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
1 1/2 cups (375 mL) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
8 ounces (250 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into small pieces
1 cup (250 mL) firmly packed dark brown sugar
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1 cup (250 mL) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 pound (500 g) bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped to the size of large chocolate chips
2 cups (500 mL) quick-cooking rolled oats
Preheat the oven to 350 F (175 C). Spread the pecans on a baking tray and toast them in the oven until fragrant and slightly darkened in color, 10 to 12 minutes, turning them halfway through. Set aside to cool, then coarsely chop them by hand or by pulsing briefly in a food processor.
In a mixing bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
In the large bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with a paddle or beaters (or in a large mixing bowl using a hand-held electric mixer), soften the butter at medium speed. Add the brown and granulated sugars, and continue beating; once they're fully incorporated, increase the speed to high and continue beating until the mixture looks fluffy, stopping as needed to scrape down the sides of the bowl and under the beaters with a rubber spatula.
Reduce the speed to medium and, one at a time, add the eggs and then the vanilla, stopping as needed to scrape down the bowl and beaters. Reduce the speed to low and gradually pour in the flour mixture, stopping as soon as it is incorporated.
Add the chocolate, oats, and pecans to the bowl. Stir with a sturdy wooden spoon until fully incorporated. Scrape the dough out of the bowl onto a large sheet of plastic wrap. Fold the wrap around the dough and refrigerate until firm, 2 to 3 hours.
Position the rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 F (175 C). Line 1 or 2 baking trays with parchment paper.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator and divide it into mounds about the size of an unshelled walnut, weighing about 1 ounce (30g) each, rolling each mound into an even ball between the palms of your clean hands. Arrange the balls on the prepared baking trays about 2 inches (5 cm) apart. Bake in the preheated oven until slightly firm to the touch, 13 to 15 minutes, reversing the trays back to front about halfway through for even baking. Transfer the trays to racks to cool.
After a few minutes, remove the trays from the racks. Use a wide metal spatula to remove the cookies from the trays, transferring them back to the racks to cool completely. (If reusing a baking tray, allow a few minutes for it to cool slightly before placing a new batch of dough balls on it.) Store the cookies in an airtight container at cool room temperature and serve within three days.(c) 2017 WOLFGANG PUCK WORLDWIDE, INC. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.