Thursday, November 17, 2011

Christmas Cookies for Thanksgiving?

The Fab Four: The Quintessential Oatmeal Raisin Cookie
And I'm not talking about The Beatles either.

One of the things that happen in families, is when the kids cease being kids, grow up and all of a sudden they think they can do the Annual Bishop Family Thanksgiving.  On their own.  With no help from their old ma.  Of course, I don't think the kids have ever seen me cook a Thanksgiving dinner.  I think there were 10 Thanksgivings in a row that we spent on the road, traveling to where ever the biggest Thanksgiving soccer tournament was being played.  I did make turkey a couple of times, but only to tear it up for sandwiches to eat on the road.

Anyway, with no training from me, apparently both of my daughters turned out to be pretty good cooks, and more than capable of turning out a magnificent feast, with no help from me.  Hmmmm.  But I don't know if I'm ready to be benched and relegated to the sideline quite yet.   
So what I have chosen to do with all the extra time (and also to be crowned "The Best Granny Ever") is to audition my Christmas cookies.  While others slave away to peel potatoes, cut crudites, bake cornbread for stuffing, make giblet gravy, I'll be sitting with my grand kids and getting evaluations/opinions of the cookies that will be going out to family, friends and business connections. 

To me, the perfect cookie is a cookie that is made from grocery store ingredients.  I don't have the time to get specialty items from a chocolatier, a candy shop or mail order website.  And the cookie can't be finicky.  I also like big cookies, that hold their shapes.  I don't like a cookie that spreads out too much and gets thin around the edges.  I like a cookie that you can eat several of. without being overwhelmed with sugar and goo.  I need a cookie that can stay fresh for several days.  I like chewy cookies because I think they pack and mail easier.  I also need a cookie where you can substitute some store brand ingredients and they still turn out great.
Over the years I've perfected four cookie recipes: Oatmeal Raisin, Chocolate Chip, Peanut Butter and Quadruple Chocolate.  
I'll start with the Oatmeal Raisin Cookies.  But first, an explanation ...
I love oatmeal cookies.  When I was a kid my dad would take me to Malnight's Bakery across from Central High School in Kalamazoo, Michigan and the old gal behind the counter would had me a thick, salty yet sweet oatmeal cookie.  The sugar would melt on my tongue and leave behind the toasty oats -- an oatmeal cookie at its purest.  At that tender age, I didn't know that there were people out there who would desecrate an oatmeal cookie recipe by putting raisins in it.  Oh, gag.  I think I just threw up a little.  I can't tell you when I developed an aversion to raisins, but I've had it all my life.
When the kids were little, I'd bake oatmeal cookies for a couple of reasons -- oatmeal is good for you (right?), I always had oatmeal on hand AND they weren't my husband's favorite.  Baking treats in my household was always precarious.  If I baked chocolate chip cookies, each of the children would would have a couple, put a couple in their lunches.  After they went to bed, their dad would eat the rest.  Every last one of them.  Two dozen?  Three dozen? It didn't matter.  He'd eat them until he got sick and then he'd eat some more.  Cookies for a class party? A bake sale?  Didn't matter.  He'd eat them all.  So I made oatmeal cookies
After the kids left home, I stopped baking.  It's no fun to spend a couple hours in the kitchen and have all my hard worked inhaled and only getting a few of the treats myself.  Every once in a while on a Saturday, I'd get in the mood to bake.  "How do you feel about oatmeal cookies," I'd holler down to the office.  "Only if they've got raisins in them," would be the muffled reply.  "You won't eat them if they don't have raisins in them?"  "I didn't say that," was the answer
So this went on for several years.  And then one day I got a craving.  A craving for oatmeal cookies.  I wanted a better recipe than the old standby Betty Crocker Cookbook from the 70s.  So I Googled BEST OATMEAL COOKIE RECIPE and this recipe came up.  Five out of 5 stars with reviews from 174 people.  Really?  How could could this recipe be that good?  The only problem with the cookie?  Raisins. 
But I was feeling a little sweeter than I usually do, so I thought I'd try it out and put the raisins in half of them for my husband.  As soon as I started reading the recipe I knew this was really different from all the other oatmeal cookie recipes I've tried for one reason.  This gal (Merrie Wold) says that it's absolutely mandatory that the raisins, eggs and vanilla are all combined together and then let stand for one hour.  

And so I followed the directions.  As I was assembling the rest of the ingredients, my son called from North Carolina.  As we yacked it up, I just started dumping the ingredients into the mixing bowl.  Being sidetracked as I was, I didn't even hesitate as I add the raisin/egg/vanilla mixture into the entire batch.  I broke my own heart.  I even contemplated picking all the raisins out of the dough, but eventually just said to heck with it.

I apprehension I tried one cookie fresh out of the oven.  I was prepared to spit out the raisins.  After one bite, I realized that this cookie was on a whole 'nother level.  I couldn't actually detect a raisin.  It had melted into a sweet moist swirl into the cookie, adding to the texture and flavor, but not demanding attention.  Sometimes oatmeal cookies can be kind of dry, but the macerated raisins solved that problem. 

So this is that recipe.  Even if you don't like raisins, try it anyway.  And in my 45 years of baking cookies, this is the one recipe that I have never altered.  The only things I added here were instructional: use butter that is room temperature, when to start preheating the oven, lightly pack the brown sugar, and how I formed the cookie.  I found this recipe at, under the title "Best Oatmeal Cookies."  It's recipe # 54351 and it's by Merrie Wold.

Here's a link to a picture of the finished cookie posted by a fan:

Best Oatmeal Cookies
"This is a family favorite that I have been making for years.  It's the most requested oatmeal cookie recipe I've ever made.  I found it somewhere years ago, but have lost the source.  The secret is soaking the raisins which makes all the difference/"
  • 3 eggs, well beaten
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup softened butter
  • 1 cup lightly packed brown sugar
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 cups oatmeal
  • 3/4 chopped pecans
  1. This is a very important first step that makes the cookie: combine eggs, raisins and vanilla and let stand for one hour.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  3. Cream together butter and sugars.
  4. Add flour, salt, cinnamon and baking soda and mix well.
  5. Blend in egg-raisin-vanilla mixture, oatmeal and chopped nuts.
  6. Dough will be stiff.
  7. Drop by heaping teaspoons onto an ungreased cookie sheet, or roll into balls and flatten slightly.
  8. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes or until lightly browned. 
Yield: 72 cookies

I very lightly rolled the dough into a ball.  And 10 minutes was the magic number in my oven.

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