I first found this recipe over 30 years ago but it called for a third of a cup of sweetened condensed milk. Since that is an ingredient I almost never have on hand, mostly because of the cost, and because the other recipes I have seen for this usually call for a full can of condensed milk, I had never tried it.
Still, the idea of making a cookie that has the "frosting" added before baking was intriguing. When looking for something special this Valentine's day, I pulled out that old recipe card and started experimenting. The result is a cookie that tastes richer than the relatively simple ingredients might indicate, and one that--because it is not heart-shaped--could be made any time of the year.
Though the recipe may seem a little fussy, the overall prep time isn't long...and there is a likely bonus: I found that the recipe for the "frosting" was overly generous. Rather than cut it back and discover that I didn't have enough to top all the cookies, I kept these amounts and have some leftovers that will warm easily in the microwave for a few seconds--voila, hot fudge sundae topping. How can you argue with that!
While I don't keep condensed milk on hand, I do stock nonfat dry milk powder on the shelf and maraschino cherries in the refrigerator, alongside other condiments like mustards and ketchup.
The advantage of dried milk here is that the amount used is more than the milk solids you would get from a third cup of skim milk (the kind I buy), adding body and richness to the topping. If you don't have dry milk powder, it will be best to substitute whole milk or even half and half. Evaporated milk could probably also be used, but, once again, you would be using only part of a can. (Of course, you could use the rest for a nice creamy soup, like some I have posted and will be adding later this week.)
Maraschino cherries are another "staple" food for me. I buy a jar or two whenever they are on special (usually in the Thanksgiving to Christmas baking season) and keep them on the shelf. Given the high sugar content, the pull dates are usually quite long and, after they are opened, they will keep for a very long time in the refrigerator. If you don't have any of these, you might try substituting frozen (thawed and drained) sweet cherries. While I haven't tried it, my guess is that a miniature marshmallow in place of each cherry could also be very good. In a pinch, just try making these without any cherries, marshmallows, or other substitutes; the baked frosting will still be special.
Hidden Cherry Chocolate Cookies
1/3 c water
1/3 c nonfat dry milk powder
1/3 c sugar
1/2 c semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 c butter, softened but not melted
1 c sugar
1/3 c cocoa
1 t vanilla (OR 1/2 t vanilla, 1/2 t almond extract)
1 1/2 c flour
1/4 t baking soda
approximately 15 to 20 maraschino cherries, including syrup
1. Prepare the cherries by putting them in a small strainer. Reserve the juices that drain from them. Cut each cherry into two or three pieces, depending on how large they are.
2. Stir the water, dry milk powder, and sugar together in a large saucepan. (The mixture may foam up, so don't choose too small a pan.) Cook over medium to medium low heat, stirring often, until the mixture is bubbly and begins to thicken. This can take 10 to 15 minutes.
3. When the mixture is about the consistency of a light gravy, stir in the chocolate chips and continue cooking and stirring until the chips are completely melted and the topping is smooth and silky. Set aside.
4. Beat the butter, sugar, and cocoa together until well blended. Stir in the egg and vanilla and continue to beat until smoth.
5. Sift together the flour and soda and stir in, mixing just until all the dry ingredients are incorporated. If the dough seems a little sticky, you may want to chill it for a short time.
6. Roll the dough into 1 inch balls and place on a well-greased cookie sheet about an inch or two apart. (I find it easiest to make uniformly sized cookies by making them all into balls before proceeding to the next step.) If the batter seems very sticky, you could also just drop the batter on to the cookie sheets, forming drop cookies about an inch around.
7. Using your thumb OR the end of a wood spoon OR the bottom of a quarter teaspoon measure, make a depression in the center of each cookie. Place a cherry piece into each cookie.
9. Bake at 350 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes, until the cookies are just done. (While it will be hard to do the "until the cookie springs back when pressed lightly" test, you can judge by the outer part of the cookies starting to be less dry and shiny. If you underbake them, they will just be more chewy/gooey...but also more prone to breaking.)
10. Allow the cookies to cool on the pans for about 3 to 4 minutes and then slide them on to a cooling rack. The cookies should be cooled completely before stacking in a cookie tin or on a tray.
Yield: about 3 to 3 1/2 dozen cookies.