A no-bake cookie -- the kind made with oats, peanut butter and chocolate -- is a classic dessert. Mothers and grandmothers around the country regularly make this stovetop cookie, to varying results. I remember at least a few times eating failed no-bake cookies with a spoon because they never fully set.
The ingredients and method are pretty simple: Sugar, cocoa powder, butter and milk are cooked together, and then oats and peanut butter are stirred in. When made well, no-bake cookies are soft and tender, but firm enough to pick up and pack. If you've struggled with no-bake cookies in the past, this step-by-step recipe is for you. We'll walk you through how to master the process so they turn out right every single time.
Foolproof no-bake cookies
Here's my secret to better no-bake cookies: Think of the process more like candy-making than cookie baking. Many no-bake cookie recipes give you indicators for what the sugar-butter-milk mixture should look like in the pan, or they will ask you to cook the mixture for an exact number of minutes. But everyone's stove is a little different, as is everyone's interpretation of terms like "rapid boil." That's why I recommend using a candy thermometer, which ensures you'll cook the mixture to the correct temperature. This might sound fussy, but it's worth it to have consistently set cookies.
No-bake cookies are essentially bound together with fudge. For the fudge to properly set, the mixture needs to reach 230 F before being removed from the heat.
3 tips for flawless no-bake cookies
1. Prep your ingredients ahead. Making no-bake cookies takes about 20 minutes, and since the cooking happens in two parts (the boiling and the stirring in the final few ingredients), it's tempting to get the sugar mixture cooking and then measure out everything else, but doing this risks overcooking the sugar mixture. Take a few extra minutes (and dirty one extra bowl) to make sure all your final ingredients are measured out and ready to be added before starting to cook.
2. Cook the cocoa-sugar mixture to 230 F. Before you add your butter and milk, whisk together the sugar and cocoa; this helps break up any lumps in your cocoa. Once the cocoa-sugar-butter mixture has liquified, clip on the candy thermometer and cook it to 230 F. The mixture should take 8 to 10 minutes to come to a boil, and then 2 to 3 minutes once it starts boiling to reach this temperature.
3. Add the oats and peanut butter off the heat. Immediately remove the pan from the heat and stir in the measures of oats and peanut butter. Stirring helps create small crystals in the sugar that create that creamy fudge-like texture we're after.
Shaping and storing no-bake cookies
Scoop the finished cookie batter into spoon-sized rounds onto parchment paper, then let the cookies cool and set for 25 to 30 minutes. You can enjoy them right away, or store for up to five days in an airtight container at room temperature.
Makes 24 small cookies
3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats (not thick cut)
1 cup smooth peanut butter, such as Jif or Skippy
2 cups granulated sugar
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup unsalted butter, 1 stick
1/2 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Line two baking sheets or a work surface with parchment paper.
2. Measure 3 cups oats and 1 cup smooth peanut butter into a medium bowl and have these standing by.
3. Place 2 cups granulated sugar and 1/3 cup cocoa powder in a large pot and whisk to remove any lumps.
4. Add 1 stick unsalted butter, 1/2 cup whole milk and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract to a large pot and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. You can cover the pot to speed the process along, but it will take about 5 minutes to simmer and then quickly come to a boil.
5. Once the mixture is boiling, boil for 1 minute; the boil should be thick and foamy and reach a temperature of 230 F. You can stir the mixture with a heatproof spatula as needed while the mixture cooks.
6. Remove the pot from the heat. Add the oats and peanut butter, and stir vigorously to coat.
7. Use a small ice cream scoop or 2 spoons to drop tablespoons of the cookie dough onto the parchment paper.
8. Let the cookies cool until they are firm to the touch, 25 to 30 minutes.