Let’s hop right into it! These cookies are major! They’re the sweet/salty cookie lovechild of apple pie and caramel corn with a bit of caramel apple inspiration! The salted caramel corn gives them a slight crunchy/chewy texture and the cinnamon-laced apples leave the cookies soft and moist. They’re a fun combination of textures with the whimsy and nostalgia of county fairs, the circus and the holidays all wrapped up together!
This cookie recipe is a twofer…you get the recipe for the cookies plus the recipe for the salted caramel corn. The salted caramel corn is super easy, no joke! It’s best to use air-popped popcorn…don’t have an air-popper? No worries, me neither! Just do this: add 2 tablespoons of popcorn kernels to a brown paper bag (like a lunch bag), fold the top over a few times to close it, then stick it in the microwave for about 1 minute and 20 seconds. Voila, you’ve got popcorn! Do that twice and you’re good to go for this recipe. Then whip up the ultra-easy 5-minute caramel sauce, pour it over your popcorn on a baking sheet, stir it, sprinkle it with course salt and stick it in the oven for 1 hour at 200 degrees, stirring every 20 minutes. I added a bit of cinnamon to the caramel sauce; this warm spice gives it a holiday vibe.
The caramel corn is amazing on its own—which is why I included enough in the recipe to have leftovers for snacking—but when added to these cookies it takes them over-the-top! And what’s better to go with caramel than apples? They’re the perfect pair. But it can be real tricky incorporating fresh fruit into a cookie–they can turn into total mush. In fact this recipe took me a couple tries before I got it right. The trick is to coat the apple pieces in flour (and cinnamon) so when they bake the flour soaks up the juice rather than it leaching out into the dough and leaving you with soggy cookies. The other thing I did was to use half all-purpose flour and half bread flour in the dough; the bread flour has a higher protein content, which creates more gluten and helps firm up the cookies and give them structure. I learned that from this super awesome cookie troubleshooting guide.
Then it’s baking time. This recipe makes 2 dozen cookies–you could probably fit them onto two baking sheets, 12 per sheet, but it’s safer to go with 3 batches of 8. I started with 12 per sheet and they touched a bit when baked, then did 8 per sheet and had plenty of room around them. Bake them for 12 minutes at 350 degrees, let them cool on the pan for 5 – 10 minutes, then transfer them to cooling racks. They will keep for several days in an airtight container, but I’m sure they’ll be gone long before then!
Cookie dough + apple bits + salted caramel corn (the apple is hiding underneath the caramel corn).
Lightly browned on top, soft and moist in the middle. You can see the little chunks of apple and caramel corn.
Cookie stackin. How high can ya go!?!
That cookie has a face; I think it’s looking at us.
Salted Caramel Corn & Apple Cookies
8 cups air-popped popcorn*
1/2 cup unsalted butter (one stick)
1 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more for sprinkling
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with a silpat or parchment paper and spread the popcorn out on the sheet; set aside.
In a medium saucepan, bring the butter, brown sugar, corn syrup, cream of tartar, salt and cinnamon to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly. Boil for 4 minutes then remove from heat and immediately stir in the baking soda. Pour the caramel over the popcorn and quickly but gently stir to coat the popcorn as best you can, not all pieces will be completely coated.
Sprinkle with course salt and bake for 1 hour, stirring the popcorn every 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool. Break up the large pieces and store in an air tight container.
*If you don’t have a popcorn popper, which I don’t, just add 2 Tablespoons of popcorn kernels to a brown paper bag (like a lunch bag), fold the top over a few times and pop in the microwave for 1 minute 20 seconds to 1 minute 40 seconds. This will make about 4 cups, so you will need to do this twice; you can use the same bag.
Recipe adapted from sally’s baking addiction.
For the Cookies:
3/4 cup finely diced and peeled granny smith apple
1 cup all-purpose flour, divided
1 teaspoon cinnamon, divided
3/4 cup bread flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup unsalted butter (one stick), softened
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
4 cups salted caramel corn
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper, set aside.
In a small bowl, whisk together 1/4 cup of the all-purpose flour and 1/2 teaspoon of the cinnamon. Add the apples and stir to coat completely, set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the remaining 3/4 cup all-purpose flour, the bread flour, the remaining 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, and the baking soda.
In a stand mixer, add the butter and sugars and beat together until smooth using the paddle attachment, about 2 minutes. Add the egg and vanilla and beat for one more minute, until smooth. Add the flour mixture and mix until just combined; start with just pulsing it so the flour doesn’t puff up into your face. Spoon out the apple pieces and add to the dough (don’t just pour them in since there will be excess flour in the bowl) then add the 4 cups of salted caramel corn, breaking up the pieces as you add it to the mixing bowl. Pulse the mixer 4 – 5 times before mixing it on low speed until just incorporated. The dough will be very chunky.
Form cookie dough balls, about 2 tablespoons of dough each, and set onto the parchment-lined baking sheets; 8 per sheet (you’ll have three batches total). Bake the first two batches for 11 – 13 minutes, until golden brown on top. Remove from the oven and let cool on the pan for 5 – 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Repeat with the third batch. Enjoy!
Note: they will keep in an airtight container for a 4 – 5 days, though they do get a little softer and the caramel corn loses a bit of crunch after the first day or two.
Recipe adapted from eats well with others.