Vail baking: An old-fashioned oatmeal cookie
Vail CO, Colorado
VAIL, Colorado ” “What makes this so difficult?” asked a frustrated reader recently. “I’ve made oatmeal cookies at sea level for years. But up here they come out flat, hard, and dry. I end up throwing them away.”
I’ve heard this complaint from a number of mountain bakers. The oatmeal cookie, so easy at lower elevations, turns into a real prima donna above 7,000 feet.
I’ve been trying to remedy the situation by playing with adjustments and variations for this classic cookie. My goal was to come up with something like the one we know and love in the flatlands; I think the recipe featured in this column comes close. The vegetable oil and sour cream keep it chewy and soft; changes in the flour and leavening maintain an attractive, mounded shape. And, it has a nice oatmeal texture and the expected interplay of raisins, nuts, vanilla, and chocolate. No, it isn’t anything you’d serve the queen. Rather, it’s an unpretentious little treat that could go in a lunchbox or beside a cup of tea. It’s your basic, satisfying, old-fashioned oatmeal cookie.
Good results with this recipe depend on removing the cookies from the oven while they are still soft. Overbaking will give you the hard, dry texture we are trying so hard to avoid. It’s also important to let the dough rest for 30 minutes or more before forming and baking the cookies. This allows it to develop structure and helps prevent it from flattening while baking.
While you could bake all the cookies at once, using two cookie sheets and the oven racks in the upper and lower third of the oven, I think the cookie is better (softer and more rounded) if baked in the center position of the oven, one baking sheet at a time.
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The cookies keep well for several days and can be frozen for a month or so if wrapped airtight. They harden slightly when frozen. To return them to their previous texture, warm them in a 300-degree oven for about 4 to 5 minutes right before serving.
Mountain Oatmeal Cookies
Adjusted for altitudes between 8,000 and 10,000 feet
1 tablespoon of mild vegetable oil (I use canola)
4 tablespoons of unsalted butter (half a stick) at room temperature
1/2 cup of brown sugar, packed
1/2 of a large egg (whisk to combine yolk and white; 1 1/2 tablespoons of the mixture equals half a large egg. A large egg measures about 3 tablespoons.)
3 tablespoons of sour cream or plain yogurt (regular or low fat, not non-fat)
2 teaspoons of vanilla
1/2 cup of raisins
1 cup of rolled oats (not instant)
1/8 teaspoon of baking soda
1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon of salt
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons of unbleached all purpose flour
1/2 cup of chopped walnuts or pecans
1/2 cup of semisweet chocolate chips
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the center position. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Beat the vegetable oil, unsalted butter and brown sugar with an electric mixer until creamy, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. This takes a few minutes. Add the half-egg and beat until the mixture is light and fluffy. Beat in the sour cream or yogurt and the vanilla. Stir in the raisins and the rolled oats.
In a separate bowl, whisk the baking soda, cinnamon, salt, and flour to combine well. Add these dry ingredients to the moist ones in three equal parts, beating on low speed after each addition until the dry ingredients are completely absorbed. Stir in the chopped nuts and the chocolate chips. Let the dough rest and set up for 30 minutes.
Roll the dough into 1 1/4- inch balls and place them on the lined cookie sheet, about 2 inches apart. If the dough sticks to your hands, dampen them with water before you form the balls. Bake the cookies only until they are light brown (about 12 to 14 minutes). They should remain soft, though the bottoms of the cookies should be set and no longer stick to the parchment paper when lifted. Don’t overbake. Reverse the cookie sheet after about 6 minutes in the oven to assure even baking. Remove the cookies to a rack to cool completely. Repeat this process with a second parchment-lined baking sheet or cool your baking sheet completely before using it again.
This recipe is a variation of one developed by King Arthur Flour.
Makes about 34 two-inch cookies
Vera Dawson lives in Summit County, where she bakes almost every day. Her recipes have been tested in her home kitchen and, whenever necessary, altered until they work at our altitude. Contact Vera Dawson with your comments about this column or your baking questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.