Monday, September 22, 2008

In Quest of the Perfect Oatmeal Cookie, Part 2


The Columbus Bakery and their oatmeal raisin cookies may be a thing of the past, and though it still breaks my heart to say that, I must confess that I am really quite happy with my version. I’m definitely willing to share the love with my friends. I’ll even give you the recipe. If you had been anywhere near my apartment today, it would have been just my greatest pleasure to let you sample these little treats while still warm from the oven. I would have even give you a tall glass of cold milk to go with it, because you just can’t have a cookie this good without a tall glass of cold milk to go with it!

Since none of you stopped by this afternoon and I was feeling so compelled to share my oatmeal happiness, I brought two dozen cookies for my fellow musicians at “South Pacific” where I was subbing tonight. I set out the open containers in the green room right before the first act of the show, and I was delighted when the orchestra totally devoured them at intermission. In fact, most of cookies were already gone within the three minutes it took me to get out of the pit and into the green room! (I just love it when that happens.)

After each time I play at “South Pacific”, I have the tunes from the show going through my head incessantly for the rest of the evening. As I started writing this post, I had “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out Of My Hair” alternating with “Some Enchanted Evening” running through my ear. But after eating one (okay, three) of these oatmeal cookies dunked in milk just now, I find myself now humming “A Cockeyed Optimist.” Really, after a cookie like this, how could you NOT be an optimist, at least for a little while??

A few notes on these cookies. I can’t emphasize enough that one should really take the 10 minutes to toast the walnuts beforehand. (It was the wonderful toasted quality of the walnuts in the Columbus Bakery cookie that first caught my attention.)

If you do a lot of cookie baking, I would strongly urge you to buy one of those French baking mats (called Silpat or Exopat--I have one of each). It will make a world of difference in your baking results. Not only does it make cleaning up much quicker, the real draw is that it provides a protective layer between the cookies and the hot metal baking sheet, preventing them from spreading out too much or browning too quickly on the bottom. If you don’t have a baking mat, however, you can line your baking sheets with parchment paper for a similar effect.

Scoop the dough out with a 1/4-cup measuring cup and form into a small ball. Resist the urge to flatten out the ball of dough when you place it on the baking sheet. The heat of the oven will cause the dough to relax and spread out on its own, and in fact this will help them achieve the proper texture. I’ve tried flattening them slightly before baking them, and I felt that the cookies spread out too thinly and therefore weren’t chewy enough in the middle, at least for my taste.

Make sure to space the cookies 2 inches apart. Otherwise your cookies will run into each as they bake and look like those maps you'd see in geology class of prehistoric land masses separating from each other. (If they do run together, as one batch of mine did, you can easily cut them apart and they still taste fabulous.)

I ran out of regular Thompson raisins so I used these funny little Himalayan raisins that I bought at my local health food store. I gave them a quick soak in boiling water just to plump them up a bit before I added them to the dough, but they went crazy once they were baked into the cookie. Maybe they thought they were still regular grapes which had never shriveled in the sun, I don’t know. Check them out, jumping out of the cookie and looking more like blueberries than raisins! It made me laugh.

Here’s the recipe. Enjoy!!!

Inspired by the now-lost version from the dearly departed Columbus Bakery

1 cup walnuts
1 cup raisins
½ cup dried apple slices, chopped into ½-inch pieces
1 cup boiling water

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup light brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup all-purpose flour
3 cups old-fashioned oats (not instant)
½ cup unsweetened shredded coconut

Preheat the oven to 350°. Toast the walnuts in a single layer on a baking sheet, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned and nutty. Transfer to a cutting board to cool, then chop coarsely.

While the walnuts are toasting, place the raisins and dried apple slices in a small bowl. Pour the boiling water over and let stand while you prepare the cookie dough.

Place the softened butter, granulated sugar and brown sugar in the mixing bowl of a stand mixer. Use the paddle attachment to thoroughly combine until light brown and fluffy, about 3 minutes. (Alternatively, you can use a hand-held mixer.) Scrape down the sides with a spatula, beat in the eggs and vanilla until thoroughly mixed in.

In a separate large mixing bowl, toss together the baking powder, baking soda, flour, oats, and shredded coconut. Add these dry ingredients to the butter sugar mixture, blending on very low speed possible just till mixed in.

Drain the raisins and dried apples and pat dry with a paper towel. Stir the dried fruits along with the toasted chopped walnuts into the dough till just combined. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour but preferably up to 24 hours.

When you’re ready to start baking, preheat the oven to 350°. Line a heavy baking sheet with a silpat baking mat or with a sheet of parchment paper. Depending on how large your baking sheet is, scoop out 6 to 8 balls of dough out with a 1/4-cup measuring cup and space evenly on the lined baking sheet; do not flatten. Bake for 27 to 30 minutes, until the cookies are golden brown. They will continue to firm up as they cool. Remove from the oven and let them cool on the baking sheet for 20 minutes, then transfer cookies to a wire cooling rack. Repeat with the remaining dough.

Makes about 24 large 3-inch cookies.

No comments: