Caramel Cheese Popcorn Cookies

Hi friends! I’m back with another recipe where I’m going to ask you to trust me (remember when you trusted me and made Salt & Pepper Brownies?). We’re going to put cheese in cookies to make these caramel cheese popcorn cookies! It’s going to be great.

These caramel cheese popcorn cookies were inspired by caramel cheese popcorn mixes, aka the ultimate sweet & savory snack. I grew up eating Dichotomy Corn from the Campbell’s in Cleveland, whenever my mom let us bring home a bag! It’s also popular all over Chicago, thanks to Garrett Popcorn Shops, and sold in airports all over the Midwest. The combination of tangy, salty cheese with toasty, crunchy caramel is one of the most additive things ever. I wanted to recreate that addictive quality in these cookies!

These caramel cheese cookies have a crisp edge and soft, chewy texture that makes them just as addictive as the popcorn mix they’re based on. To make them appropriately popcorn-y, they needed to be made with cornmeal! Cornmeal gives the cookies a delicious, nubbly texture and corn flavor. Make sure you’re using a cornmeal with a regular grind. Stay away from coarse ground cornmeal, as it will make the cookies gritty.

caramel cheese popcorn cookie closeup
caramel cheese popcorn cookies, styled

The inspiration

  • The best popcorn flavor of all time: caramel cheese! AKA Dichotomy Corn AKA Chicago-Style Popcorn
  • All of Constellation Inspiration’s variations on the classic Neapolitan cookie
  • Cheddar cheese powder hanging out in my pantry and acting as a neon orange beacon of “use me, use me!”

How to Get that Perfect Swirl

Do you love that wave-shaped caramel and cheese swirl as much as I do? Here’s how to make it happen:

  1. Gently push the two flavored dough pieces together
  2. Place the dough in one palm and cup your palms around the dough. Cup your palms enough so that you can’t see the dough!
  3. Roll the dough firmly between your cupped palms for at least 5 seconds. No gentle rolling here – don’t be afraid to use some pressure
  4. Uncup your palms to reveal the swirl! The dough piece will be sort of pointy on the top and bottom now – just roll it gently between your palms to round it out

This technique will work for any bi-colored cookie!

WTF is Cheese Powder?

To make cheese cookies, we need something cheesy! Real cheese doesn’t work in cookie dough – it’s way too fatty and prone to leaking oil when it melts. To make these caramel cheese popcorn cookies, I needed something that would pack a cheesy punch without contributing tons of fat or protein. The magic ingredient? Cheese powder! Cheddar cheese powder is just dehydrated cheddar cheese, just like the stuff you would find in Kraft mac & cheese boxes or stuck to your fingers after eating Cheetos. It’s salty and tangy and cheesy and orange! It’s not an ingredient you’ll find at your local grocery store – I ordered mine online. You’ll have a lot left over after making these cookies, so you can either make a lot more caramel cheese popcorn cookies, work it into sauces, add it to a seasoned pretzel mix like this one, or make your own Goldfish crackers!

The Overview

caramel cheese popcorn cookie graphic

The Quick Look

ComponentsSource/Adapted From
1Caramel PowderLanibakes
2Base Cornmeal Cookie DoughSweetest Menu
3Caramel Cookie DoughLanibakes
4Cheese Cookie DoughLanibakes
caramel cheese popcorn cookie flatlay

Caramel Cheese Popcorn Cookies

Servings 16 large cookies

Ingredients

Caramel Powder

  • 50 grams sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon cornstarch

Base Cornmeal Cookie Dough

  • 113 grams unsalted butter soft at room temperature
  • 100 grams sugar
  • 45 grams brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 45 grams honey (2 tablespoons)
  • 175 grams all purpose flour
  • 135 grams cornmeal fine grind
  • 1/4 + 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine salt

Caramel Cookie Dough

  • 30 grams caramel powder
  • 330 grams base cornmeal cookie dough

Cheese Cookie Dough

  • 35 grams cheddar cheese powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon fine salt
  • 330 grams base cornmeal cookie dough

Instructions

Caramel Powder

  • Weigh 50 grams of sugar into a small pot
  • Heat the sugar over medium-high heat, swirling the pot frequently to distribute the sugar. Do not stir the sugar!
  • Heat the sugar until it is fully melted and deep golden/amber in color
  • Remove the caramel from the heat and pour it onto a sheet of parchment paper or a silicone baking mat
  • Let the sugar cool completely. This will take at least 30 minutes, but you can do it up to 24 hours in advance of making the cookie dough.
  • Bread up the caramel sheet into smaller pieces
  • Put the caramel pieces and 1/8 teaspoon into the bowl of a mini food processor, spice grinder, or mortar and pestle. Grind the caramel and cornstarch until the mixture is a blend of fine caramel dust and some small, nubbly pieces of caramel. No pieces should be larger than granules of turbinado/coarse sugar.
    If you don't have any of these tools, you can do this in a ziplock bag wrapped in a kitchen towel. Crush the caramel inside of the bag with a rolling pin or other heavy implement.

Base Cornmeal Cookie Dough

  • Preheat your oven to 350F
  • In the bowl of a stand mixer or in a bowl with a handheld electric mixer, combine 113 grams butter, 100 grams sugar, and 45 grams brown sugar. Beat the butter and sugars for 5-6 minutes until pale, scraping down the side of the bowl occasionally.
  • Add 1 egg and 45 grams of honey to the butter mixture. Beat on medium speed to combine.
  • Add 175 grams flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 + 1/8 teaspoon baking soda to the bowl. Mix on low speed to combine. Stop when all of the flour disappears into the dough.
  • Divide the cookie dough in half. If you want to be exact, each half should weigh about 330 grams.

Caramel Cookie Dough

  • Combine one half of the dough with 30 grams of caramel dust. Use your hands, a wooden spoon, or a rubber spatula to work the sugar into the dough.
  • Divide the dough into 16 pieces

Cheese Cookie Dough

  • Combine the other half of the dough with 35 grams of cheddar cheese powder and 1/8 teaspoon fine salt. Use your hands, a wooden spoon, or a rubber spatula to work the sugar into the dough.
    The cheese dough will feel stiffer and drier than the caramel dough – this is normal! Don't stress.
  • Divide the dough into 16 pieces.

Assembly

  • Press one portion of cheese dough and one portion of caramel dough together gently.
  • Put the dough ball in one palm. Place your other palm over the dough ball and cup your hands so that the dough ball isn't visible.
  • Roll the dough ball between your cupped palms together firmly for at least 5 seconds to swirl the dough together
  • Uncup your palms. The dough ball may be pointy on the top and bottom – roll it gently between your palms to form it back into a ball
  • Repeat with the remaining dough pieces
  • Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper
  • Place 8 cookie dough balls onto each baking sheet, leaving as much room between cookies as possible as these cookies spread a lot
  • Bake for 12 minutes, rotating the baking sheets halfway through the bake
  • Let the cookies cool completely on the pans
  • Store the cookies in a well-sealed container at room temperature. Cookies will keep for 4-6 days at room temperature, or up to a month in the freezer.



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