Ode to Oatmeal

Folks go for the simple pleasure of an old-fashioned cookie

March 04, 2009|By JILL ROSEN | JILL ROSEN,jill.rosen@baltsun.com

Lumpy, bumpy and hopelessly old-fashioned, the oatmeal cookie lacks any semblance of foodie street cred. Panache? Style? Decadence? Modest oatmeal's got none of that.

But its very plainness, its unabashedly humble stance, could explain the very reason people seem to love oatmeal cookies a teensy bit more than all the rest.

America, it seems, loves an underdog. Even in a cookie. And in oatmeal, people have got their Cinderella.

When The Baltimore Sun put out a call last year for holiday cookie recipes, editors were surprised to see quite a few spins on the traditional oatmeal cookie.

At Family Circle magazine, where an oatmeal cookie recipe has swept every Presidential Cookie Bake Off (a rating of cookie recipes from the spouses of presidential candidates) since the contest's inception in 1992, folks know very well the power of simple pleasures. They know the homespun wholesomeness of an oatmeal cookie reflects a heartland practicality, even a Rockwellian Americana.

"Everyone loves chocolate chip, but oatmeal definitely has more of a homey, homemade, from-the-heart quality to it," says Julie Miltenberg, the magazine's senior food editor. "With the way the economy is going ... people would rather snuggle up with a traditional favorite than try something new."

In a country that's lately re-embraced such humble foods as doughnuts and bacon, it's probably no surprise that the oatmeal cookie has found a more prominent place in the nation's heart. And, the love affair has apparently been a quick one.

According to the Food Timeline Web site, oatmeal cookies did not appear in cookbooks until the 20th century. However, the culinary ancestors of the modern oatmeal cookie are ancient bannocks and British oatcakes. And the habit of adding raisins, nuts and spices can be traced to the Middle Ages.

When Katherine Keller bakes a batch of her Oatmeal-Chocolate-Chip Cookies, and the fresh-baked smell wafts through her Annapolis home, if she closes her eyes, she could be a kid again.

For Tom Schwartz, a Naval Academy graduate and former Baltimore resident, oatmeal "hockey pucks" are the childhood snack he remembers from growing up in post-Depression Brooklyn.

Joanne Miller of Westminster readily admits her relationship with oatmeal cookies, which she used to find dry and bland, is not a longstanding one. But in the few years she's made her spicy, iced cookies, they've become a family favorite that her husband and grandkids will not do without.

Keller, Schwartz and Miller are among those so smitten by their oatmeal-cookie recipes that they wanted to share them with the Sun's readers. Each of their recipes represents a different facet of what the unassuming oat is capable of.

With Keller's cookie, the oatmeal is covert, ground into a flour so, say, a child who hates oats wouldn't know it was there. Even those with more mature palates might assume they were eating a chocolate-chip cookie - but one with a very flavorful dough.

Keller's kids dunk them in milk. Should any last in the house for a few days, they like to zap them in the microwave to revive that melty, just-from-the-oven warmth."They're always a real big hit," Keller says. "I can't keep them in the house for very long."

No one could miss the oats in Schwartz's cookie. The old-fashioned variety leaves his pucks with a toothsome, healthful, granola vibe.

Schwartz, who's retired to Melbourne, Fla., bakes his hockey pucks almost every week. Like his mother who made them for him, he loves that they're affordable and recession-friendly and that he can feel good about feeding them to his grandchildren.

"If you want to give your children snacks between meals, there's nothing better to give them than something with oatmeal in it," he says.

Miller's cookie proves that oatmeal cookies are more than capable of exhibiting, if not outright elegance, definite sophistication. It's partly the nuts, raisins and spices, but mainly the luscious brown-butter drizzle.

"If you want something special, this is soooo worth the time," says Miller, who's made it her go-to recipe for Christmas, summertime picnics and pot-luck parties. "Everywhere I go, people love it. Everybody wants the recipe."

oatmeal-chocolate-chip cookies

(makes about 9 dozen cookies)

2 cups unsalted butter (room temperature)

2 cups brown sugar

2 cups white sugar

4 eggs

3 teaspoons vanilla

3 cups oatmeal flour (can be made by putting slightly more than 3 cups of quick-cooking oats in a food processor and grinding until it has a flourlike consistency)

4 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

24 ounces milk chocolate or semisweet chips, plus one 8-ounce chocolate bar broken into chunks

3 cups chopped nuts (optional)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cream together the butter and brown and white sugars. Add to the butter mixture the eggs and vanilla.

Mix the dry ingredients together (oatmeal flour through baking powder) and then add them to the butter mixture. Add the chocolate pieces and nuts, if using.

Make dough into golf-ball-sized pieces and press each ball down to flatten on cookie sheet lined with parchment or Silpat. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes.

Courtesy of Katherine Keller of Annapolis

Per cookie: : 129 calories, 1 gram protein, 6 grams fat, 4 grams saturated fat, 18 grams carbohydrate, 1 gram fiber, 17 milligrams cholesterol, 76 milligrams sodium

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