Food — Oatmeal Cookies, The Miracle Cure

Oatmeal cookies, the miracle cure

Or maybe not, but with all that crispy goodness maybe it’s best to play along

By Amy Diaz [adiaz@hippopress.com] 

Sometimes, it’s all about what you convince yourself is true.

I believe that enough Vitamin C will ward off the flu. Dumbo, in the 1941 Disney movie, believed he could fly due to a magic feather. My dad, in an early 1990s bid to stay healthy despite a schedule that was increasing his work time and decreasing his jogging time, believed that oatmeal cookies helped him lose weight.

Who’s to say if any of us really knows what we’re talking about. But at least my dad’s belief allowed him to eat cookies. And I’ve never come across any Vitamin C into which you can put chocolate chips.

The amazing weigh-loss cookies actually originated from my younger brother’s Cub Scout handbook—fitting, what with their whole “be prepared” ethos. (As in “be prepared for the time when your cubicle will become your habitat for 90 percent of your waking hours.”) However, I, unable to leave well baked enough alone, decide that a little deviation from this recipe was in order.

First off, despite the fact that the recipe originally suggested, in a polite, helps-an-old-lady-across-the-street way, that raisins might be nice, I make a dictatorial edict that never a raisin would see the inside of a mixing bowl. (Why, why, must raisins be in everything?)

Then, due in part to my mother’s equally strong belief that every component of our family’s diet—from pancake to cupcake—must have some nutritional value, I began to play around with the flour measurements. Generally, my mother upped the healthiness of a cookie (or cake or pie or...well, anything with flour) by adding whole wheat flour. But I’d always found that the results could, if not meticulously measured and carefully baked, tend toward the lead-like. Fluffy, white flour with all its unbleached, all-purpose lightness, seemed, I believed, to produce a crispier, airier cookie.

To make up for this lack of fiber, I started adding oat bran. Oat bran is to fiber as a fully automatic assault rifle is to a self-defense device. Not only did 1/4 to 1/2 cup (sometimes 1/4 cup just didn’t seem right—I don’t know why, maybe the eggs where bigger that week) more than make up for not using wheat flour, it also gave the cookies a nutty, granola-like flavor. I also doubled (at least) the vanilla by about a teaspoon, which increased the slightly woody taste and that fresh-cookie aroma.

The miracle cookies, perhaps because of the oatbran and perhaps because my father took only three to work with him and then ate nothing between the cookie breakfast and lunch, actually did prove somewhat miraculous by having positive health and weight-related effects. At least, that’s what my father told us and, never one to say no to an opportunity to make more cookies, I decided that indeed these cookies did have special fitness properties.

Years later, I found myself wanting to lose weight, be healthier and escape the daily trap of buying a bagel and coffee on the way in to work. I again turned to the cookie, this time determined to push the limits of nutrition even further.

I decreased the flour slightly (maybe by as much as three tablespoons) and added about 1/2 cup of ground nuts. Pecans were my favorite but walnuts worked in a pinch.

The result was a rich nutty, smoky flavor and a crispier cookie. Much richer and far crispier. Which, of course, was when I realized that while I had created cookie with more protein, I had also created one with more fat. Possibly explaining why the miracle diet cookies led to tighter clothes.

Back at the studio-apartment mini-kitchen pantry, I decided to go the other way. I cut the flour in half and substituted it for ground oats.

Now a normal person would have found ground oats in their easy-to-purchase bag at health food, whole food and other specialty stores. A more desperate/ less observant person (one like myself) might go the route of grinding oats herself.

Despite how Martha Stewart that sounds, the process of smushing oats with a motar and pestle is not as time-consuming as it appears. And it’s extremely cathartic, as it allows you to grind the oats (for which you may mentally substitute your boss or your student loan officer) into a fine dust. Actually, it’s more like a larger-than-flour, smaller-and-fluffier-than-corn meal grain. The result—ridiculously light cookies that melt in your mouth. So light that I eventually started increasing the oats by about a half a cup (without the heft, they lose their magical you-can-be-full-on-just-three properties).

With increased oats, the race was on, and soon I reached a 1 1/4 cup oat flour to 3 1/2 cups oats equalibrium. The cookies are quite granola-like in taste and texture, yet still airy enough to rise (under the right heat considitions) into lighter-than-Dumbo’s-feather-weight palm-sized servings.

