The Kitchn: The secret to my great grandma’s cookies? Smash them after baking
When I stumbled upon the recipe for these pistachio smash cookies, I wasn’t sure what I had found. During one of my spontaneous urges to deep clean the house in the early months of the pandemic, I rediscovered a box of old family recipes tucked away in the laundry room. I hadn’t looked through the box in over 18 years, but I figured now was the right time to take a trip down memory lane (at the very least, I thought, it would help me avoid another afternoon of doomscrolling).
Eight recipes in the box intrigued me; all were cookies that included the word “smash” in their name, followed by a year. They were all signed by my great-grandma Nannie Watts. The first of the eight recipes was dated 1932 and the last was from 1972. The cookies, with vaguely measured ingredients, never included butter, eggs, or flour. The curt instructions simply said to mix everything together, portion and bake for 15 minutes, and when done to “smash the hell out of the cookies.” Curious, I wanted to try these Depression-era-type treats.
The cookies all contain oats and some type of nut — whether a nut butter or pulverized nuts. As the years went on, the ingredients became a little more indulgent, but the recipe never strayed away from the original method of smashing once baked. The pre-baked cookies are ugly little mounds of sugary oat dough, and when you bake them they maintain their shape and look dry with jagged nuts sticking out.
The magic happens once you smash the cookies with the back of the measuring cup, revealing a perfectly symmetrical, thick cookie. The ingredients meld, making a uniformed treat loaded with flavor, texture, and beauty. Biting into the cookie, you can hear the slightly caramelized exterior crack against the moist center.
Of the eight cookies, the 1972 recipe for pistachio smash cookies is my favorite. The almond paste melts into the center and the caramelized sugar gives the cookie a tender, crisp outer shell. These cookies are rich and decadent. One, maybe two, are enough for a midday pick-me-up or with an after-dinner coffee.
Finding these recipes during a pandemic feels serendipitous. These cookies are a link between two people looking for something good when only bad things seem to be in control. The first time I baked them, my soul had a moment. I felt connected to a human I had never met — we probably shared similar emotions and fatigue during a global crisis.
Maybe Nannie was frustrated with how ugly the cookies looked after baking, and out of desperation to make something good for her kids she let her suppressed anger take hold and smashed the hell out of the cookies. Whether it was intentional or not, her method created some tasty cookies whose ethos is just as relevant today as it was almost 90 years ago: If all else fails, just smash a cookie and feel better.
Pistachio Smash Cookies
Makes 24 cookies
8 ounces full-fat cream cheese