Chocolate and Dulce de Leche Caramel Swirl Cookies


When I was in Seattle this past weekend, my friend Leah asked me if I was planning on attending the five year reunion for our shared alma mater this upcoming summer. “What?” I asked, confused since I frequently ignore the pamphlets from my college that arrive in the mail. “It’s been five years since I graduated from college?”

The passage of time struck me as surreal — there are moments from my senior year of college that I remember so clearly, as if they had happened yesterday. But apparently five years have passed since then. Where did that time go?!

To be fair, I’ve been pretty busy. I’ve lived in four cities (and two countries) since graduating, jumping from job to job before I found a career that actually intellectually and emotionally satisfied me. I started this blog, taught myself how to bake at high-altitudes and take decent photos (Anybody remember these early posts taken with an iPhone? Yikes!). I even bought a friggin’ house, something that I would never have imagined myself doing five years ago.


But I wasn’t always as productive as I am now. When I first graduated, I was a mess. I didn’t know what I was doing, and often times, I spent many nights feeling lonely and scared in big cities where I didn’t have very many friends, eating dollar tacos by myself over the kitchen sink. I still don’t really know what I’m doing, but I’ve learned enough along the way, enabling me to achieve the things that I have. Here are the five lessons — one for each year since graduating — that worked for me, and have helped me get by:

1. Sometimes you have to leave to appreciate what you had before.
When I first graduated from college, I couldn’t wait to get out of Portland. My 21-year-old self thought it was a sleepy little city that lacked diversity and career prospects. It was only when I moved to bigger, busier cities that I realized how good I had it here. While Portland’s strong suit certainly isn’t diversity, it has other advantages, some of which include cheap rent and access to the resources you would find in bigger cities at far more affordable prices. This low cost of living allows people to be creative and actually do the things they want to do, instead of just squirreling away money towards necessities and rent. I think if I hadn’t left Portland immediately after graduating, I would have kept my young, naive self’s mentality and would never have given the city the chance it deserved. But I moved back here after two years of trying to make it in bigger cities like Manila and San Francisco, and I haven’t regretted it. Sure, things here move at a slower pace, but I appreciate that it’s not always a grind and a fight when I step out the door.

2. Say yes to every opportunity, but don’t be afraid to quit when it turns out to be crap.
My first few jobs after college were an utter joke. I interned for a really sketchy “consulting” firm that required us to use our own personal laptops for work and was basically a front for some very questionable “investment opportunities”. I figured that out pretty quickly and left after 2 weeks to write for a website that made lists about the best places to live. While the website was a fun distraction, I knew that there was no future in it. I left the website after 3 months to move to San Francisco.

I took these jobs not because I thought they would necessarily be career building — I took them because that’s what was available to me as a fresh graduate with a useless degree and no relevant work experience in what I wanted to do. I also took them because, at 22, I was overwhelmed by the options I had and this was a short-term way to narrow it down. And it worked. Doing these odd, meaningless jobs here and there helped me understand what I liked and didn’t like.

A lot of people think that quitting jobs early and often makes you look like an unreliable flake on your resume. But that’s never been the case with me. When I explain that I took them as a learning experience, people nod their head sympathetically and—perhaps luckily—understand.


3. Sometimes to take a step forward, you have to take three steps back.
When I first graduated, I had very preconceived notions of what I wanted to pursue, and what kind of career I should have. Since I had studied economics, I wanted to go into finance, banking, or consulting. And when I finally got a job at a prestigious consulting firm, I hated it. The kind of hate where I cried almost every single night after coming home and gained a bunch of weight in my attempt to eat away my sorrows. I was so miserable that I quit 6 months into my contract… for a marketing internship that paid next to nothing at a tech company. People judged me for taking such a big paycut and demotion, but I was willing to give it a shot. I'd been interested in tech ever since moving to San Francisco, and as somebody with no prior tech or marketing experience, I saw this as a good way in.

Looking back, it was definitely a risk, but it worked. I ended up loving what I did at the tech company, worked hard, and as a result, got an offer for full time employment at my previous salary three months into what was supposed to be a six month long internship. I’ve been here for nearly two years now, and the people who thought I was crazy for walking away from my consulting firm want to buy some of my stock options. Sometimes I think about what life would be like if I wasn’t willing to take those backwards steps — would I still be at that consulting firm, crying myself to sleep each night like I used to? Probably. And that thought scares me. Life is too short to be miserable and settle for what you have.


