Yes, mushrooms in cookies.
Not those kind of mushrooms, people. But Candy Cap mushrooms.
If you’ve never had Candy Cap mushrooms, you are missing out on one of the most captivating ingredients around.
Elusive Candy Caps grow in the wilds in the Bay Area. But their growing season is so short, and the mushrooms so perishable, that you find them mostly sold in dried form.
What makes them so prized is their fragrance and flavor. Think maple syrup on steroids — with a hint of curry on the finish that lingers on and on. In fact, bake with them and your kitchen will smell enticingly of maple for days. Eat an ample enough of them in a dish or baked good, and you will have the scent of maple syrup even exuding from your pores, which, heck, is way better than garlic, right?
It is one of my favorite ingredients. So when I spied a jar of Wineforest Wild Foods Candy Cap Sugar at the store inside The CIA at Copia in Napa, I just had to buy it. The company has been a purveyor of wild mushrooms and products since 1981.
The 3.25-ounce jar is $8. The mushrooms are so intense in flavor that even infused into sugar, a little goes a long way. Wineforest’s site says a single Candy Cap is hidden in each jar so you can see what the mushroom looks like. But probably after shipping and being handled at the store, the mushroom does end up breaking up into pieces, which are definitely evident within the sugar crystals.
This sugar would be great sprinkled on so many things, from oatmeal to baked fruit to roasted butternut squash to creme brulee.
I’ve made blondies before incorporating actual dried Candy Caps, when Pastry Chef Carlos Sanchez of Parcel 104 in Santa Clara, was generous enough to gift me part of his stash. This time around with the infused sugar, I wanted to bake something where I could sprinkle it on top. I wanted a baked good recipe that would compliment the flavor of the Candy Cap sugar yet not overwhelm it.
I found just what I was looking for in San Francisco Pastry Chef Emily Luchetti’s “The Fearless Baker” cookbook (Little, Brown and Company, 2011). The book, of which I received a review copy way back when, was written with Lisa Weiss. As the name implies, it’s a baking book full of simple recipes not meant to intimidate in the least.
“Chewy Brown Sugar Cookies” was a perfect vehicle. Brown sugar and maple syrup are compatriots in flavor, so I knew the Candy Cap sugar would work well here.
This is a very straightforward cookie dough, made with just butter, flour, brown sugar, a splash of molasses, and salt. Roll the dough into small balls and flatten slightly on the baking sheets. I rolled the tops of the flattened dough balls into the Candy Cap sugar. What’s extra fun is that a few pieces of the actual mushroom come along for the ride.
Although the recipe says it makes about 32 cookies, I found it made more like 18.
The cookies bake up plenty chewy. Although the sugar on the cookies doesn’t stand out visually, you can see the little pieces of mushroom on them. And boy, do these cookies possess an intense maple flavor, owing, yes, to just that smidgeon of Candy Cap sugar dusting their tops.
These cookies would be plenty enjoyable without the Candy Cap sugar. But with it, they turn extraordinary and downright haunting. Just take a taste — and a whiff.
Chewy Brown Sugar Cookies with Candy Cap Mushrooms
(Makes about 18 cookies)
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons firmly packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons mild molasses
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Wineforest Wild Foods Candy Cap Sugar (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 or 3 baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpat mats.
With an electric mixer or by hand, beat the butter and brown sugar together until smooth. Scrape down the side of the bowl with a rubber spatula and mix in the molasses. Add the flour and salt and mix until everything is evenly blended.
Put 2 racks in the upper and lower thirds of the (preheated) oven. Arrange 2-tablespoon (slightly rounded, not flat, not heaping) mounds of dough, 2 inches apart on the parchment-lined baking sheets. If you have one you can also use a small ice cream scoop to form the cookies and plop them on to the sheets (it’s much faster and easier).
Flatten the mounds slightly with your hands or the bottom of a glass. Pour a little of the Candy Cap Sugar, if usiig, into a small shallow bowl. Dip the top of each cookie into the sugar and return sugar-side up to the baking sheet.
Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until the cookies have browned lightly on the edges but still are soft in the middle if you press them lightly with your finger. Although they may seem underdone, don’t be tempted to let them bake longer — they’ll firm up as they cool. So that the cookies bake evenly, you may need to rotate the pans in the oven or switch racks halfway through.
Let the cookies cool to room temperature.
Adapted from “The Fearless Baker” by Emily Luchetti with Lisa Weiss
Another recipe from “The Fearless Baker” to Enjoy: Coffee-Orange Angel Food Cake