These cookies, when eaten in small portions and in place of far fattier fair, did in fact produce the desired effect. The key was not to give in to that just-out-of-the-oven smell and eat half the batch immediately. And, clearly, the cookies had to entire replace, not merely supplement, the less healthy snack or meal.

Now you could argue that the cookies probably had nothing to do with the weight loss. That the extra attention paid to other food during this period of oatmeal-fulled fitness-lust probably had more effect on weight. That curbing the mid-afternoon munchy habit is more important than the noontime cookie that was sent into the battlefield to keep the forces of hunger at bay.

OK, so? All of these things are probably correct but, shut up. These are cookies we’re talking about. Cookies I’ve convinced myself are healthy.

A situation this delusionally perfect does not come around every day.

In later years, the cookies have become not only a nutrition aid, they are also a wooing device. Sure, oatmeal says practical and sensible, but a few chocolate chips are all about romance. And, because of their apparent health value, nobody has to feel guilty about eating them. I care so much I want you to be healthy and satisfied, the cookie says. And, if presented at the right time, the cookie saves the need to make any awkward declarations or write any embarrassing notes.

The cookies, as they do in the fight against sag and jiggle, ride in to save the day.

All you have to do is believe.

More-or-less healthy oatmeal cookies

Here is the more-or-less original recipe for the miracle oatmeal cookies, as adapted from a late 1980s Cub Scout manual:

3/4 cup vegetable shortening

1 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 egg

1/4 cup water

1 teaspoon vanilla

3 cups uncooked oats

1 cup all purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Mix shortening and sugars together until completely blended.

Add egg, vanilla and water and whisk until the mixture forms a smooth batter.

Add baking soda by sprinkling teaspoon into batter and mix in thoroughly.

Add flour.

Add oats, mixing in 1 cup at a time. Stir with spoon until oats are completely incorporated into the cookie dough.

The dough should be moist but not runny and should be able to hold its shape.

Spoon out in tablespoon -sized increments onto a lightly greased cookie sheet. Bake at 375 for 10 minutes or just until the tops of the cookies harden.

Remove from oven, but let cookies rest on sheet (where they will continue to cook) for another 5 to 10 minutes.

Place on cooling rack or paper towels on a clean counter to cool. Let cool completely before covering.

Variations:

Oat Bran—The rougher, denser oat bran can be added after the flour, before the oats. About 1/4 to 1/2 cup oat bran will provide a hearty consistency, though the more oat bran you add the denser the cookie becomes. Decrease the all-purpose flour for a lighter cookie.

Oat flour—As with the oat bran, this is really a personal taste issue. Oat flour is lighter than all-purpose flour, so adjust accordiingly if you replace. I always found that the 1 1/4 cups oat flour and 3 1/2 cups of oats ratio worked well.

More oats, less flour—This is a great cookie for playing with consistency. More oats and less flour gives you a more crumbly but more granola-like cookie.

Nuts—Add ground nuts after the flour but before the oats for a richer cookie. Adding whole nuts, after the oats are mixed in, will add crunch but can have a slightly drying effect.

Raisins—If you must, raisins can be added after the oats are mixed in.

Dried cherries—Serve the same sweetening purpose as raisins and yet somehow are more acceptable. Fewer cherries are requrired than their smaller, dried-fruit cousins so, if you’re a cup-of-raisins person, try 2/3 cup of cherries.

Chocolate chips—Harder to fool yourself that these cookies are all business when chocolate chips wink at you from the dough, but 1/2 cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips work nicely with the grainy, nutty taste of the cookie.

Notes:

Oil—Use shortening. Don’t try to substitute butter, oil or an maragine-type substance. These cookies need the stiffness of room temperature shortening to really do their thing.

Oats—Do not use instant oatmeal.

Cooking time—For such hearty-tasting cookies, these guys are quite particular about their time in the oven, both in terms of how long and how hot.  (Both of these numbers are exact only for each individual oven. In one apartment, 12 minutes at 360 did the job beautifully. At the next address? Nothing less than 15 minutes at 375 would do.)

- Amy Diaz

 
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