Should You Be Putting Chile Paste in Your Cookies?

Gochujang caramel is the sleeper hit of this baking season.

a bottle of hot sauce and a snickerdoodle with red swirls sit on an orange and red background
Photo: Courtney Kassel/Dotdash Meredith

The dozens of jars and bottles in my refrigerator door are my jam. Savory, spicy, or sweet and regardless of the cuisine, I love experimenting with—and dreaming up new ways to use—condiments.

One of my latest menu MVPs is gochujang. The Korean fermented pepper paste explodes with flavor that somehow combines spiciness, sweetness, umami, a dash of saltiness and a little bit of funk. Thanks to inspiration from restaurant menus, cookbooks, and Allrecipes contributors, I've used this punchy, brick red paste to marinate pork and glaze salmon. Feeling comfortable with this versatile condiment, I upped the ante by using gochujang in recipes for roasted potatoes, shrimp lettuce wraps, fried rice, fried chicken and Korean barbecue-style meatballs.

True, those dishes are fairly diverse. But you'll notice one thing in common about all of the aforementioned gochujang recipes: they are savory.

For that reason, my ears perked up when I heard about a surprisingly sweet recipe that went viral in December 2022.

Korean American cookbook author and New York Times food columnist Eric Kim dreamed up, tested and perfected the concept of Gochujang Caramel Cookies. Soon after he shared this unexpected recipe on social media, comments started rolling in that ran the gamut, from skeptical ("STOP."), to surprised and delighted ("What is this alchemy? Gochujang in a cookie. Color me intrigued; I need to try this."), to swooning already ("You will make a lot of mistakes today. Making these will not be one of them. Amazing cookies. Like a snickerdoodle with a kick.").

And soon after the recipe debuted, people took to their kitchens to see if gochujang can really take a walk on the sweet side. To date, there are more than 1.2 million views of TikTok videos related to Gochujang Caramel Cookies.

With my condiment curiosity piqued and the recipe at the ready, I took to my own kitchen to recreate Kim's cookies. He describes them as "otherwise classic chewy sugar cookies" that have some "snickerdoodle vibes" thanks to ¼ teaspoon of cinnamon. The real surprise comes from the ultra-easy gochujang "caramel," which turns out to be just a blend of softened butter, brown sugar and chile paste. Fans who had already tried the cookie recipe confirm that the caramel offers a "rollercoaster of flavor" that's "a little bit salty; not exactly spicy." Talk about a lovely complement to the sweet sugar cookies!

After mixing the dough that features classic baking staples like butter, sugar, egg, salt, cinnamon, vanilla extract, baking soda, and flour, I allowed this mixture to chill for 15 minutes. Then I used a spatula to gently swirl four "spaced out blobs" of the gochujang-butter-brown sugar blend into the cookie dough, per Kim's instructions. All that was left to do was scoop, bake, and try to be patient as the cookies cooled.

The verdict? Right in line with the reviewers who raved. I've been sweet on snickerdoodles since I baked them with my Mom as a kid, and this unique caramel ripple adds complexity that makes the cookies even more craveable.

The next time you're seeking a way to add some spark to your cookie swap, bake sale, or, you know, a Wednesday night, whip out the gochujang and spice up your baking life.

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