4. Don’t spend time with people who don’t treat you well.
This one is pretty simple, and something that I’ve written about before. After I graduated, I spent a lot of time with people who weren’t great friends. We didn’t have much in common besides the fact that we had once attended the same college. At best, a lack of shared interest was all we suffered through; but at worst, we were thoroughly incompatible and I found them to be generally selfish and shitty people. Over time, I lost touch with these friends, some in more explosive ways than others.

For a while, I put up with these people because they were a link to my past — it took me a long time to realize that a shared past is not a justification for bad friendships or an excuse for their terrible behavior. And for every friend I’ve lost, I’ve inadvertently strengthened other relationships. I don’t have many close friends now, but the handful I do have, I appreciate all the more. Ironically, most of these people were acquaintances in school who, over time, slowly became some of my closest friends. You’ll never be able to predict the people who don’t stick with you, or, more importantly, those who do. It's best to just treat everybody as well as you can, and cut out the ones who don't reciprocate. They are not worth your time or energy, and they will only drag you down.

5. You’re not too old to learn new things, and you can learn these new skills outside the context of school.
I went to an undergraduate program where almost everybody goes on to pursue MAs and PhDs degrees in academic fields like anthropology, history, and literature. For a long time, I thought that going back to school was the only way to learn new skills and enrich your mind — or at least, that’s what the friends in those programs told me.

But almost three years ago, I bought a refurbished DSLR and ordered a stack of photography books from Amazon to go with it. Although I tried to read the books I had bought, I found that I learned more from doing. For the next few years, I practiced every day — sometimes for minutes, sometimes for hours. I looked to other photographers for inspiration, critically thinking about what I liked (or didn’t like) about their photos, and trying to emulate it for myself. It was through doing — that is, actually taking photos — that I became the photographer that I am today. The best part is that I'm not done learning; I still learn something new every time I pick up my camera.

Academia has its purposes, yes, but it’s also important to know that you can learn just as much from a hands-on activity, whether it’s hobbies like photography, baking or blogging, or real-life things like running a business. The CEO of the tech company I currently work for often jokes that he had two options: go to business school or start his own company. He chose the latter because he figured he could learn more actually running a business versus what a textbook could ever teach him. You’re never too old to learn new skills that will enrich your life and mind, and you certainly don’t need to get a graduate degree to do so.


These chocolate cookies contain three different types of chocolate (cocoa powder, melted bittersweet chocolate, and chocolate chips) and are swirled with homemade dulce de leche to give them an extra chewy texture. When baked, the dulce de leche takes on a bolder and richer flavor that is unique to dulce de leche caramel. They are absolutely delicious and perhaps the best recipe I've ever posted on this blog.


Some baker's notes:
  • Close readers of my blog will know that I've been on a dulce de leche kick lately. I have a ton of homemade dulce de leche leftover from the time I made this (also amazing) banana bundt cake. As I've written before, Dulce de leche caramel is one of those ingredients that is crazy expensive to buy, but stupidly easy to make at home. You can use the recipe for homemade dulce de leche that I've provided in my previous post, but if it sounds like too much of a bother, you can also just shell out and buy it at the store. I won't judge. 

  • The cookie's chocolate flavor intensifies over time. When you first pull them out the oven, they taste like chocolate cake, but when left to cool completely, they turn extra chewy and have a texture reminiscent of brownies. They're best when cooled for an hour or two after baking, when they're still warm but not overly so. They're also even better overnight.

  • If you're making the cookies ahead of time, do NOT refrigerate the dough — keep it covered at room temperature instead. Chilling the dough will make the cookies hard to scoop, and the cookies will not spread and crack properly if the dough is chilled first.


Chocolate and Dulce de Leche Caramel Swirled Cookies

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Ingredients

For the Chocolate and Dulce de Leche Caramel Swirl Cookies:
(makes around 18 three-inch cookies)
  • 10 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons plus 1/2 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature 
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1/2 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup milk chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup dulce de leche caramel
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Recipe

For the Chocolate and Dulce de Leche Caramel Swirl Cookies:
  1. Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 (F).  Prepare your cookie trays by lining with parchment paper or a Silpat mat.

