Spicy Dark Chocolate, Pretzel & Caramel Surprise Cookie (aka “The Ultimate Tailgating Cookie”)

Warning.  These adult cookies are a bit naughty.  These not-so-kid-friendly treats have a spicy afternote, deep dark chocolate richness, salty crunch and sweet surprise that prefer to be chased by a cold beer over a glass of milk.

The decadent cookies were inspired by Sports Illustrated writer, Peter Bukowski, who had me thinking, what cookie would pair well with beer at a football tailgate?  I immediately enlisted Tracy, one of my best childhood pals, cookie queen and fellow Ironman triathlete, to help create the cookie.  Not only is Tracy a great cook; she also enjoys beer. While most of my recipes are healthy, this Hungry Athlete believes that it’s ok to indulge a little, every now and then.  I’ll be serving these cookies to a bunch of ultra runners this Super Bowl Sunday.  They’ll be burning a lot of calories prior to the game, so let’s indulge.

NOTE:  The caramel candy filling is optional.  I love caramel however I personally can only eat one of anything caramel.  To satisfy those who love to gobble up lots of caramel, I fill only half the batch with the Dove caramels.  For the best results, place the Dove caramels in the freezer for at least 30 minutes.  Plain caramel candies hardened up too much at room temperature.

Serving size: 16-18 cookies

  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened dark cocoa powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon instant espresso
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/3 cup ultrafine or superfine baking sugar
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 3/4 cup thick medium sized pretzels (I used Snyder Old Thyme), rough chopped to the size of two chocolate chips
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup semi sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 package Dove caramel candies (optional), placed in freezer for 30 min


Preheat the oven to 350F and place the Dove chocolates in the freezer for about 30 minutes.

In a saucepan over low to medium heat, melt the butter.  Whisk in cocoa until smooth, then whisk in instant espresso and cayenne pepper.  Remove the saucepan from the heat and set it aside.

In a medium size bowl, sift the flour, baking soda and Kosher salt together.  Set it aside.

Using an electric mixer, on medium speed, with a whisk attachment, mix the egg and both sugars together.  Scrape the side of the bowl while mixing to ensure everything is well combined.  Add vanilla extract and continue mixing for another minute. Add the cocoa mixture and mix on medium speed until combined.  Then add the flour mixture and mix again until just combined.

With a spatula or wooden spoon, mix in chocolate chips and pretzel pieces by hand.  It might be easier to just use your fingers but don’t over mix.  There may be loose pieces of pretzels in the bowl.  You can redistribute those when forming the cookies.

Using your hands, shape the dough into 2 1/2 inch wide round cookies.  The dough will not spread much when baking. If you are incorporating caramel, wrap the dough around the caramel candy until it’s completely covered.  I try to cover up the pretzels so it’s a nice salty and crunchy surprise when biting into the cookie. It’s ok if some of the pretzel pieces are poking through. Place the formed cookie dough on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake for 8-9 minutes.   Since you won’t be able to gauge the doneness of the cookies by observing how brown it is, I recommend test baking a couple cookies to determine the best baking time. Allow the cookies to cool slightly or completely.  Cookies will cool to a crisp on the outside and stay tender on the inside.  The caramel will remain soft at room temperature.

If you enjoy these cookies, stay tuned! Tracy and I are working on more cookies with beer.

Use the larger size pretzels and and rough chop about double the size of two chocolate chips.
Use the larger size pretzels and and rough chop about double the size of two chocolate chips.
On the left, with a caramel candy; on the right, without a caramel candy.
On the left, with a caramel candy; on the right, without a caramel candy.