Cookie classics: Make-ahead holiday cookies combine two favorites in one
All my life, I've loved sweet pastries of every kind; especially cookies. So with plenty of holiday parties ahead, I feel like I'm in pastry heaven. There's the promise of wonderful cookies everywhere I turn.
I learned as a boy that you can never start making holiday cookies too soon. Around late November, my mother and grandmother were already preparing them to have ready for guests who came visiting, as well as to wrap up in airtight tins as homemade gifts.
The following recipe for chocolate-chunk oatmeal cookies traces its origins to the early days of my restaurant Spago in the 1980s. I think it was widely popular for the perfect way it combined two popular varieties into one robust, rich-tasting, satisfyingly chewy treat. And, happily, the cookies are surprisingly easy to make.
Good results depend mostly on paying attention to a few small details. First, be sure to pick up a package of rolled oats labeled "quick-cooking," which means they have been crushed into flat flake-like shapes and partially steamed, then dried. That ensures they'll turn tender in the relatively brief baking time.
I also like to buy good-quality bittersweet chocolate in whole bar form, rather than using chocolate chips. I very carefully cut up the chocolate myself on a cutting board into uneven small chunks, using a sharp knife. The variety of shapes adds to the homemade quality and makes every bite a small surprise.
Nuts are another important element, and I prefer to use slightly sweeter pecans instead of the usual walnuts you find in both oatmeal and chocolate chip cookies. I also take care to toast the pecans before baking, so they'll have a fuller flavor and crispier texture.
Though each step is very particular, the dough is still very easy to mix, shape and bake. And one more feature suits this recipe even better to the holidays. You can mix the dough in advance, shape it into individual balls, place them on trays, cover well with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for up to one week before baking; or, the dough balls can be frozen for up to two months, to be thawed in the refrigerator for several hours before baking. That means, with a little advance planning, you can have cookies ready to bake and serve hot from the oven when guests drop by. My mother and grandmother would have approved!
CHOCOLATE-CHUNK OATMEAL COOKIES
Makes about 5 1/2 dozen
About 5 ounces (150 g) shelled pecan halves or pieces