Sunday, September 21, 2008

In Quest of the Perfect Oatmeal Cookie

This will be a shorter post than yesterday’s, I promise. (I'm excited that I figured out how to add pictures.)

I have just finished making oatmeal raisin cookies at 2 a.m. for the third time this week.

This sudden attention to cookies is slightly strange since they are definitely not my indulgence of choice. I don’t think any of you would be the least bit surprised if I were whipping up a batch of saffron-infused chocolate ganache in the middle of the night. But cookies? And we’re talking about cookies without even a shard of chocolate in them?? Come on. I know I was definitely prompted in part by the July 9 New York Times article on the most perfect "Chocolate Chip Cookies", an article that I strongly urge you to read and act upon directly, if you haven’t already done so. It was an inspiring article, no doubt, but that doesn’t tell the whole story.

This late night cookie baking is really about the fact that a huge vacuum was created in my life when the Columbus Bakery shut its doors last year. Without any proper notice, this unceremonious closing deprived me of the greatest oatmeal cookies I’ve ever had the privilege of experiencing. I know I was not the only one to make significant detours out of my way to procure one of these magical cookies.

They were a beautiful study in textural contrast, crisp on the outside but perfectly chewy inside. In addition to just the right amount of raisins, these were studded with coconut, dried apple pieces and toasted walnuts, taking cookie-making to a whole new level. In other words, this was the cookie of my dreams.

It was a dark day when I discovered that the Columbus Bakery had closed without any advance warning. Since the bakery had refused to part with their secret recipe even upon repeated request over the years, it made their closing all the more painful. But after an appropriate mourning period, I decided that it was my responsibility to all of us to figure out an acceptable recreation of those cookies. I certainly ate enough of them over the years, analyzing my way through each bite, and with all of my middle-of-the-night baking efforts lately, I think I’m getting close.

(Oh how I LOVE my KitchenAid mixer!)

I’ve played around with various recipes, tasting and tweaking. I’ve come up with my own version which is rather straightforward at first. Butter and sugar (both light brown and granulated) are creamed together, then eggs and a whopping tablespoon of vanilla get mixed in. The dry ingredients are blended together separately , then just blended in to the butter-sugar mixture.

Now here’s where it gets fun. It’s like the ice cream places where you start with the base but then get to pick your favorite toppings to mix in. It’s not enough for these cookies to just have raisins in them, for they are all the more wonderful with a handful of dried apple pieces too. The walnuts absolutely must be toasted, as it makes a world of difference, and the unsweetened coconut shreds add another layer of flavor.

But here’s the rub: the dough needs to chill. For 24 hours. I suppose you could stick the bowl in the freezer for an hour and then bake them off, and they would still be delicious. But in my recent experiments, I must confess that chilling the dough for a day is crucial for achieving the right play of crunchy on the outside/chewy on the inside. And since I’m trying to recreate the perfection of the Columbus Bakery cookie, that dough is sitting in the refrigerator until tomorrow.

I’m sorry to be a tease like this. I will report back tomorrow after baking has commenced, and I will let you know if this particular incarnation of the recipe is the one that works. I have high hopes. To be continued….

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