm up.
Place each cookie dough on the baking sheets about 2-3 cms apart.
Bake the cookies for about 15 minutes, rotating the baking sheets midway during cooking, until they are light-golden brown and the edges start to darken. Remove from oven and leave the cookies on the baking tray for 10 minutes before removing to cool completely. The cookies will appear quite soft when they come out of the oven but will continue to cook and harden with the residual heat from the baking trays.