I am a fan of pumpkin baked goods and always have been. Pumpkin pie the day after Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday breakfast treat.
And, I equally love a pumpkin loaf studded with toasted walnuts, warm pumpkin and ginger muffins, crunchy pumpkin waffles, buttery pancakes and the lightly sweet Pumpkin and Dark Chocolate Panettone from Olivieri 1882. But I’ve never had a pumpkin cookie that I thought really delivered on the pumpkin promise until this year.
But that hasn’t stopped me from trying. I’ve lost track of the number of different pumpkin cookie recipes that I’ve baked. The reason is that I’ve been looking for a recipe that would deliver all the concentrated flavor of an excellent pumpkin loaf, but with the crisp edges and soft, and slightly chewy—on the inside—texture of a great cookie.
A few weeks ago I made a heavily spiced pumpkin cookie that delivered 100% on flavor, but it was still soft and cakey. I rolled the cookie dough in a sugar and spice mixture before baking so it had a nice crinkled top, but it was still soft and cake-like. This wasn’t necessarily bad and I enjoyed the cookies but they reminded me more of muffin tops than cookies.
Since I had the flavor that I was looking for but not the texture, I decided to look for outside help. I knew that if there was one person who could help me fix this issue it had to be my co-author, Anthony Underwood. After all, he spent 10 years perfecting the chocolate chip cookie before creating his Ten-Year Chocolate Chip Cookie.
I explained my challenge to Anthony and he suggested that I both increase the butter and the granulated sugar, and brown half of the butter and mix it in with the sugar while it was still warm. This would help create a chewier cookie as the water in the butter would combine with the flour to help create gluten—think about a great chewy pizza crust, that’s gluten in action. The extra sugar helps make the outside edges crisp with a tender center. They both contribute to a flatter cookie which is what I was looking for.
I mixed the two sugars—light brown and white—with the warm brown butter to semi-melt the sugars and make them less granular. I followed up with creaming this mixture with the remaining softened butter. The cookie dough looked completely different, like fluffy chiffon.
The rest of the mixing was very standard. I added egg yolks, vanilla and pumpkin puree to the sugar and butter, and finished by mixing in the flour, leavening and spices.
The last step was to let the cookie dough “rest” overnight in the refrigerator to hydrate the flour. The next day, I scooped them and rolled them into balls which I further rolled into my sugar and spice mixture before baking.
The result was the pumpkin cookie of my dreams. They were bursting with flavor, not too sweet, and crisp on the edges. I was looking for help with the texture of the cookie but the golden brown butter did more than just make a flatter denser cookie, the nutty brown butter is the perfect complement to all the spices and the pumpkin puree—so that one change also increased the layers of flavor in the cookie.
But the biggest difference that I saw in the baking was that the original recipe was domed and fluffy where this recipe was flat and crinkled like the best molasses/ginger cookie you’ve ever eaten.
I let the cookies cool on the cookie sheet so that they continued to cook a little bit since I took them out when they were just barely browned on the edges. When the cookies were fresh and warm, they were crisp on the outside and super tender on the inside. If this is how you like your cookies, you need to bake them and eat them immediately.
If you don’t mind them getting a little bit softer as they sit, fill a cookie jar with the cookies and snack on them for 3 to 4 days. The cookies stay very soft and loose their crispness as they sit due to the moisture in the pumpkin, but they capture the flavor of the season just as much, if not more, than any pumpkin pie, pumpkin muffin, or pumpkin loaf that I’ve ever made.
Brown Butter Pumpkin Cookies
If you want to elevate the mood and make these cozy Brown-Butter Pumpkin Cookies a little more elegant and festive, serve them alongside a small glass of Mozart Pumpkin Spice Chocolate Liqueur.
2 sticks room temperature unsalted butter, divided
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon ground allspice
1¾ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
1 cup light brown sugar, tightly packed
1 cup granulated white sugar, divided in half
2 large egg yolks
⅓ cup canned pumpkin purée such as Libby’s —not pumpkin pie mix
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1. Make the brown butter with one stick of butter. Place it in a small stainless-steel or light-colored saucepan and set it on the stovetop on lo/low. Once the butter melts and starts to sputter, stir occasionally and watch closely. Remove it from the heat as soon as it smells nutty and looks golden. Let it cool for about 5 minutes. You can help it cool by submerging the bottom of the saucepan in ice water and stir for about 1 minute. Do not let it sit and congeal in the ice water.—you want it to still be warm. Set aside.
2. Make the spice mixture: In a small bowl, stir together the spices and divide in half. Set aside. [You should have about 2 tablespoons and 1 teaspoon of spice mixture.]
3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, half the spice mixture [about 1 tablespoon + ½ teaspoon], baking soda, cream of tartar, and salt.
4. Secure the bowl of a stand mixer and fit it with a paddle attachment. Place brown sugar and ½ of white sugar in the bowl and mix the sugars together on the lowest setting for about 1 minute.
5. Pour the brown butter, making sure to get all the browned bits into the sugar and mix together low-medium speed for about 30 seconds or until completely incorporated in the sugar.
6. Add the reserved stick of butter and beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the egg yolks and continue beating, scraping down the bowl and mixer occasionally, until completely incorporated. Add the pumpkin purée and the vanilla. Mix until light in color and fluffy.
7. Add the flour mixture ingredients and continue mixing on low speed just until combined. Scrape down the bowl to make sure everything is well mixed. The batter should be the texture of whipped butter.
8. Place cookie batter in a clean container with a lid and refrigerate overnight or at least 5 hours.
9. When ready to bake, place parchment paper in a sheet pan and combine the remaining spice mixture, and the remaining ½ cup of white sugar in a small bowl. Position the rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350°F.
10. Scoop the dough into equal portions using a spoon or a cookie portioner.
11. Roll the dough balls in the sugar-spice mixture and place on the cookie sheet about 2-inches apart, or 3 across.
12. Bake the cookies until lightly golden, about 12 minutes. Let cool at least 5 minutes on the hot sheet pan. Cool on the sheet pan or move to a cooling rack.
13. Repeat until cookie dough is all baked.