Monday, March 21, 2011

Sweetness and light: a transcendent oatmeal-raisin cookie

(Okay, enough with the earthquakes and tsunamis and nuclear disasters and political irresponsibility. Even a dyed-in-the-wool pessimist needs a break from himself every once in a while....)

Some dear friends were in town last weekend and we enjoyed a late dinner together at a restaurant in Berkeley, Gather, which opened last year shortly after our friends left for the East coast. Great food in a California organic-locavore vein, great ambience, unbeatable company. It was one of those nights when the food and the conversation compete in an ascending spiral. At some point, it must have been as we ordered dessert, our talk turned to cookies.

I'm mad about cookies. My partner, not so much. Our out-of-town friends love snacks of all sorts, cookies included, so the whys and wherefores -- the good, the bad, the ugly of cookies -- flew thick and fast as our friends struggled to comprehend my partner's oddity. L-- wondered whether her recipe for oatmeal-raisin cookies might change his mind.

Oatmeal-raisin cookies are among my favorites. Alas, I've never found a recipe that comes close to the Platonic ideal so I've never been able to satisfy this particular craving on my own steam. Sure, there are indifferent oatmeal-raisin cookies sold in cafés all over town, and even a few good ones. The best oatmeal-raisin cookies I know of on offer in Berkeley are baked at a café near my office ... but while their pastry case is usually awash in chocolate chip cookies and snickerdoodles and pecan shortbread and chocolate-walnut ... only rarely do they make my personal favorite, oatmeal-raisin cookies. (Yali's, are you listening?)

So, I reply that if L-- will share her recipe I'll make them and see if that might cause Matthew to see the light. Hang on, L-- replies. I've got the recipe in my wallet.

I was skeptical -- who carries recipes in their wallet? Yeah, I cook, I have shelf-feet of cookbooks, and notebooks of my mom's recipes, and more notebooks from the era I worked as a cook ... but carry them around? Written on paper?

L-- does, apparently.

Oatmeal-raisin cookies. Right there in her wallet. In miniature, on the back of a business card. Check out the proof.

I love that L-- carries a favorite recipe wherever she goes, even to dinner thousands of miles from the city she now calls home. Even more, I love that in a fully-stocked kitchen, armed even with the original of the business card on which it's scribbled, you'd need a cryptographer to understand what the heck to do with this recipe.

L--'s husband S-- snapped a photo of the card and sent it to us over the (unsecured) intertubes. Once home, I did my best to decipher it ... and L-- kindly helped me over e-mail to fill in the blanks. And so, for your baking pleasure:

L--'s Oatmeal-Raisin Cookies

3/4 c brown sugar
1/2 c white sugar
3/4 c raisins
2 c oats
1 c flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1.5 sticks butter [= 12 tbsp.]
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla

L--'s instructions: mix dry ingredients, add wet ingredients. Yep. That's all she wrote.

Bake at 350 degrees (F) for 11-13 minutes on the usual greased cookie sheets. L-- guessed the recipe makes about 36 cookies. Like, I like 'em big, so I sized for 24.

The first time I baked L--'s cookies I wasn't having any of this 'mix dry, add wet' minimalism. I applied tried-and-true techniques, learned from my mom back in the day: cream the butter and sugar; add the egg and vanilla; add the raisins; combine the dry ingredients together and add them, being careful not to over-mix. Then bake, as L-- recommended, at 350 degrees for 11-13 minutes.

The result? Pure deliciousness. I mean, hands-down the best oatmeal-raisin cookies I've ever baked. Check out the photo, the one on the square, green plate.

The thing to notice is that the cookies spread out and got nicely melty in the oven. The edges caramelized, a fantasy in butter, sugar, and cinnamon. This isn't what I expected from a oatmeal-raisin cookie, though, no matter how delicious, so I asked L-- whether they get melty and caramelized when she bakes them using her technique. I sent along a photo for diagnostic purposes. We exchanged theories of cookie-making, and I decided that Science required me to make another batch in order to see whether L--'s methods would turn out differently than mine.

Not that I needed an excuse to bake a second batch. But not that an excuse hurt either.

Indeed, L--'s technique produced cookies that weren't quite so melty. The cookies mixed using her simplified dry + wet technique came out a bit more cakey ... still with a nice, crispy hint of caramelization around the edges, and a chewiness to-die-for. Just as delicious as Batch #1. The cookies on the round blue plate illustrate my second attempt.

I recommend either ... both ... either ... both ...

Really, it's up to you. Happiness follows, in any case. I brought a big (yellow) plate full to my reading group yesterday. Just the ticket to fuel a discussion of David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas.



  1. While I have grown to enjoy oatmeal cookies I still feel a bit cheated when I bite into one and that dark spot that looks like a chocolate chip turns out to be a raisin.

  2. Glenn I am shocked -- shocked! -- to find that you are a chocolate ideologue!!?!

    I am as mad about chocolate as I am about cookies, man, but ... please ... isn't variety the spice of life?

  3. Did you miss the "enjoy" part?

    I even think of fruit as dessert now - sometimes. My mother would be shocked!

  4. Okay, fair enough. I was focusing on "a bit cheated."