March 6, 2012

Oatmeal Cookies Revisited

Oatmeal cookies are trouble. Does anyone else agree? Most oatmeal cookies are too dry and flavorless; in order to make them tasty, you have to pump them full of sugar, fat, peanut butter, or even chocolate chips. Forget raisins. Who puts raisins in a dessert? (Bread pudding with whiskey sauce aside.) Still, I have always wanted to make the classic oatmeal cookie work. I have always wanted to like it because I love the nutty texture of oatmeal. So why does oatmeal prove to be such a problematic medium in the cookie world?

Let's raise the stakes. Consider the classic oatmeal cookie as you would consider normal life. You have a great life; you have precious family and friends and the sweetest redheaded nieces the world ever saw; your oatmeal cookies taste just fine. Then comes a shake-up. Things happen. You are forced to change your outlook, your ambition, your drive, your motivation, your life plans. But the constants - friends, family, redheaded nieces - only become greater in value and quality. Things are different than they were two weeks ago; but with great perseverance and patience comes an even richer life. Oatmeal will never be the same to me again after making these cookies. New dimensions have been unmasked and I will likely never go back to the recipe on the inside of the Quaker Oats lid. Life improves by moving forward; baking improves through constant re-evaluation and modification.

And oatmeal cookie/life metaphors improve by just stopping.

This fascinating oatmeal cookie recipe again comes from one of my favorite baking cookbooks, Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce. These tried-and-true whole wheat chocolate chip cookies also come from Kim's fantastic cookbook. Made with whole wheat flour, brown sugar, and plenty of fresh Georgia oats, these cookies are different from any other oatmeal cookie you are likely to taste. Because they are made with whole wheat, they don't puff up in the middle as much as classic oatmeal cookies. Browned butter keeps this cookie's flat shape and makes it surprisingly moist and porous. Then, once the cookies are cooled, they are drizzled with a light-as-air sugar-cinnamon icing, which settles into those butter-induced pores and makes for a truly satisfying oatmeal cookie experience.

I didn't trust these cookies at first. I tried putting chocolate chips into half of the batch but honestly, the chocolate chip batch did not look or taste as good as the plain iced oatmeal. The chocolate dried out the surrounding cookie and gave it a crunchier texture than I prefer. These plain oatmeal cookies are soft, rich, and sweet, and will definitely make their way into my baking favorites. I do recommend that you use metric measurements for these cookies. It makes for much more accurate baking, especially when dealing with mixtures of white and whole wheat flours. Dust off that kitchen scale, buy some local oats, and make these this week!

Whole Wheat Iced Oatmeal Cookies
Adapted from Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce. Metric conversions by

Dry mix:
2 cups (231 grams) rolled oats
1/2 cup (65 grams) whole wheat flour
1 cup (125 grams) white flour
4 teaspoons (20 grams) baking powder
1 teaspoon (5 grams) baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons (8 grams) kosher salt
1 cup (238 grams) light brown sugar
1/2 cup (100 grams) white sugar
1 teaspoon (2-3 grams) cinnamon
1 teaspoon (2 grams) nutmeg

Wet mix: 
8 ounces unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly (about 10 minutes)
2 eggs

2 1/4 cups (270 grams) powdered sugar
6 tablespoons (90 ml) milk
1 tablespoon (6 grams) cinnamon
pinch kosher salt

Preheat oven to 350 F. Butter two baking sheets and set aside. In a food processor, grind 1/2 cup of oats until they turn powdery as flour. Add rest of oats and grind for a few seconds, until the mixture is course and mealy, with a few big chunks of oats remaining. 

Sift flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg until fully incorporated. Add oats and sugars. 

In a separate bowl, combine melted butter and eggs and whisk well. Add to dry mix and mix with wooden spoon or rubber spatula until just combined. You may need to use your hands to lightly incorporate flours into wet mixture. The dough should look bulky, dense, and caramel-colored. 

Scoop dough onto cookie sheets, making fairly big cookies (about 2-3 tablespoons in size). Make sure that you place cookies at least 3 inches apart on cookie sheet, because they will spread. Bake cookies for about 17 minutes (Kim recommends 16-20 minutes), rotating pans halfway through baking. 

For the icing, whisk all ingredients together until smooth and fluid. When cookies are completely cooled, drizzle liberally with icing. Let set for another hour or so. We made these cookies in the afternoon to eat after dinner and they were the perfect consistency. 
Not normal cookies for not normal life. But who needs the back of the Quaker Oats lid when there are better ingredients out there? Try baking these in the middle of a life-changing week and maybe you too will think of oatmeal in metaphorical life terms.

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