Normally, my baking style is pretty from-scratch. I’m not often one to chop up candy bars and stuff them into brownies, or use store-bought caramel when I have time to make it myself. But there are certain things that beg for that treatment. These cookies are one of them.
A combination of two movie theater standbys, the Buttered Popcorn & Malted Milk Ball cookie will now go down in history as one of my favorites (an ever-growing list). I may have eaten an obscene amount one day. As in, when my husband came home from work and asked what I wanted for dinner, I realized that I had eaten nothing but these cookies all day. I also may have made 3 batches of these this week, because I wanted everyone to try them. Zero remain.
I was feeling pretty down last week after the bombing in Boston and needed a pick-me up. The thing I love about dessert is that no other meal is as completely unnecessary for your body, yet essential for your spirit. Cookies in particular are inviting because they’re not pretentious. Cookies are like, “Hey, you wanna watch three crappy romantic comedies in a row today? It’s cool, I won’t tell anyone.”
The other thing about cookies is you can make a basic cookie with stuff you probably already have in your pantry. That’s what I was planning on doing, but then I remembered the Buttered Popcorn Chocolate Chip Cookies that had shown up in my blog feed from Joy the Baker. I love not only the recipes Joy puts out, but the realness of her posts. Reading what she writes is like talking to a friend.
Joy adapted the recipe from Deb Perelman’s The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, which has the popcorn, but not the chocolate. Smitten Kitchen was the first food blog that really got me interested in food blogging. If I ever want a recipe for dinner, I check Deb’s recipe index before doing a Google search. No lie. To this day, my favorite dinner recipe is her Spinach & Chickpeas. Holy crap, smoked paprika, get in my mouth.
So how could I not make a cookie inspired by two of my favorite blogs? While looking up the ingredients, I browsed through the comments on Joy’s recipe, and saw someone say she loves to eat Milk Duds with her popcorn at the movie theater. I immediately thought of malted milk balls. Not gonna lie, it’s because I forgot what Milk Duds were, and both candies have “milk” in their names, and a friend had given me a malted milk ball the day before. But my brain’s misfire ended up creating something insane.
These cookies lifted my spirits like you wouldn’t believe. The crushed malted milk balls caramelized in the oven, which made them thinner and chewier than the cookies I tested with only popcorn. Some of the malt balls turned to dust while being chopped, and the dough became infused with the malt flavor. The salt on top of the cookies tied everything together in perfect sweet & salty harmony. I danced around my kitchen.
I’m sick today, and will probably confine myself to movie-watching in bed for most of the day. If I could taste anything, I might make another batch of these cookies. But since I can’t, you should do it and I will live vicariously through you.
- 4 cups popped microwave popcorn (plain white popcorn, not butter-flavored!)
- 1 tablespoon (14 grams) unsalted butter, melted
- 1¼ cup (150 grams) all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ½ cup (113 grams) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
- ½ cup (109 grams) light brown sugar, packed
- ⅓ cup (67 grams) granulated sugar
- 1 large egg
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup (100 grams) roughly chopped malted milk balls
- coarse sea salt, for sprinkling
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Adjust oven racks to be in the top and bottom thirds of the oven.
- Place popped popcorn in a large mixing bowl, sifting through your fingers to avoid getting unpopped kernels in the bowl. Pour 1 tablespoon melted butter over the popcorn. If your popcorn does not already have salt added, sprinkle in a pinch of salt. Toss with a spoon to cover the popcorn.
- In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside. In the bowl of a standing mixer, combine butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar. Beat on medium-high speed for 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add egg and vanilla. Beat for another 30 seconds to 1 minute, until egg is totally mixed in. With the mixer on the lowest speed, gradually add flour mixture, and stop mixing when there is still a little flour visible.
- Remove the bowl from the stand mixer. Pour in buttered popcorn, and gently fold into the dough. The popcorn pieces will break down somewhat as you stir, but be careful not to crush them too much. When popcorn is almost evenly distributed, add chopped malted milk balls (even the dust!), and fold into the dough.
- Scoop heaping tablespoons of dough onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a Silpat mat, spacing each dough ball at least 1 inch apart. Sprinkle the tops of each dough ball with coarse sea salt. Bake for 10-12 minutes, rotating and switching the top and bottom trays halfway through baking. The edges will look slightly brown (12 minutes was the time that worked best in my oven!).
- Allow to cool on baking sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. The cookies will deflate a little once they come out of the oven, and will end up thin, with crispy edges and chewy centers.
- adapted from Joy the Baker and The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook