Friday, December 4, 2009
Mrs. Braun's Oatmeal Cookies
While I'm pretty much always a sucker for a great heirloom recipe, this time of year really gets me into the spirit of seeking out recipes that have soul. The more hands that have passed over a recipe, the better. When I got to talking to my Gramma about some of her favorite recipes this past summer, the first one to come up was for an oatmeal cookie that was apparently so phenomenal, it sounded like it could cure all ailments. When her packet of handwritten recipe cards arrived in my mailbox a few weeks later, I was so manically happy to see that a card for Mrs. Braun's Oatmeal Cookies had made it into the envelope. I turned out a batch just a few days later, and lo, they lived up the hype.
Now, there's not a whole lot to hate on with oatmeal cookies in general. Butter, brown sugar, nubbly with earthy oats--who can't get on board with that? Communists, that's who. But this recipe does the norm one better--the addition of sweet, plump golden raisins and chopped walnuts that offer up their distinct flavor yet somehow nearly disappear into the tweedy depths of a richly caramel-flavored oatmeal cookie base.
I thought it so interesting that this recipe called for golden raisins. I mean, I can't even remember the last time I bought a box of these things, if ever. The flavor of a golden raisin is so much more delicate than that if its winey black raisin counterpart. Plus, I find them to be plumper and more moist, which could be a reason for the cookie turning out so wonderfully moist and chewy--more of the liquid in the recipe goes to hydrating the dry ingredients and isn't robbed by drier dark raisins. Just a theory here, but it works for me. If Mrs. Braun (pronounced brown) was still alive, I might ask her what she thought. But then, from what I've heard about Mrs. Braun, the mother-in-law of one of my Gramma's friends, these oatmeal cookies were one of the more likeable things about her. So maybe I'd keep my questions to myself.
Another thing that I don't usually use in cookie recipes makes an appearance here--shortening. Shudder. But alas, it does have its place in baking and it does turn out consistently chewy cookies. So I couldn't shun it altogether. But I did tinker with the recipe a bit (please don't come haunt me for this, Mrs. Braun) so it would cut back on the skeevy shortening and include some butter, the flavor of which is just unbeatable. I should note that for half a minute I contemplated buying butter-flavored shortening, but then I thought it might just be gateway fat into even scarier fat purchases--what would be next for me? Lard? Oleo? A very slippery slope, I'd say (pun absolutely intended).
Happily, the half butter-half shortening combination worked beautifully. These cookies came out moist and chewy with beautifully crisp edges and an almost lacy landscape, and kept fabulously on the counter. For the the two days they stuck around.
Mrs. Braun's Oatmeal Cookies
The unbaked dough freezes beautifully--just scoop the portions onto a sheet pan, freeze until solid, and toss the frozen dough balls into a big ziptop bag. Bake them straight out of the freezer for just a minute or two more than usual. Pack as many golden raisins and walnuts as you like into these cookies--the amounts are just a suggestion.
Makes about 4 dozen
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
3 cups old-fashioned or rolled oats (not quick-cooking or instant)
1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Generous 3/4 cup golden raisins
Generous 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
Position an oven rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking liners.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt. Whisk in the oats and set aside.
In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the shortening, butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar in medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Scrape down the bowl and beat in the eggs one at a time, followed by the vanilla. Reduce the mixer speed to low and stir in the dry ingredients until almost fully incorporated. Stir in the raisins and walnuts until the batter is well-blended.
Drop the batter by rounded tablespoonfuls onto the baking sheets, 12 per sheet. Bake one sheet
at a time, rotating the pan halfway through baking, until the cookies are nicely browned, about 10-12 minutes. Cool for 1 minute on the baking sheet before transferring the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container for up to one week.