Halloween is always a great time to be creative in the kitchen. What other time of year can you make foods to look like witch fingers and brains without anyone batting an eye? I gotta say that the idea of eating a litter box cake still makes me cringe though. Hey, we all have our limits.
When I set out to make a Halloween themed post I had lots of ideas rolling around in my head. After settling on doing a cookie, I knew that I wanted to make one that had a fun, holiday-appropriate look, while still being easy to accomplish. The subject of choice – eyeballs. A lot of the eyeball cookies I’ve seen involve breaking out the icing bags and tips for piping work. Another option involved using Lifesaver candies for the iris. These are both great in their own way, but I wanted to make a cookie that looked the part and was easy to do without sacrificing taste (I like Lifesavers just fine but I don’t really want to bite into one while eating a cookie). And by golly I feel like I’ve done it!
The base is a very simple vanilla butter cookie that comes together ridiculously fast. I think I would compare the flavor and texture to a cross between a shortbread and a sugar cookie. You can prepare them one of two ways – clear or bloodshot. The clear eyes are rolled in white sugar before baking, while the bloodshot dough gets tinted pink first and is rolled in powdered sugar. Once removed from the oven they are finished off with a small dollop of dulce de leche and a black M&M for the pupil. In the end the powdered sugar cookies were slightly favored between the two, because in the oven it takes on a creamy, almost melty texture on the outside. If you’re familiar with the Argentinian sandwich cookies alfajors – they remind me a little bit of that, but with a kiss of chocolate in the middle. Aww yiss.
For the pupils I used a black M&M candy… except it was actually a knock-off M&M from Party City. At first I tried using a dark chocolate chip with the flat side up, but given how dark my dulce de leche was it didn’t provide the contrast I was looking for. If you have a lighter caramel sauce that you’re using you might be able to get by with chocolate chips, brown M&Ms, brown Reeses Pieces, or whatever easily available candy you have access to. While at Party City I also noticed they sold mini packets of black Sixlets for 7 cents each. Pick up a few of those and you’re good to go, and it will be cheaper than buying a bag of the black M&M style candies. I prefer the taste of M&Ms over Sixlets though, so I was willing to shell out a couple of dollars for them. Another optional step I took was mixing my dulce de leche with a little bit of edible pearl dust. Because my dulce de leche was so dark, I wanted to try and lighten it a tad. The pearl dust also gave it a really pretty extra level of dimension and a consistency that was a nicer to work with. I took a picture to show the two side-by-side.
I think almost all of the steps in this recipe are suitable for little helping hands. One part that should remain an adult responsibility is creating the indentations for holding your caramel. Unlike most thumbprint style cookies, you’re not going to create the cavity before baking. While the cookies are still warm from the oven, gently press the back of a teaspoon (or whatever else you have around for the job) into each one. It will flatten out slightly and get a few cracks around the edges. Don’t fret over the cracks- that’s what produces the nifty vein effect in the eyes, particularly with the blood shot variation.
If you’ve got an upcoming Halloween party and you want to bring an easy themed dessert, these cookies might be just what you’re looking for. Depending on the size of your balls (HA!) you will get about 3 dozen cookies from the batch. I would say it’s feasible to get all 3 dozen finished in about an hour, so they would work well as a last minute treat too. And you know, what’s with all of the eyeball cookies being blue and green? It’s time to get some brown-eyed love up in hurr!
- 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
- 1/3 cup white sugar
- 1/3 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- 1/4 cup powdered sugar or granulated sugar for coating, plus more as needed
- 1/2 cup dulce de leche or other caramel of choice
- Black M&Ms
- Red or pink food coloring, optional
- Pearl dust to mix with your caramel, very optional
- Preheat oven to 350F.
- Cream butter, sugars, salt, and vanilla until light and fluffy.
- Mix in flour 1/2 cup at a time until well combined.
- If doing the bloodshot styled eyes, mix in your food coloring, otherwise skip this step. I would also recommend adding a small amount of red color to the caramel for the bloodshot eyes as well.
- Measure out small amounts of dough (I used a melon baller to ensure they were consistent in size) and roll into roughly 1″ balls.
- Put granulated or powdered sugar (powdered sugar is necessary for the bloodshot eye effect) in a small ziplock baggy. Coat each dough ball with sugar and transfer to baking sheet, leaving a couple of inches between each one – I was able to fit one dozen on a sheet. If using powdered sugar make sure to be very generous with the coating. When you think you have enough do a little bit more. Skimping on the sugar will result in a cookie that is more an all over pink rather than contrasting white and pink.
- Place cookie sheet in oven and bake for 11-15 minutes. 11-12 minutes will give you a soft cookie whereas 14-15 minutes will give you a crunchy cookie.
- Remove cookies from oven and while still hot, immediately press the back of a teaspoon into each one to create a small cavity for your caramel.
- Put a small amount (about 1/4 teaspoon) of caramel in the center of each cookie. I find that doing this while the cookie is warm makes it easier. The warmth softens the caramel and let’s it fill out the edges and get smooth on top with almost no effort.
- Place one black candy in the center of each cookie.
- Transfer cookies to cooling rack to cool completely.