  2. Place 10 ounces finely chopped semisweet chocolate in a double boiler over medium  heat (or, in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of very hot water, with the bottom of the bowl NOT touching the water). Use a rubber spatula to stir the chocolate occasionally until it is melted and smooth. Once the chocolate is completely melted, remove heat and allow to cool for 5 to 10 minutes as you go through the other recipe steps. 

  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, 1/2 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder, 1/4 teaspoon baking powder and 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt.

  4. In the bowl of a freestanding electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine 5 tablespoons unsalted butter and 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar. Beat together on medium-high speed until well combined and the mixture has turned light and fluffy, around 5 minutes.

  5. Once the mixture is light and fluffy, slow the mixer to its lowest setting and add 3 eggs, one at a time, only adding the next egg until the previous egg before it has been fully incorporated into the batter. Once all the eggs have been added, scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Increase the mixer speed to medium-high and beat for another 2 to 3 minutes until the mixture is very light, creamy, and pale in color.

  6. Once the mixture is light and cream, lower the mixer to its lowest setting and add the slightly cooled melted chocolate (from the 2nd step) and 1/2 tablespoon vanilla extract and mix until just combined and the batter is a uniform chocolate color.

  7. Remove the bowl from the mixer and sprinkle the dry ingredients (from the 3rd step) evenly over the surface of the chocolate mixture, before folding them in using a rubber spatula. BE CAREFUL NOT TO OVERWORK THE BATTER AFTER YOU ADD THE FLOUR, or your cookies will be tough and I will cry for you. Simply fold until the dry ingredients have just been incorporated — it's okay to have one or two flour streaks left.

  8. Once the flour mixture has been incorporated, fold in 1 cup milk chocolate chips and stir until just evenly dispersed.

  9. Once the chocolate chips have been folded in, drizzle some of the 1/2 cup of dulce de leche caramel on top of the batter — DO NOT MIX IN. Unmixed dulce de leche drizzle is what gives the cookies their interesting swirls. Use a 2-tablespoon sized cookie dough scoop to portion out the cookies as soon as you finish making the batter. The batter will be very soft at first, but it firms up quickly as it sits so act fast. Scoop each portion onto the parchment lined baking sheets, placing them about 2 inches apart. Continue drizzling dulce de leche over the batter before scooping until all the dulce de leche is used.

  10. Bake the cookies in the preheated oven until they are cracked all over the tops and softly set, about 14 to 16 minutes. Remove the pans from the oven and cool on a wire rack. Allow the cookies to cool completely before removing them from the baking sheets with a metal spatula.
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20 comments

  1. Wow these cookies are absolutely fantastic! I am in love!

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  2. I am, as Wendy once said, "ever so much more than twenty. I grew up long ago," and I can tell you, the older I get, the more #5 rings true. Life is ALL ABOUT learning - new skills, new perspectives, new inspirations... the list is endless.

    As for these cookies, anything that combines three kinds of chocolate with caramel is brilliant in my book!

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  3. I am so in love with your blog... what a fantastic post. I am so impressed that you have worked out life lessons in five years I'm still working out 25 years out of college :) And if you still have some dulce de leche to use, try these little alfajores... truly, they are amazing! http://bourbonandbrownsugar.wordpress.com/2014/01/26/tiny-alfajores/ Can't wait to try yours... as I always have dulce de leche at my house... and they look delicious!

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    1. Ahhh, I just checked out your recipe for alfajores. They look amazing! It's currently on my list of recipes to try in the future. Thanks for the link!

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  4. Hi Michelle! I always love reading your posts, but this one in particular has struck that familiar chord of forward-looking nervousness that seems to permeate every waking (and sometimes sleeping) second of my life nowadays. I'm a third-year graduate student in a PhD program myself, and the pressure to follow that well-trod route through academia and eventually to a professorship has been grinding away at me for some time. I spend a lot of my time browsing through job postings and applying to seasonal internships, which helps alleviate the anxiety because I've had some really great experiences outside of (but concurrent to) my academic life, and I know that I'll eventually want to pursue a career that deals directly with children's media and literature. In some ways, I feel like entering academia has also been one of the most worthwhile choices I have made: regardless of whether or not academia is 'right' for me as a future, it's made me think hard and critically about the decisions I make and the passions I want to keep developing along the way. Your writing made me pause for a moment during my busy day to reflect on this. Thanks for a thoughtful post and great recipe to boot!

