Monday, July 2, 2012

Oatmeal Raisin Pecan Cookies

I was not raised to be a cookie baker.

Strange, right?  Usually that's the first thing a kid will learn how to make.  But I grew up in a house with a mom who only made cookies once a year: at Christmas.  And those were cut-out sugar cookies.  Never (or at least hardly ever) was a homemade chocolate chip cookie seen emerging from our oven.

Instead, we made chocolate chip bars: from-scratch Toll House recipe cookie dough was pressed into a 9x13 pan and baked until still slightly gooey in the middle, then cut into squares or rectangles for consumption.

We were famous for those suckers.  With a hint of extra vanilla, two heaping cups of semisweet chocolate chips, and the precise right baking time that left them super soft and anything but dry for days and days, they were the perfect bake sale or party treat, and every friend I ever had in high school knew to be on the lookout for Angela's Chocolate Chip Bars.

But there's just something about cookies that you can't really replace.
As a form of baking therapy, the constant rotation of pans in the oven and the intoxicating scent of warm butter and sugar makes cookie baking immensely satisfying - when you have the time, that is.  And after visiting Levain Bakery in NYC, I knew I'd never be satisfied until I could make cookies anywhere close to that delicious on my own.

Now, the trouble for me is not in the dough - I've got cookie dough making down to a veritable science, complete control sampling :)  The trouble is in the baking time.  For someone who's used to sticking things in the oven and leaving them there for 20+ minutes at a time, short baking times and constant attention at the oven is, well, weird.  And a major guessing game.

It took me ages to photograph these cookies - not because I wanted to tweak the recipe at all, because I'm pretty sure what changes I made to an already excellent recipe made these the most addictive cookies of all time, but because I wanted to get the baking time exactly right for perfectly photogenic cookies.  I'm still not sure I've nailed it yet, but this third batch was by far the best - light golden brown and still super soft, so I have hope.  If you're experienced in the cookie world, feel free to leave me some advice!

Baking time correct or not, these cookies are definitely worth trying.  They're my husband's favorite kind - oatmeal raisin - from an excellent recipe that I found on David Lebovitz's blog, doctored up with a little whole wheat flour, molasses, sea salt, and pecans.  And my lord, are they tasty!!  Enjoy warm or at room temperature (or in a sundae? hmmm...).  If you don't want to risk consuming them all at once, bake a small batch, then roll the rest of the dough into balls and flash-freeze them, then store them in a freezer bag till a cookie craving hits!  A little self-imposed portion control never hurt anyone ;)

Oatmeal Raisin Pecan Cookies
Source: adapted from David Lebovitz, originally from Flour by Joanne Chang

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature 
2/3 cup granulated sugar 
1 cup packed light brown sugar 
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp unsulphured molasses
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats (not instant or quick)
1-1/2 cups raisins
scant 1 cup coarsely chopped pecans

In the bowl of a stand mixer, or in a large bowl with a very sturdy hand mixer, cream together the butter and sugars until very light and fluffy - about 5 minutes.
In a separate bowl, combine the flours, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon, whisking together thoroughly until no clumps of baking soda remain.  Stir in the oats, raisins, and pecans.
Returning to the mixer, add the eggs to the butter and sugars one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Stir in the vanilla extract and the molasses.  Gradually add the flour and oat mixture on a low speed to the creamed butter mixture until well combined.
Chill the dough, covered, for a few hours or overnight - optional, but recommended.
To bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 350˚F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, a silicone baking mat, or (in a pinch) foil sprayed lightly with cooking spray.  For giant cookies, (cause who doesn't like a giant cookie??) drop the dough in 1/4-cup sized* balls spaced evenly on the baking sheet.  Place in the preheated oven on a rack centered in the oven.  Midway through the baking time, rotate the baking sheet so the cookies bake evenly.  If necessary, flatten the domes of the cookies with a spatula.  Bake the cookies for 20-22 minutes, or until the tops are just starting to brown - don't overbake them!  You'll be sad.  Remove from the oven, cool completely on a wire rack, and enjoy!

*If you make smaller cookies, you'll need to drop the total baking time.  Rotate them after about 7 minutes and check on their doneness starting at 15 minutes.

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