The other day I found myself at Panera in the afternoon rather than the morning, so instead of buying a piece of baguette to go with my coffee, I splurged on a Kitchen Sink Cookie. Thick and chewy, and packed with caramel, chocolate, and pretzel pieces, the enormous cookie was a meal unto itself. I ate only half (or a little more than half, maybe). Back home, I broke the remaining half into pieces and fed it to my children, like the good mama bird that I am.
And then I became obsessed with recreating the cookie for myself.
It turned into a bit of an undertaking. After finding a copycat recipe, I had to track down the caramel bits and flaky salt, the large chocolate chunks and the correct type of pretzel. Unable to find the salt and caramel anywhere, I finally ordered them online and, now that I’ve experienced their magic firsthand, both are staples in my kitchen.
The caramel bits have tremendous power to elevate ordinary desserts — toss a handful into brownies, blondies, granola bars, cookies, rice krispy treats, etc, and the end product is just that much better — and the salt is like magic fairy dust.
The crystals, some as large as lentils, crumble easily between your fingers, and, sprinkled on top of cookies, cakes, and pastries, they add a delightfully salty-sweet crunch.
I wasn’t terribly impressed with the dough from the copycat recipe — the texture of the finished cookie was too airy-crisp, the flavor shallow — so I blended the recipe with my tried-and-true chocolate chip cookie dough, adding some ground oats for chew, using a mix of both baking soda and baking powder, and increasing the brown sugar.
The second time around, the cookies were chewier and tastier — and in a blind taste test, all of the children said they preferred the one with oats — but now the dough was so stiff it was nearly impossible to shape into balls, argh.
The Panera cookies are perfectly round and evenly thick, but mine tapered at the edges, the caramel bits melting out the sides to create uneven, lacy edges (which, even though it might make for some great snitching, it’s not ideal). Also, my edges browned too quickly. I mostly solved the problem by mounding the cookies around the edges, and pressing down on the middles (and then filling the cavities with more caramel bits and pretzels), and then severely underbaking the cookies, but still, I never got the uniformity I was after, or the perfect Panera cookie chew.
Oh well. They’re still good. Great even. When our supply ran out, my older son actually scolded me for not having already made more.
This is the recipe that I followed the second time, the one that we all preferred. However, next time I’ll reduce the flour to 2 cups and the oatmeal, pre-whirled, to 1, in hopes that the cookies will still be chewy but the dough will be a little less stiff. I’ll keep you posted.
2 sticks butter
1¾ cups brown sugar
½ cup white sugar
1½ teaspoons vanilla
2½ cups flour
1½ cups quick oats, ground fine in a blender
1 teaspoon each baking soda and baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1½ cups caramel bits
1 cup chocolate chunks
¾ cup pretzel snaps, broken into pieces
To garnish: flaky salt, and more caramel bits and pretzels
Brown the butter in a saucepan over medium high heat. Measure the sugar into a mixing bowl, add the butter, and beat well. Beat in the eggs and vanilla. Add the flour, ground oats, baking soda and baking powder, and salt and mix to combine. Add the caramel, chocolate, and pretzels and mix until combined. If desired, refrigerate the dough.
Scoop the dough onto parchment-lined baking sheets. The bigger the cookie, the better (mine were nearly ½ cup of dough each), so expect to fit only 6-8 cookies per tray. Shape each dough blob into a disk, pushing down on the center part just a bit. If desired, stud the top of each cookie with a couple pieces of caramel and some pretzels (chocolate pieces stay soft, making for messy eating, so I stopped sticking them on top), making sure to push them into the dough. Sprinkle with flaky salt.
Bake the cookies at 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes, depending on size. The goal is to underbake them. Like, really underbake them. The edges should be just beginning to brown, the centers puffing up nicely. When I pull them from the oven, I whack the trays on the counter to make the cookies deflate. Let the cookies rest on the tray for five minutes to firm up — they will continue to bake a little — before transferring to a cooling rack.
Because of the caramel, these cookies can turn hard, even at room temperature, but 10-20 seconds in the microwave and they are chewy-soft again.