Got Malt? Whip Up a Batch of Butterscotch-y Chocolate Chunk Cookies

20170125-malted-white-chocolate-butterscotch-pecan-cookies-vicky-wasik-11.jpg

[Photographs: Vicky Wasik]

Having recently forced many readers to buy a jar of malt syrup for boiling homemade bagels, and quite a few others to pick up some malted milk powder for Jell-O inspired butterscotch pudding, I figured the least I could do was help everyone justify those purchases with a batch of malted chocolate chip cookies.

With both malted barley syrup and malted milk powder in the dough, these simple drop cookies deliver some serious malty action. If that's a flavor you're on the fence about, these cookies are probably too intense, but if you love Whoppers and malted milkshakes, they may be your new favorite thing. If my bagel and pudding recipes haven't already gotten you to pick up these malty ingredients, you shouldn't have any trouble finding them at your local supermarket. Barley malt syrup is usually in the baking aisle of major supermarkets, but perhaps a little cheaper online. Look for malted milk powder from brands like Carnation and Ovaltine in the hot cocoa aisle, or buy it in bulk online (I promise I'll help you use it up; my favorite brand is Hoosier Hill Farm).

20170125-malted-white-chocolate-butterscotch-pecan-cookies-vicky-wasik-16.jpg

The cookies start with my recipe for Soft and Chewy Sugar Cookies, doctored in a few major ways. I wanted a cookie that wouldn't be too thick after adding all the mix-ins (like chopped chocolate and pecans), but would still be chewy on the inside and crisp around the edges. Having previously explored how the ratio of white to brown sugar affects the texture and spread of my sugar cookie dough, I knew I could simply trade the recipe's 10 ounces of white sugar for 10 ounces of brown sugar to do just that (there's a full report on that experiment here).

Pulling from my recent experience with DIY brown sugar, I converted that 10 ounces of brown sugar to nine ounces of white sugar with one ounce of molasses. With the correct proportions for sugar and invert sugar in place, I was able to swap the ounce of molasses for an ounce of barley malt syrup, which has a similar sugar content but a distinctive flavor of its own (malt syrup is primarily maltose, while molasses contains both fructose and glucose, albeit in semi-caramelized forms).

20170125-malted-white-chocolate-butterscotch-pecan-cookies-vicky-wasik-14.jpg

Now, my sugar cookies are pretty dang chewy (a quality that's right there in the name), so I knew it would also be important to tone things down a bit. If not, the addition of mix-ins like chocolate and pecans would make chewing the cookies something of a workout. I wanted them to have a texture that was a little more tender-crisp, which is where malted milk powder comes in.

On the surface, it's a super tasty addition, boosting the lactose content of the dough so we get more Maillard browning in the oven, giving the cookies more of those toasty, cooked-milk flavors that make butterscotch and toffee distinct from caramel. But, more importantly for something as chewy as my sugar cookie, by using the malted milk powder to replace a portion of the flour, it keeps the dough thick but makes the cookies tender enough to handle the addition of nuts and chocolate. Lots of nuts and chocolate—over a half pound of each.

20170125-malted-white-chocolate-butterscotch-pecan-cookies-vicky-wasik-collage3.jpg

With those modifications in place, I whipped up my first batch. On the whole, they were just about everything I wanted, but a little pale. Acidic ingredients, even dark ones like malt syrup, can inhibit browning, so for my next batch, I added a pinch of baking soda to raise the dough's pH (more on that off-label usage of baking soda here). Of course, by neutralizing the excess acidity in the dough, the baking soda would also release some carbon dioxide, so I preemptively decreased the baking powder by a half teaspoon to avoid problems related to excessive puffing in the dough (a range of woes thoroughly documented with my sugar cookies in this post).

The second batch looked fantastic, but something felt a little off. After some research, I discovered that malt syrup is lower in sodium than molasses*, which gave the cookies an under-seasoned quality. For my third batch, I bumped up the salt and added a tiny pinch of cinnamon to help round out the flavor. With that, the cookies were everything I wanted: rich and chewy, but crisp around the edges, with a deep malt flavor plus lots of butterscotch notes from the powdered milk.

*While molasses is lower in sodium than blackstrap, low enough that many brands list its sodium content as 0% of your daily needs, molasses still contains enough trace minerals and sodium to give it a slightly savory edge.

With my sugar cookies, I like to roll the dough smooth and round to get a more even coating of sugar, and to ensure that the cookies spread evenly. But when you're dealing with a lot of chunky mix-ins, rolling the dough into a smooth ball can kind of trap the chunky bits on the inside, hiding them from view.

20170125-malted-white-chocolate-butterscotch-pecan-cookies-vicky-wasik-collage4.jpg

For that reason, I like portioning doughs like this with a pair of spoons rather than a proper cookie scoop, which makes the finished cookies look hearty and inviting, with chunks of chocolate and nuts peeking through.

20170125-malted-white-chocolate-butterscotch-pecan-cookies-vicky-wasik-collage1.jpg

I'm a sucker for white chocolate, especially when it has a high percentage of cocoa butter, like Valrhona's 35% Ivoire, which provides a strong vanilla note that pairs well with the cookies' butterscotch-y flavor. Plus, the creaminess of white chocolate underscores the milk powder in the dough, bringing out a stronger dairy flavor. As a Southern girl, pecans will always be my go-to choice, but this, too, is a matter of personal preference. If you want to go the white chocolate/macadamia nut route, have at it! If you'd prefer milk chocolate and walnuts, feel free! If you're jonesing for Nutella, dark chocolate and hazelnuts are the answer. Whatever combo you choose, do be sure to toast the nuts beforehand and give the chocolate a rough chop. This even goes for chocolate chips, or else you'll miss out on the shards and flecks of chocolate that do so much to flavor the dough.

20170125-malted-white-chocolate-butterscotch-pecan-cookies-vicky-wasik-12.jpg

In short, these cookies are a malty, butterscotch-y canvas for whatever you have on hand, especially if that includes a few obscure ingredients leftover from other projects. And for those still on the fence about picking up barley malt syrup and malted milk, I make liberal use of both in my cookbook, so if you plan to pick up a copy, your malty treasures won't collect any dust on the shelf.