Saturday, November 12, 2005

Perfect Oatmeal Cookies

You know when your kids have been sick, except then it's day three of being home from school and they're up and about, munching crackers and introducing the Pretty Ponies to the Playmobil Vikings, so you kind of forget they're sick, only then you hear a terrible keening wail and when you run upstairs to investigate the calamity (A compound fracture? A puncture wound? Decapitation?) you find a small girl lying on the carpet weeping: "I don't want to clean the play room." "Did someone tell you you had to clean the playroom?" you might ask her, and, after another round of choking sobs, she will say only, "Noooooo-ho-ho-ho." And then the dim Mama-bulb will illuminate, and you will place your open palm on her hot forehead and feed her Tylenol and ask, cheerfully, "Would you like to come down and make cookies with me?"

So it was with the Bird--and let me just say, the cookies were a good idea. Even if she made occasional announcements like, "Maybe they'll taste my sneeze in the cookies!" and "Will the oven burn up the coughing germs do you think?" that I tried not to hear. These cookies are wildly delicious, and even though we've been making them for just over a year, they are one of my absolute all-time favorites. This is not your usual cakey, raisiny, cinnamony kind of oatmeal cookie; instead they're buttery-edged and crisp but also teeth-stickingly chewy. Plus, they're a strange and beautiful color--a kind of ruddy burnished gold that is very appealing. We all love them; everybody always loves them. Also--and I realize this makes me sound almost unconscionably lazy--you melt the butter before stirring it in, and this freedom from creaming makes me very happy.

I got these cookies from Cindy Hopper's lovely craft blog Skip to My Lou, and while she is not herself Australian, the recipe is. It's for something called ANZAC biscuits, and it stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, the idea being that the cookies were sturdy enough to travel intact to far-away loved ones who were fighting in the war. I have to say, however, that I think this may be the recipe equivalent of the game telephone, since these cookies, while perfect, are somewhat fragile and don't seem like they would travel especially intactly. Nonetheless, their Australianness is preserved with the ingredient "Lyle's Golden Syrup." As the daughter of an English woman, I myself grew up with Lyle's Golden Syrup--a honey-colored, sugar-based stickiness-in-a-tin--and, until recently, it was the kind of thing you had to beg traveling relatives to bring home for you from abroad. Now, however, you can buy it in a plastic bottle in all kinds of American stores, and we get ours in the Whole Foods nearby. Cindy uses light corn syrup instead and, given her good taste, I trust that this is a perfectly acceptable substitution.

Also, while I'm at being all English and everything, I should tell you my mum's theory about sickness: "A little of what you fancy does you good." Which explains why a cookie, while not exactly laden with vitamin C or zinc or antioxidants or codeine, can actually make a person feel much, much better.

This is Birdy in 2009. Sigh.
Perfect Oatmeal Cookies
Makes 3 dozen.
active time: 20 minutes; total time: 1 hour

Adapted from Cindy Hopper's ANZAC Biscuits recipe, and reprinted with her gracious permission. Please do note the low oven temperature.

1 cup rolled oats
3/4 cup sweetened, flaked coconut
1 cup flour (now, in 2014, I use half spelt, because that's how I roll these days)
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (or half as much table salt)
1 stick butter (I use salted)
1 tablespoon Lyle's Golden Syrup (or light corn syrup)
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons boiling water

Heat the oven to 300 and prepare a large cookie sheet: I cover mine with parchment paper for even browning and easy clean-up, but you could grease it instead. In a large bowl, stir together the oats, coconut, flour, sugar and salt. Meanwhile melt the butter and syrup together in a small pot over low heat. Stir the baking soda into the boiling water, then stir this into the butter and syrup and pour all of it over the dry ingredients. Stir well, then drop cookie-sized amounts (we use a heaping melon baller, which is about 2 teaspoons I think) onto the baking sheets, leaving plenty of space for them to spread.

Bake for 12-15 minutes, switching the pan around if you need to for even baking, until the cookies are golden all over and quite brown on the edges (keep an eye on them--they can burn quickly); the cookies will look puffy when you remove them from the oven, and then they will sink and go a bit lacy. Leave them on the cookie sheet for 3 or 4 minutes before removing them with a spatula to cool on a rack; if you go at them too early, they will fall all to pieces. Repeat: it will take 3 batches to get all the cookies baked. Yum.

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