Saturday, July 23, 2011

I can't resist a good cookie

I can turn down many desserts (except a well-made tira misu, of course, and the occasional piece of homemade fruit pie) because sugar just isn't my thing.  But put a plate of homemade cookies in front of me and my knees turn to jelly.

Cookies were a staple in my childhood home.  Rich chocolate chip cookies filled with walnuts and semi-sweet morsels, snickerdoodles with their cinnamon crunch and cream of tartar tang, soft, date-filled cookies that my grandmother made, enormous sugar cookies with a fat Muscat raisin in the middle of each one, crisp, spicy gingersnaps, and my mother's Christmas cookies--which deserve their own chapter--my favorite being kolachki, the dainty cream cheese-butter pastries filled with lekvar, chopped walnuts, or apricot butter.

I love cookies.  In my opinion, no sweet is so humble and so noble.  A cookie can be a simple concoction of spices, nuts, molasses and flour, like the hermit, or it can be pristine and elegant like miniature Linzer tarts.  Whenever I see beautifully decorated cookies on the covers of magazines, I'm enchanted.  Usually, they're sugar cookies, elegantly adorned with royal icing and silver non-pareils.  I admire the skill and patience that it took to create that gorgeous plate of cookies.  They are so pretty, I feel like it is a sacrilege to eat them.  I would, however, like to serve those cookies and let other people grapple with the moral dilemma of eating them.

I guess that's why I prefer a humble, earthy cookie like an oatmeal cookie.  There is just something about the toothsome satisfaction of biting into a soft, chewy homemade oatmeal cookie.  The butter, the brown sugar, the oats--they all come together in my mouth in such a solid, satisfying way.  I've made many oatmeal cookies in my lifetime, but the recipe I like best is the one from the Quaker Oats box.  It just seems to have a perfect balance of butter, sugar and oats and there's also just a little warmth from the cinnamon and nutmeg.  I've also been able to tweak the recipe over the years just a bit, enhancing it with peanut butter, or molasses, or enrich it with chocolate chips, chopped dates or chopped nuts.  It's just a fabulous cookie recipe all the way around.

Here it is:

Quaker's Best Oatmeal Cookies

1 1/4 c. softened butter or margarine (I often sub 2 Tbs. of creamy peanut butter for part of the fat--just enough to add a hint of nuttiness without being "peanut butter cookie flavor")
3/4 c. firmly packed brown sugar (I often sub 2 Tbs. molasses for 2 Tbs. brown sugar; it adds incredible depth)
1/2 c. granulated sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/2 c. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
3 c. uncooked oatmeal (I always use old-fashioned oats--great texture--or you can mill these in a food processor for a very finely grained, soft cookie)

Optional add-ins:  raisins, craisins, chocolate chips, walnuts, pecans, chopped Medjool dates, chopped dried figs, etc.)

1.  Heat oven to 375 degrees.
2.  Beat butter and sugars together until creamy (add peanut butter and molasses here).
3.  Beat in egg and vanilla extract.
4.  Combine flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg; add to creamed mixture and blend well.
5.  Stir in oatmeal and any other additional ingredients you choose.
6.  Drop by rounded spoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets.
7.  Bake 8 to 9 minutes for a chewy cookie; 10 to 11 minutes for a crispy cookie.
8.  Cool for 1 minute on cookie sheet; remove to wire rack and cool.
9.  Makes about 4 1/2 dozen cookies.


I have to tell you about one more cookie recipe.  I made these recently and I literally had to talk sternly to myself to stop from eating the dough.  They are a bit more labor intensive than the oatmeal cookie recipe, but the end result is a cookie that is rich, intense and entirely luscious.  Filled with chopped, crystalized ginger, toasted walnuts and rich with butter, this is a very grown-up cookie.  I added freshly ground black pepper (you can add up to 1 tsp. with great results) to the dough in order to boost the spice content.  Let me know what you think if this try this recipe for Ginger Walnut Cookies.

Enjoy your cookies!

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