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    1. Oh no! I didn't mean to make anybody nervous or anxious. Almost all my friends who are still pursuing their degrees are some of the most dedicated people I know, and that's great. I really do admire people who commit themselves to MA/PhD programs; almost all of them who I know personally are so passionate about what they study, despite grappling with what worries you as well.

      My undergraduate college pushed almost all their graduates to pursue an MA/PhD, and I think while that works for some people, it doesn't necessarily work for everybody. But it personally took me much longer to understand that and come to terms with it. At the end of the day, the list above is simply things I've learned that were unique to my experiences and circumstances, and I haven't ruled out grad school in my future yet!

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  5. I can so relate to this post. I think those first post-college years are some of the craziest years of your life and, if you can make it through relatively intact, I think you're set for life. It definitely can take a while and a lot of missteps to find your path. High five to you for getting to where you are now and for sharing what you've learnt along the way. And, obviously, for making cookies involving both chocolate and dulce de leche.

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  6. I have been dreaming of these cookies since I saw them on instagram - they look so good. I also happen to have some dulce de leche left over from the weekend - it must be fate.

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  7. I am so glad to have read this post because I am currently in grad school just because I will have an advanced degree and I really dont feel like I m learning much :( thank you so much for sharing your wise words, your post made me happy.

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  8. Okay, now that I've made my way around (what feels like) your entire blog, I wanted to come full circle and say that wow, is this post spot-on. I hope to have as much perspective as you when I'm five years out! I'm currently two years out and I feel like I'm sort of in the eye of the storm that you describe in your first few years out of college, only with less-low lows and less-high highs. As in more of a plateau of constant wondering if I'm doing the right thing. And hahhh I am in the thick of deciding whether or not to go to grad school (not academia, but still) and your thoughts are well-made. God. This is so inspiring. If every blog post was this enlightening and written this well and thoughtfully, I'd be freaking Buddha by now. (Your reflective writing style kind of reminds me of the girl behind karenxcheng.com, who I think is genius. Only with way better photos and recipes!!!!! These cookies, can't even.)

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  9. What a very thoughtful post, good for you. Love these cookies.

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  10. gahhh how are you so wise?! you are awesome. and these cookies, i need.

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  11. I so needed this today. Also, what beautiful photography!

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  12. Awesome post, Michelle! I too quit a "great" job that I hated quickly in my career to the dismay of a lot of people, but it was one of the best decisions I've made. It's scary, but worth making those decisions!
    And of course, those cookies look delicious!

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  13. The ingredients list says 1c. plus 2 tbsp. sugar. Then in the directions you say to use 1/2 c. plus 2tbsp. Which is correct? Or am I missing something :)

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    1. Oh no! Sorry about that. The correct measurement is in the ingredients list, which is 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar. I'll update that on the recipe and print me version now. Thanks for pointing it out, and apologies for any inconveniences it may have caused!

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    2. No problem! I think I made them with just the 1/2 cup and they were still amazing. Thanks!

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  14. I got degrees in English Education and Dance, and now I don't directly use either of them, though I did for a while. We have to be willing to reinvent ourselves if we want to continue to grow. Thanks for such a thoughtful post and a great cookie recipe.

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  15. aw michelle... you are still very young and probably so many diverse opportunities await in your life!! i have two undergrad degrees in the most random degrees ever - women's studies/film studies, and a bachelor of fine arts in integrated media where my grad project was a music album!! how i ended up becoming a baker and blogger was really quite random, but i love it now as my job! ^__^ i love people's histories and experiences, and every single thing counts as experiential knowledge gained - it continues to make you the person you are! and so rad that you got a used DSLR and went crazy wild photographing. such a great way to learn, and your photos are lovely.

    when you mentioned your 5 year reunion i smiled - my TWENTY YEAR high school reunion is this year!! holy crappers. that made me feel so old, yet i still feel like a 20 year old myself! ha...

    ooh... and your cookies look GREAT! xo

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  16. I love this post. I just graduated from college last June and I still feel like I have no idea where I`m going with my career. I`m so glad you`ve found something you love!! It gives me hope that 5 years from now, I can be like you! :) Cookies, this delicious always helps!

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