We Tried It: Those Too-Darn-Cute Teddy Bear-Cuddling-Nuts Cookies
WHAT IS IT: The world’s most adorable cookies (a.k.a. “Huggy Bears”)
WHO TRIED IT: Mark Marino, PEOPLE.com homepage and content director, @mamarino
WHY WE DID IT: Because the cuteness was too overwhelming not to
Recently at the office, I was nearly killed by a pack of bears. Not by their claws, but by their cuteness.
You see, I was at my desk when a friend IM’ed me a random link to a website featuring photo after photo of tiny golden cookies shaped like teddy bears cuddling nuts. Almonds. Cashews. Walnuts. You name it, they hugged it. And the adorableness of it all was enough to knock this grown man to his knees.
It turns out these cuddle cookies have been popular on Pinterest for some time, thanks to French-trained Japanese chef Maa Tamagosan, who created the original recipe. And after staring at so many photos of the snuggling sweets, I decided to try making them myself. I also decided to call them Huggy Bears, because these cookies really don’t have a name and because I used to love the show Starsky & Hutch (look it up, kids).
The first thing worth noting is that Tamagosan’s honey-infused recipe calls for ingredients most of us don’t readily have on hand (beet sugar syrup, potato starch), so I opted for a chocolate sugar cookie recipe (this simple one from Sweetopia is a gem), since the dough holds its shape when baked and the flavor pairs well with nuts. And really, have you ever seen a honey-colored bear (besides Yogi’s buddy Boo-Boo)?
Also, the right cookie cutter is key. You want your teddy to have arms long enough to fold over a nut or whatever item you want it to cuddle (I wish one could cuddle me, but not right from the oven because that would burn). This Patisse Cookie Cutter looks a lot like the one Tamagosan used.
Now it was time to make some teddies.
First, I mixed the dough and rolled it out into several sheets of what I hoped were a ¼-inch thickness (I’ve never been good at math). After chilling the dough for about an hour, I took one sheet and started cutting out bears.
Using a toothpick, I poked little faces on them.
And then I took various salted nuts and cradled the bears’ arms around them.
Look at that!
My Huggy Bears looked perfect, but could they stand the oven’s heat or would they puff up to resemble tiny Sumo wrestlers crossing their chubby arms like Wonder Woman deflecting bullets?
Thankfully, after hibernating for 8 minutes at 350 degrees, the bears got only slightly chubbier and looked not unlike Tamagosan’s version.
Pleased, I repeated the process with the next sheet of chilled dough, and this time substituted M&M’s (of the peanut and peanut butter variety) for nuts. These cookies also turned out well, though some of the M&M’s cracked, as if being held in a death grip. These seemed more authentic, though, when you think about what a real bear could do to a person’s skull.
After birthing literally dozens of these tiny bears, I shared them with family, friends and coworkers, and they were a huge hit. Naturally, everyone’s first reaction was to coo and comment that the Huggy Bears are absolutely adorable (I want to come back as one in my next life). People also seemed surprised by how tasty they are, likening the flavor to Oreo wafers. The M&M bears were the first to get gobbled up, but the nut version was also a hit because of the saltiness it added to chocolate.
Several people have asked me for my Huggy Bear recipe, which proves how irresistible and impressive they are. And the nice thing about these cookies is that they are versatile, so you can experiment with different doughs (gingerbread, lemon sugar cookie) and “accessories” (cinnamon red hots, dried fruit) to suit different occasions. But before you begin baking, keep these tips in mind:
1. If you use Sweetopia’s chocolate sugar cookie recipe, cut the ingredients in half. The original recipe makes more dough than you’ll need for such a small cookie cutter. I ended up baking for 3 hours and made dozens and dozens of bears. After a while, I felt as if they were mocking me.
2. Be sure to keep the dough chilled until you are ready to cut your bears. This helps the cookies hold their shape when baked. And don’t roll the dough too thin, as your bears may look as if they have been suffering through a liquid diet.
3. Making those tiny faces with a toothpick requires the patience of a saint. You will not see me on prayer cards or being canonized at the Vatican anytime soon, so this explains why a few of my bears had uneven eyes or noses higher than their peepers.
4. Be sure to press the bear’s arms firmly against the nut or M&M you’ve placed on its chest. Some of my bears’ arms got uncrossed during baking and they looked like they had been stabbed in the heart.
5. Never bake Huggy Bears in a tiny Manhattan kitchen in the dead of summer, when the temperatures are soaring upwards of 90 degrees. You will feel as if you are being tightly hugged by a pack of bears inside a sauna.
— Mark Marino, @mamarino