chocolate caramel pecan clusters

Fast cars, fast food, fast cookies. No contest for me. I choose fast cookies, and these candy-like milk-chocolate-covered caramel and pecan cookies are about as fast as cookies get. The caramel sauce is made with brown sugar so it cooks in minutes, there is no baking at all, and making the chocolate coating is a matter of melting chocolate. As soon as the milk chocolate topping is set, the cookies are ready. The only hard part is waiting for the chocolate topping to firm up.

I boil the caramel sauce for 2½ minutes for a chewy result. Boiling the sauce for 2 minutes will result in a softer, stickier caramel, and 3 minutes will produce a firm caramel. This butter and brown sugar combination is a great method for producing a foolproof soft caramel that can also be used as a warm sundae sauce.

makes 12 cookies cookie making 20 minutes cookie baking none

caramel sauce

¾ cup (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, cut into pieces

1 cup packed light brown sugar

2 tablespoons honey

cups (about 10 ounces) pecan halves or large pieces

chocolate coating

6 ounces (generous 1 cup) milk chocolate chips or milk chocolate, chopped

1 tablespoon canola or corn oil

Grease a baking sheet lightly with oil and set aside. Set out a large spoon.

MAKE THE CARAMEL SAUCE. In a medium saucepan, cook the butter, brown sugar, and honey over medium heat, stirring often, until the butter and sugar melt. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring the mixture to a boil. Boil for exactly 2½ minutes, stirring constantly. Be sure to stir all around the edges of the pan to prevent burning. Remove from the heat and stir in the pecans, stirring to coat them with the caramel, then immediately use a large spoon to drop heaping tablespoons of the mixture 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheet, making 12 mounds that measure about 3 by 2½ inches. Let cool completely. (As soon as the clusters are cool, they will slide easily off the oiled baking sheet.)

MAKE THE CHOCOLATE COATING. Put the milk chocolate and oil in a heatproof container or the top of a double boiler and place it over, but not touching, a saucepan of barely simmering water (or the bottom of the double boiler). Stir until the chocolate is melted and smooth. Remove from the water and let cool and thicken slightly, 15 to 20 minutes.

Spoon about 2 teaspoons of the chocolate coating over the top of each cookie (use all of the chocolate coating) so some chocolate drizzles down the sides.

The clusters should not be completely covered with chocolate. Let the cookie clusters sit at room temperature until the chocolate coating is firm, about 1 hour. Or, to speed the firming of the chocolate, refrigerate the cookies for about 20 minutes.

The cookies can be stored, covered and in a single layer in the refrigerator, for up to 3 days. Serve at room temperature. The cookies will become firm and brittle when cold but soften when brought back to room temperature.

choices

Make a dark chocolate coating rather than a milk chocolate one by melting 1 cup (6 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips with the oil.